THE OFFCUTS OF REASON

Elizabeth Day, The Unravelling of Form, 1995, unravelled wool, muslin, glue. Installation view as part of The Viaduct Project, curated by Rose Anne McGreevy and Barbara Halnan, in Federal Park, Annandale.

Christine Dean, Unravelling Production, 1996, in “The Offcuts of Reason: Works by Elizabeth Day”, catalogue, 1997.

Talking about Liz Day’s approach to making art is a bit like stepping on chewing gum, the more you resist the more you get caught up in its sticky surface. The approach of this commentary is to firstly develop a connection between the material objects of cultural production and secondly to use this method as a guide to experiencing the lines, sinuosities and surfaces that make up the material presence of the works.

Unravelling production is in itself a type of reproduction. The creation of a space from which it becomes possible to examine the infrastructure and material logic of the process of reason. This essay is best read as a manual which retrospectively examines the work of eight separate exhibitions covering a period of as many years. The arrangement of images in this catalogue is neither chronological or formal and suggests a larger practice rather than an isolated series of exhibitions. For a clear discussion of what would otherwise appear formless this discussion divides these image into four areas of production, reason, time and materials.

Works such as “The Unravelling of Form“, “The Destiny of Objects“, and “Disintoxication” present an “off the rectangle” assault on the history and ideology of rectilinear thinking. These exhibitions are characterised by their wildly frozen ejaculations of wool and unrelated accumulations of objects. Out of this discord a dialogue results which stands in opposition to a productivist mechanism of symbolic exchange. The use of both altered and unaltered ready made products such as clothes, toys, food, cooking utensils, glassware and a wide range of manufactured goods enables Liz Day to sabotage the destiny of these materials. One outcome of this disorderly arrangement is to recognise the gap that separate public and private spaces. These works don’t simply recycle commodities as objects but through a process of both physical and ideological destruction unravel the codes of commodification.

A collection of offcuts presents an abject space where both the detritus and waste matter of production forge new connections as living things. Liz Day has continually examined the ethics of reason through the recovery of objects and has identified the invisible relationships that reside in social desires and cultural habits. Installations such as “Power is a Fluid Vertical White Line“, “Things that Don’t Fit into Boxes” and “The Transit Lounge Project“, at Long Bay Correctional Centre’s Reception Room interrupt the nominalization of order by tracing the transparent lines of sexuality and institutionalisation. These works have the ability to exist as art outside of the conventional gallery space and are flexible enough to reanimate themselves by interacting with a range of different audiences and communities.

An earlier title for this essay which may possible serve as a sub-heading is “The Time Object“. An ongoing relationship with the variable flows and arbitrariness of “Duration” inform Liz Day’s review of production. The process of unravelling reverses the seamless and linear forward looking direction of productive time and replaces it with a broken and ruptured sense of discontinuity. Over a long period of time discarded and inexpensive objects are gathered and placed together in various groupings in the studio. Through a multitude of processes these items are carefully fabricated into a network of spatial patterns and arrangements which cause each individual object to redefine the next.

Shadow” and “New Tracks in an Old House” recall an expansive and everpresent flow of memory. “Shadow” is an indeterminate work where white ribbons of cotton tape form uneven hand drawn lines that confront an ordered arrangement of steel grids. A wide variety of disposable materials are used here including chewing gum. “New Tracks in a Old House” reveals much about Liz Day’s preoccupation with time. The “Old House” may even be seen as an established order of traditions which the “New Tracks” are possibly the voices and footsteps of living experiences. A tension is created with the use of intersecting lines that overlap and vast areas of cross-stitching which perform as an engendered system of deletions negating the repetitive geometry of squares. These works provide an intervention into the assemblage of a direct chronology leaving in its wake a radical discontinuity which unstitches the fraying seams of time.

A list of words that provides a guide to the way in which Liz Day uses materials includes shopping, correction, biodiversity, religion, care, architecture, relativity and democracy. A second list of words which discuss the material results of the finished products are maps, E-mail, veins, organs, constellations, folding and scribble. The half-life of objects is confirmed with the use of both perishable and enduring goods. The resourcefulness of this practice is in the use of materials which have often passed their used by date. As a result these works belong to what might be called the aesthetic tradition of unproductive consumption. Their physicality, presence and strangeness surge with a wide variety of techniques and intermedia and stand on a human scale as lived experience. Unravelling production is to confront the distinction that divides form and matter. Rather than presenting a detached reification of commodities these works comment on the connection between objects and the phenomenal world. Through this process the external world of form becomes joined to the bodies internal accumulation of matter and memory.

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