Banana skins: proceed with caution
Roy often appears in thrall to a creature without name or essential form, subjugated to its whims and desires, like Ulysses straining at his bonds with the insistent siren’s call. Ananda’s imagery finds 2D and 3D expression but shares common ground in a pronounced sense of spatiality: his sculptural works colonise spaces with predatory purpose; his drawings invoke a sense of gravity or impending action. If ever they were to be wired for sound, whirring, whizzing, clicking, clacking, creaking and scratching would be plainly audible. Ananda is a conjuror of possibilities for whom there is always a ghost in the machine, more Casper than creepy, playing tricks on the eye and mind to puzzled applause.
Near the end of art school studies (Adelaide Central School of Art, BVA Hons 2001) Ananda became aware of predilections in his emerging practice which favoured drawing and cross-media, three-dimensional problem-solving. A final year of studies project involved cutting out, painting and reassembling units of timber within a confined studio space. A silhouette of the artist’s hand-writing projected onto panels of mdf board provided the template for a series of extrapolation cut outs which were continuously fed (“as if feeding a monster”) back into the mix. This Kurt Schwitters Merzbau-like project took on a performative life of its own as a sledge hammer was used to smash the construction and the resulting fragments were compressed and packaged then rearranged on a pavement and recomposed as wedged units beneath buildings. The Drawing Cube series which followed (2002- 2004) extended this idea by subjecting a single form (a 2.0 metre cube constructed of mdf board panels on a timber frame) to a series of regulated procedures. Poles tipped with chalk, were initially inserted through holes in some panels and manipulated randomly by the artist to create ‘drawings’ on inner chalkboard surfaces. The chalkboard drawings (now on the outside) were then chased by a router creating random cut outs of the existing planes and profile effects similar to termite grooving. The ‘what now ?’ principle was pushed to the extreme in a 2004 Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra (Drawing Cube (fourth state) manifestation in which planar units excised by the progressive editing of the original cube were reassembled by screwing and hinging to create an entirely new construction, yet at the same time a palimpsest of previous identities. Ananda describes it as an “IKEA from hell” proposition which presented physical challenges in the assembling and relocation processes. The story did not stop there but played out in the form of reconstituted Drawing Cube components set in a floor circle within Hedgemaze (Light Gallery, Adelaide 2007). Titled Probe Droid, this work reflected the artist’s interest in the self-referential dimensions of the Hoth Ice War in George Lucas’s film The Empire Strikes Back with various units resembling outsized components of plastic model kits for an intergalactic space craft or an AT-AT (All-Terrain Armored Transport). Ananda reflects that this work marks the beginning of a fusion of interest in process-based practice and pop culture.
The strategy of extrapolating multiple forms from a single originating structure has continued to inform Ananda’s practice to the present (2011). Further studio-site experimentation saw remnant units from Drawing Cube pressed into service again. Hinging and tek screwing allowed this construction to grow like mutant coral. The precarious physicality of the work required the artist to continually invent solutions (such as tipping the work upside down) to avoid collapse and provide stability. The “barely-controlled chaos“ implied by such improvisations was echoed in a number of exhibitions including The Imperfectionist (FELTspace, Adelaide 2009) which comprised a series of works, each attached to the wall by a single nail. The works in Put a sock in it (Dianne Tanzer Gallery, Melbourne 2008) were refinements of this process with primarily linear structures resembling exoskeletons of previous manifestations. Works in Terraformer (Dianne Tanzer Gallery Project Space 2009) with their interlocking linear qualities appeared to close an investigative loop which began with the Drawing Cube chalk drawings of 2003.
Narrative and comedic elements have always been close to the surface in Ananda’s practice. They are certainly evident in more recent sculptures including Put a sock in it works where ‘flip-flop’ hinging implied slap-stick outcomes like being suddenly trapped or slipping on a banana skin. A is for Anvil at West Space, Melbourne 2006 had previously highlighted Ananda’s engagement with the way cartoons and by implication, fantastical fictions, create self-referential worlds of inner logic. A feature of Ananda’s exploration of this idea was his ‘re-enactments’ of comic strip scenarios which adopted a Mythbusters-type strategy to reveal the logical absurdity of cartoon tropes such as the ‘seeing stars’ moment that accompanies a biff on the head, (translated by the artist as a model train pulling star-filled wagons around a circular track), a Wile E. Coyote ACME box of explosives detonating prematurely (as a bulging box with ‘bang’ signifiers sprouting out the sides), and a heart so bursting with emotion that its spills onto the floor.
The basis of such sculptural work lies in Ananda’s affection for the word of cartoons, comics, SF, book illustration, play and make-believe which stems from childhood. It is significant that a recent work, Untitled (2010), exhibited in the CACSA CONTEMPORARY 2010: THE NEW NEW, The Gallerie Adelaide 2010 was constructed from a cubby house which Ananda had played in as a child. He comments that “While the cubby could be seen as a kind of precursor to much of my recent output, its role might be better described as an entertaining, fictional origin story, like the radioactive spider that bit Peter Parker or the gamma rays that birthed The Hulk.” He adds that the work was “intended less an evocation of childhood and more a monument to the act of play.” [i]
Play is the heartland of Ananda’s practice; creative play “ever driven”, as Ananda explains, “by a burning desire to see what will happen next.” Nowhere is this more evident than in the artist’s drawing practice. Through drawing the artist has continued to find a way to bring together a number of overlapping worlds: Warner Brothers cartoons, Tintin, Buster Keaton, slapstick and the like. He does so by isolating and playing with visual quotations and graphic conventions to concoct visual puns and jokes, inspired by the fact that in these “funny self-contained universes” called cartoons, things physically happen according to set rules. Applying the circular logic of these rules within drawing meant thinking about the act of drawing and how making marks on paper is just the beginning. There was the physicality of the drawing surface to be considered. Thus in Not for beginners, 2004, a figure is caught mid-air illusion about to smash through actual windows of the Nexus Cabaret Window, Adelaide. This trope was repeated in a figure silhouette cut-out, as if bursting through an actual door at the Adelaide Central School of Art. A drawing of a mouse hole is located at skirting board level. A drawing of an anvil is set askew on a wall as if in the act of falling. Hardware store catalogue-like diagrams explain how to catch a fly with chopsticks (a la Karate Kid). Conjuring tricks and fiendish devices are explained in simple to read diagrams. An x-ray drawing reveals a saw within a cake. One child on another’s shoulders explains the ‘shrinking adult’ in a trench coat. The origins and references of such inventions are located within and beyond comic book and cartoon genres. Ananda cites the influence of SF writing including the speculations of the ‘noir prophet of cyberpunk’, the American-Canadian writer William Gibson and numerous SF films including Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 with its brew of political satire and apocalyptic steampunk chutzpa. Ananda comments that he is “really attracted to ideas in SF subcultures where you might appropriate technologies for applications for which they were never intended.”
In this wider context it is possible that Ananda’s art can be read as a strategy for coping with the real world, as children do so successfully, by creating parallel universes into which they can clamber and become whatever they want to be. Even in adult life this Count of Monte Christo-esque artist is ever-brimming with “curiosity and nerdy, boyish zeal.” One description describes him as “driven by the raucous, overstated physicality of slapstick and swashbuckler. In his day–dreams he is to drawing what Tintin is to journalism or what Indiana Jones is to archaeology.”[ii]
In Home Stories (Adelaide Central School of Art Gallery 2011) the idea of beards as disguise prompted a characteristic spill of imaginative possibilities including beard racks and an honour roll of bearded heroes. Such plot lines are the standard stuff of Boy’s Own and Tintin adventures. But they also trawl deeper, darker depths of the human imagination where shape shifting is the basic currency of human transaction and the key to enhanced capabilities. Ananda’s transmogrifications wear the disguise of a conjuror’s trick or a story teller’s art. But their true nature and Super-Secret Powers can only be guessed at.
John Neylon, March 2011
John Neylon is an Adelaide-based independent art writer and curator and inaugural art critic for The Adelaide Review.
Unless otherwise indicated artist quotes are from the author’s recorded conversation with the artist, January 2011.
[i] Artist statement, CACSA CONTEMPORARY 2010: THE NEW NEW guide/catalogue, published by The Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia Inc., 2010, p.14.
[ii] West Space website statement
Roy Ananda is represented by Dianne Tanzer Gallery