Bus Projects, Melbourne, November 2016
This project is ongoing, and is an extension of an earlier set of experiments that I undertook as part of a group project with the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia in 2015. (You can see the earlier version here if you are interested) The project has grown out of my interest in simple machines and how they might be considered within a visual art context. I am particularly keen to imply a sense of things that are built in backyards and sheds, as adapted from pre-existing things that we know; kind of like hacking or re-purposing. In this case I have taken a number of simple cordless drills and built them into a machine that can be used for making paintings. My favourite way of describing this is as a ‘mutant power tool’. The machine is controlled via a joystick, implying a sense of video gaming.
I like to think of the project as unfolding in a number of ways. There is the construction and presentation of the machine by itself – kind of a sculpture that implies lots of things and that might ask an audience to imagine what it does. There is the process of demonstrating what the machine does – this is a little bit performative and always a bit experimental, and then there is the paintings that it produces. In this particular presentation I also experimented with inviting other people to work the machine. This process allows me to grow the project in directions that I might not arrive at by myself and I am also keen to explore public use of this machine ( and its variations ) as a form of public engagement in the future. The set of photos and short videos that I have chosen below document each of these various outcomes.
As a component of this exhibition I invited Adelaide based writer, Teri Hoskin, to respond to the project. I have included her essay at the bottom of this page.
This project was assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.
James Dodd: Painting Mill v.2
“The Painting Mill proposes a machine that might be as interesting as an object, as the objects that it produces.” — James Dodd
It is a distinctively human trait to gain pleasure in making things, through thinking about the things that we make, and through the physical actions and connections used to make them. Even more pleasure is to be had by making things that are essentially without use value, that make one question their very production. Here James Dodd asks the viewer/user to think of the machine — Painting Mill — as an aesthetic object in its own right. Painting Mill is an evolving object in Dodd’s multi-faceted practice that includes gallery installation, public art, street art, bicycle add-ons. He describes the work “as my contribution to the ever-expanding genre which is the ‘painting machine’”. Dodd’s machine for making art is distinguished by its appearance as an iteration of the backyard shed workbench. Here in its second version, Painting Mill is smaller, its installation form is an inversion of it’s other transportable form. “It’s a puzzle”, he says, a set of problems to be solved, “its like a lasagna”, and by this I take it he means layers of singular ingredients that together make something complex in flavour, home-baked, that a crowd can enjoy. This machine can make a painting with your help, and the painting can still look like you, you are the one who decides color, timing and location of the paint pour, in a relationship with the machine. Of course it could make one without you too, and the product would still be art ‘it’s art!’ by dint of it’s context (Marcel Duchamp made it so).
Why is it a Painting MILL, rather than Machine? The mill is ancient, used/powered by hand, water, wind, electricity — it crushes grain to make bread — one of the world’s most abiding staples. In manufacturing the mill is characterised by its circular motion: can I extrapolate from there to the eternal return – too long a bow? I don’t think so, it all goes around, never quite the same, and neither can we assume a kind of progressive evolution. There’s something inherently singular and democratic about a mill — it has a kind of everydayness to it, my father worked in one, so did my grandfather. George Eliot’s late eighteenth century classic, the Mill on the Floss (this is my long bow not James’s), used a flour mill as a metaphor for an in-flux community writing from the time of change between a feudal system of exchange (serfs and landowners) to bourgeois capitalism and growth of the middle class. There was in that book, as there is now in Jimmy Dodd’s Painting Mill a democratic pulse, a claim that art (or the mill) is here for anyone who wants to give it attention, who can stop a moment to try it, to interact with its processes, yet it’s still a mill.
Painting machines are inherently ironic, humorous and playful. They all ask one to consider the relationship between the human who makes, the machine who makes, the one who watches, who looks, and in doing so usually who makes a judgement about the aesthetics of a work, it’s meaning, what it does in the world. Questions one might ask include: what is it to paint a picture, is it work? What makes an original? How is a thing made beautiful, or called ugly, what makes it so? Are the questions of authenticity and aura asked by Walter Benjamin in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Production” still important given mechanical production now is robotic, digital, embedded in a network of relationships on scales massive (as in food production) and micro: backyard productions embedded in art discourses? I remember a painting machine made by Paul Hoban in the 1990s. Like Dodd, Hoban has a lot of fun with his work. It sat at floor level, a rudimentary bucket affair with a well-used brush central to the action, already humorous before any action. One was left with the beauty of chance, the beauty of ugliness, the ungainly has its own rewards, right down on the ground. Much of James Dodd’s work makes me think in a similar vein, the patina of layer upon layer of graffiti, of declarations and of names scratched; the patina of adjustments — for example Dodd’s bike actions and interventions (Sabotage 2014) — of adding this, taking away that to effect a delicate balance — in the case of bicycles that equilibrium is crucial to the ride, how far can something be pushed, what’s the limit before this gives, or that becomes something else entirely: what does the work do in the world? It seems that James is working always to find those limits and tease them to take a direction, something that will surprise him, or something that might be the elegant solution or the disaster that becomes the failure that had to be had.
Working on site with small communities of people is clearly something that is key to Dodd’s practise — though that’s not what you see here. He’s working at it — working out what distinguishes a particular site/community and galvanising the local to make something specific — usually a mural, street art validated into community by art discourse. Dodd places his interest in making machines in a field that includes Ian Burns with his weirdly clumsy, contemporary / arcane, and elegantly considered machinic things that play with cause and effect; and with Cameron Robbins’s attention to the practices of drawing through harnessing kinetic energies and environmental forces.
The BUS Projects version of Painting Mill is at it’s most pristine, a quality the artist finds troubling and at the same time necessary — it will accumulate a patina as it moves from one site to another: the more it’s used the more the object more clearly becomes a work that shows the traces of its use and abuse. Others might ask, as I did, ‘can it climb walls? Can it do sabotage? Have you patented it?’ While understandably human, questions and suggestions for something better or more — for we are always trying to fix things — evolving sophistication is not the exercise here. Painting Mill revels in its clumsy efficiency. The efficacy of its action is that of a performer with a human touch, a relationship between person, object, product and the chance of art.
Teri Hoskin October 2016
Teri Hoskin is the inaugural artist-writer at the Noela Hjorth Residency at Clarendon SA