Imagine two parents, looking for a sanctuary in the Australian bush.
Imagine their four young sons, thrown into the unknown.
Imagine years passing, experiences becoming memories becoming myth.
Imagine the world turning, the advent of the internet, the passage of youth into middle age.
Read the two ads, the breadcrumbs that led Alex’s parents to the remote bush block near the Wombeyan Caves that has been the subject of his last three shows. In The Great Escape (Goulburn Regional Gallery, January 2020) and Meet Me Under the Dome (Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney, November 2020), Alex has turned his inquisitive gaze to his own life, particularly the two or so years spent in prescient proximity to the old Wombeyan Quarry.
Wander through the field of pebbles, unnatural blends of marbles from far flung corners of the world. Polished stone, real material, and yet more Pokemon Go than any natural tumble; a virtual world made manifest in actual space. This oscillation between the virtual and actual flickers across the whole gallery, catching the corner of the eye as the story unfolds.
Enter a domestic space now, two sheepskin rugs of laboriously carved marble facing one another, emblazoned with seemingly opposing sides to an argument—All history is contemporary history and All history is ancient history, Italian theorist Benedetto Croce and Spanish actor Antonio Banderas (misquoting Croce) respectively.
Notice the material—Croce’s contemporary history on a rug of Bianco Carrara, the marble of classical statuary; Banderas’ ancient history on a far more ancient stone with a far more ancient history, Australian Wombeyan marble from Gundungurra country. Everything we do on these unceded lands is part of a story that stretches back hundreds of thousands of years. The classical European sculptural tradition is but a drop in the ocean, and these divergent temporalities and materials speak volumes here.
These two centrepieces continue the artist’s preoccupation with history, memorial, memory, recalling his 2012/2017 work I Was Here, inspired by Gustave Flaubert seeing a fellow Frenchman’s graffiti on a column of the Parthenon and being simultaneously outraged at the disrespect and envious at the apparent disregard for and freedom from history. We all carry histories, often many at once. They are inscribed on the earth and on our bodies, something that Alex brings to bear in his work.
Pass by a perfectly carved puffy jacket, the epitome of fast fashion, its Champagne marble laboriously patched with Pilbara Green from the traditional lands of the Nyamal and Yindjibarndi peoples; a nod to Thoreau’s great work of transcendental pasteurism, Waldon Pond. The puffy jacket and its polyester are a sly joke in this story, impossible to patch; its life as a meme probably longer than its life as an object.
Look over at two seemingly identical photographs of the book shed that sustained Alex’s curious mind over the years at the property, thousands of well-turned pages from a time before internet. Spot the difference—one is missing a much contested celestial map point. Thousands of books pile inside, remembered as a repository as large as the universe, akin to the volumes of information now at the fingertips.
Leave these interiors, these human comforts, and encounter Alex’s own Ship of Theseus, a row boat being slowly patched with marble, a reference to the age old paradox—if every plank of Theseus’ ship was replaced, would it remain the same ship? What of us? Is it only memory that sustains our identity?
Reach the end of the road, the source of the watery sonic rush that fills the space. Listen. A waterfall, composed of myriad devices streaming virtual footage of the actual waterfall that was the attraction for the parents at the start of this story.
Consider all these things together; the permanent (good) stream of media across devices, some fake rocks made of real stone, two contradictory statements on history that each offer something true, a perfect patch on an un-mendable jacket, a paradox of identity—each such a fulsome expression of the fragility of memory.
Permanent Good Stream, Some Rocks walks many seemingly contradictory paths in the course of telling its story, but none more strange than the workings of our own minds. Enjoy the journey.