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Nigel Lendon: modelling the now

Exhibited at the Drill Hall Gallery in 2015.

Exhibition text:

Untitled Wall Structure #3 1970-2012 is the third version of a work originally made in 1970 in Adelaide and exhibited at Watters Gallery in Sydney in 1971. The earliest version was destroyed in transit on its way back to Adelaide.

The work marks a period of transition. Initially I had been producing works I thought of as three-dimensional paintings, using painted wood, plywood, aluminium and steel. Then I began to use materials and finishes without disguising their industrial origins. My palette changed to one of rusted steel, silver paint, raw concrete, zinc, etc.

The forms of my most recent works hark back to a photograph of Alekandr Rodchenko’s “Construction of Distance” (1920) reproduced in a landmark publication, Camilla Gray’s The Great Experiment: Russian Art 1863-1922 (1962). I first encountered the photograph of this work some time in the mid-1960s.

For a young art student who was swept-up in the emergence of abstract art as the dominant mode of European and American art, and the “rediscovery” of Soviet-era Suprematism, Constructivism, and Productivism (encountered through Gray’s book and a number of other sources being published in English for the first time) opened pathways to the origins of non-objective art.

This suggested ways of bypassing the rationale of Greenbergian formalism during a time when US cultural imperialism was being contested in the art world, and at the same time gave a link to a utopian politics which was particularly resonant.

Thus in a brief time I experimented with – and abandoned – colour-form and three dimensional painting and was increasingly drawn to what I took to be the deeper origins of minimal art in constructivism, art informel and Duchampian anti-aesthetics.

In order to understand the constructivist works reproduced in Gray’s book, I made models from the blurry snapshots. One of those models has followed me into the present. The proportions of the singular blocks (3x1x1) has become the basis on which the new series of works has developed over the last three years.

All of these new works pay explicit homage to their Russian origins, hence my habitual use of black white and red as a kind of semiotic reference.

In this recent process of “modelling the now” I find myself using industrial materials in ways that are not dissimilar from the earlier work. In one sense, time has stood still. In another sense, there is an interrogation of the past – or of multiple “pasts”: the Constructivist origins of the works, and my discovery of these in the mid-1960s. Hence my categorization of the new works as “models”.

I like to think of each model as an incomplete moment – time condensed as a form which gesticulates backwards and forwards, as if each piece were a part of a continuum, calling forth tesseracts and other mathematical diagrams of four-dimensional space, serving as a link to prior mysteries of form and matter.

I engage in a “play” with form, materials and colour in which I deliberately produce an aesthetic of disruption. I find myself using form, materials and colour in a state of intentional disconnectedness – as a kind of anti-perfectionism.

In the collaborative works made with the painter Emma Beer, we accept a principle of connection/disconnection to arrive at a kind of disruptive beauty. The final work is a condensation of this play between origins and accidents, beyond the control of either of us.

Nigel Lendon
20 October 2015

Watch Axel Debenham-Lendon’s video documentation of the exhibition, including footage of the exhibition opening.

Photo: Rob Little.

The Drill Hall Gallery acknowledges the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, the traditional custodians of the Canberra region, and recognises their continuous connection to culture, community and Country.