At the culmination of his PhD, Jay Kochel presents Exact Fantasies, a series of four tableaux that explore the relationships between fetish, magic and interfacing the body. He uses material metaphors of containment, boundaries and fluidity to incorporate perceptions of purity and contagion. The tableaux allude to phantasmagoria and a Freudian sense of the uncanny, a sense of the familiar made foreign. This sense of misrecognition acknowledges the power of mimetic transformation that occurs through sympathetic magic, giving bodily power to objects that bear no resemblance to the bodies they reference.
This exhibition presents research in progress. As a result of recent fieldwork in Europe this body of work focuses on the magical artifact – reliquaries, voodoo dolls, votive objects, folk magic, juju, ex voto – objects that incorporate human remains or a mimesis of the body. Where there is a material and psychic strategy to harness a spiritual or magical affect. The transference of energy, heat or mana between body and object as a means by which the material world is animated, charged up, and exerts force over people – an exploration of gods in the making.
In Jay Kochel’s Touch Me Gertrude Stein a sparse collection of transparent assemblages is carefully arranged in the gallery: some suspended mid-air, others laid out on the ?oor or placed on a shelf. The artist has cast in clear plastic an assortment of tools, consumer items and accessories, a shining sample of detritus for a future archaeologist of our times: i-pod, scuba-mouthpieces, vibratory massager, thongs, enema-nozzles, foot-pumps and toilet plungers. Spot-lit in the dim gallery space, the objects are presented in seemingly incongruous pairs, joined together or connected by thin plastic tubes. The height of each object corresponds to the body part that would most appropriately interact with it: headphones hang ready for the head, foot-pumps lie in wait for the feet. On first inspection each object is a meticulous replica of its original, down to the engraving of non-slip grips and the glinting texture of screw-thread. And yet on closer observation the forms are not perfect and it is hard to determine by eye if they are hard or soft. The Slumpy bottle and pump is just that, and there is a sense of plastic fluidity about even the best-replicated objects that adds a tinge of the uncanny, as if we are observing a temporary stage in the creation or dissolution of each piece.
In the Retroactive series, artists were introduced to one another and given an open ended opportunity to respond to each other’s work through contemporary ideas and issues. The process is ‘retro’ in the initial reflection upon art and artists, and indeed becomes ‘active’ in the thinking, speaking and making process. The common visual art-making background between artists, yet at different points in their career, creates unbounded relationships where exchanges of elastic ideas can happen. Art making in Canberra occurs with a backdrop of rolling mountains, gum trees and kangaroos, between the book-ends of national institutions and Summernats. Conversations in Canberra are swept along in the fresh air and sparkling light of a town unlike any other. These conversations allow artists to engage in a sense of familiarity with one another. It is Canberra’s intimate scale that enables artists to get to know each other, their work and in turn to paddle with big ideas. The Retroactive exhibitions were about conversations between established artists and emerging artists. I selected the pairs of artists intuitively based on my knowledge of their work. Some artists that were paired together had not known each other previously on a personal level. The art became a vehicle for an ongoing visual dialogue between these artists; the content was through the initiative of the paired artists and their conversations that preceded the making. In the first Retroactive exhibition, established artists were asked to exhibit a significant piece from an early point in their career. The emerging artists were then asked to respond to this work and create a conversation piece with the established artist. In the second exhibition, Retroactive II, emerging and established artists were paired, however they each had to find an artwork they both responded to, in effect, finding an ‘absent hero’. The artists then worked collaboratively or separately to create artwork in response to this shared piece. The resulting works were displayed with a small reproduction of the inspirational artwork they were responding to. In Retroactive III, emerging and established artists were connected once more, however this time they were asked to find common ground in the form of a location, or place. This sense of place could be conceptual or actual. The artists initially worked from this place to create the resulting artworks, both collaborative and individual. From initial conversations, big ideas grew and mentorship has continued beyond the individual exhibitions .The results are stimulating and open ended, revealing material and conceptual links that cross five decades of Australian art making.
Julian Laffan, Curator of the Retroactive Series, 2010