I fortunately gained permanency in my employment in 2019 (I’m 52—it took a while to get things like holiday & sick pay...) so the mortgage payments are up to date (possibly) and I’m no longer dependent on casual positions and the caprices of the market. I dread to think how we would have gotten by through the COVID closures and lockdown otherwise.
Where have I been during this period? Mostly at home. I've been working at home (teaching online and working on paintings, sculptures and videos) in a 2 x 3m boxed in section of the back veranda. There’s 3mm of plywood, sheets of corrugated metal & some rather nice silver tarpaulin between me and the elements. It is deafening in the rain… The cold is manageable, but I hope I don’t have to work in there on a 40 degree summer day.
I also have a studio space at 49 John Street—but restrictions and home schooling the children have made working there a rarer proposition over the past eighteen months.
I was fortunate in that my practice has always been responsive to circumstances. Prior to the lockdowns I had already started scavenged plastic-sculpture experiments, and these sculptural experiments became a much more viable and expanded option because of their scale and requirements. They have been made in the kitchen and back veranda, in between cooking and washing up. I position them somewhere between the works of Louise Nevelson (1899-1988) and fantasy gaming figurines. They have been exhibited in SPRING1883 in Sydney (2019), The Space We Live, the Air We Breathe at Counihan Gallery (2021) and in The McClelland Gallery’s Small Sculpture Prize (2020, online). Deliberately distorted documentation photographs of the larger sculptural works were also exhibited in The new (ab)normal at the RMIT Gallery (2020, online).
+ The Thing in the Garden Steven Rendall, 2020. iphone photographs and videos of sculptures in the back garden Scavenged plastic & other detritus. 200 x 50 x 70cm.
In the Counihan Gallery I was able to place the sculptures on the interior window frames so they could be seen from the street, particularly useful when the gallery had to shut for lockdowns. I also liked the fact that these sculptures in the window space meant that Counihan Gallery had to keep the blinds up 24/7 (sculpture with a function), which made the exhibition space more visible from the street. There was also an augmented reality component to this exhibition.
+ The Things Between Other Things Steven Rendall, 2019-ongoing. scavenged plastic, time, polymer emulsion, glue, screws and various other things . dimensions variable.
I have also been making paintings at home. These use acrylic polymer, so in some ways they are the same material as the plastic sculptures. There’s a chemical basis that provides a series of connections between the works: acrylic polymer paint, like the scavenged plastic, is a beneficiary of the petrochemical industry. Most plastics and acrylic polymers are derived from hydrocarbons— from crude oil, coal or natural gas extracted from the earth. The acrylic polymer that makes up the medium of the paint I’m using has an oil-based chemistry. This chemical legacy is both fascinating and troubling: ‘On a molecular level, oil embodies death, as “hydrocarbon corpse juice”, or “Devil’s excrement”: or “the planetary archive of putrification and cumulative decrepitude’ in terms used by Reza Negarestani in the horror fiction of Cyclonopedia (2008). There is a chemical relation between acrylic polymers and grease… and artworks have been positioned as grease in and for the capitalist economy—for example Terry Atkinson’s Greaser Slat V (1990).
I’m still not sure where these inquiries are going but the relations between the ‘hydrocarbon corpse juice’ origin of plastic and acrylic polymer products, imagery drawn from encyclopedias of the occult and the strange, and uncertain circumstances we are living with all flow through the works. The documentation of these works in non-gallery formats is also part of the exploration. I have a lot of questions about these works and their contexts. Can this photographic and video-based documentation be transformed into something more central to my practice? Are reproductions of selected paintings a viable way of extending the boundaries of a painting based practice? What form should these reproductions take? How might the convoluted and strange narrative texts be incorporated into this documentation. Can the reproductions be hybridised with painting based methods? Am I making a form of petrofiction? Might these paintings be part of a genre outlined on the Orbistertius website called Petrohorror?
+ 4 paintings in the garden at night (all 2021) Steven Rendall, 2021. acrylic polymer on metal. dimensions variable.
I am also working on portraits/heads including a portrait of Rupert Murdoch that embodies a fragment of a network narrated through references to the occult, hydrocarbon extraction, ruins of a house fire and New Corps bias. I hope to extend the possibilities of these studies into something more significant.
During the lockdowns I would say my posts on Instagram are the best response to my experience. I am very interested in the possibilities and limitations of Instagram as a site for experiments in documentation of paintings and sculptures. I used Instagram as a way of experimenting with images in relation to the Disordered Things exhibition at Niagara Galleries that was delivered online—I was interested in the strange half-life that paintings take on when only encountered via a screen as well as the relations between my social media accounts and those of Niagara Galleries. I continue to experiment with a range of possibilities and circumstances in relation to photographing paintings and sculptures, such as the panoramic function of the iPhone camera; stop motion animation; neon light; darkness & low light; nighttime; abandoned houses; panning videos; photographing through screen doors; conveyor belt set ups. I still don’t know how these experiments might be presented. In lockdowns they found a sort of twitching half life on social media.
Author/s: Steven Rendall