Monday, 25 June 2012

Claire Healy & Sean Cordeiro, 'Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going, Why'

image courtesy Claire Healy & Sean Cordeiro and Gallery Barry Keldoulis
 Children’s building blocks are not the obvious choice to depict a disaster that was heralded by a confusion of vapour trails on the television, but they are surprisingly apt. Claire Healy & Sean Cordeiro have used LEGO bricks to reconstruct images of the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion. The nine works are shallow relief wall sculptures. Each one documents an instant from the spectacular few seconds in which the shuttle broke up. The artists have borrowed the exhibition title Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going, Why from Christa McAuliffe, the teacher who perished along with the six astronauts. It was the name of a lesson McAuliffe had written and intended teaching to school children from space. While this could augur a hefty dose of irony, the works have a visual complexity that suggests a more considered approach. The vibrant, pixel patterning of the plastic bricks destabilizes the viewers’ eye which trips over the glossy, uneven surfaces. It’s convincing, yet unfamiliar topography. The commonplace nature of LEGO emphasises the remoteness of the catastrophe and amplifies the quality of sublime conveyed by the original NASA footage.
These new works prompt correlations with the artists’ sculptures and installations that have focused on temporary, mobile or defunct housing. A key early work, The Cordial Home Project (2003) involved the dismantling of an entire weatherboard house to its constituent materials, and the reassembling of the components into a neat, minimalist, rectangular stack in the gallery space. It was an ambitious work and one that announced artists who had emerged with a fully formed theme. They have since elaborated their territory with a multitude of carefully-honed variations. The artists’ working life has been marked by numerous international residencies and a succession of transitory homes, and they have most often made art from found objects and the living environments to hand. In Germany, an old caravan was flattened, cut to size and stacked in precise piles on four shipping pallets. In another work, the residual contents of an abandoned artists’ warehouse were roped together in a glorious, teetering pile. People are absent from the works except as former inhabitants and previous owners of objects. The artists imply that the discards of our consumption define us.
Most critical responses to Healy & Cordeiro’s work have focused on affinities with the architectural interventions of Gordon Matta-Clark and the domestic casts of Rachel Whiteread. But their work belongs just as much to the world of measurement and precision, to archives and databases, to Christian Boltanski and the enumeration of loss. Healy & Cordeiro constructed their exhibition Life Span (2009), with 175, 218 videotapes arranged in a nifty monolith. To watch the tapes beginning to end say the artists, would take 60.1 years, the average life span in 1976 when VHS technology was released. Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going, Why consists of similarly sombre works that disguise their underlying message (Remember that you must die) under the comforting cover of gentle wit and pleasing distractions. One of the Challenger works, T+85_blue (2010), recasts the blackness of space as a vivid blue sky, while the billowing smoke plume of the collapsing shuttle has a jaunty, pinkish hue. The other works are also luridly coloured and instantly accessible. In a practice that has concentrated on both minor and catastrophic attrition, on the extraneous goods of homes and lives, Healy & Cordeiro have consistently produced well conceived and resolved, high-end art. There is a calculated tension in their work between the degraded substances they select to work with and the polish of the art processes they apply. Fragments are put back together; the neglected and the ruined are given a new context and purpose, made whole again. However, the works themselves suggest that this regeneration is a temporary state. The construction methods are impermanent and the artists’ work can be easily undone. Healy & Cordeiro have extended their investigation of shelter from the suburbs of Sydney to outer space, from the mobile home to the grave. Everywhere they turn, the casings that contain us are disintegrating.

Lynne Barwick, 2010 
'Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going, Why' was at Gallery Barry Keldoulis, 6 May - 26 June 2010