Untitled (2012)

1st floor / 3 Rochester Street
Fitzroy, Melbourne
Australia 3065

September 8 - 29, 2012
Opens Friday September 7, 2012 at 6pm.

untitled (diagonal)d

Salvatore Panatteri's latest exhibition involves and extends his longstanding interest in exploring the medium of the monochrome. We see trajectories of white light, the origin and destination of which is ambiguous, and which fuse with the white environment of the gallery space. Thus constructed light, pre-existing light, walls, floor and ceiling all become integral elements of an inclusive monochrome.

The unbounded character of the light together with the overall abstraction of the work generates a void-like quality and at the same time evokes a sense of the existence of things beyond what we see.

The following is the transcript of an interview with Salvatore Panatteri by Dr Helen Macallan, a Research Associate with the Creative Practices Group at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). It was recorded at UTS on July 26th 2012.

HM: What was the starting point for this work – was it an idea or an image?

SP: I don't really think about it in those either/or terms. I think the problem of explaining the conceptual basis of an exhibition such as this one is the problem of an adequate language to describe it.

HM: That's been a problem for other artists working in the elusive area of space?

SP: Yes and no. For instance, Robert Irwin and Dan Flavin prefer to let their art speak for itself. On the other hand, when artists like Malevich and Klein talk about their art, and art in general, there's a sense that for them idea, image and language work off each other.

HM: With this project, I immediately thought of Brian O'Doherty's description of the modernist gallery in the 1970s as a "white cube", a timeless space. Is this the tradition that you would situate your work here in?

SP: From what I recall, O'Doherty describes the white cube as a kind of end point - the frame drops off and the space around the art object becomes important. My interest is certainly in using the gallery room as a medium in itself, rather than a context.

HM: This seems to be rather like Dan Flavin's 1960s installations?

SP: Flavin's work has been very important to me. But there are several significant differences between this work and the great body of work produced by him since the 1960s. Flavin was radical for his time in using ready-made/ mass-produced industrial materials, the constructed element being their placement and arrangement.

HM: So like Duchamp he caused a shift in our customary perception of an everyday object?

SP: Yes, and his work still has a freshness as any one who sees it at the Chinati or Dia Foundations knows. But one difference between his and this work is that while for Flavin the light is a standard industrial fixture, in this project it's customised.

HM: And you've used LED technology as opposed to fluorescent light?

SP: Yes. LED allows me to adjust colour temperatures because the process is now also customisable, you can match or modify the white point. In this work, I've matched as closely as possible the colour temperature of the light to the white of the gallery to construct a monochrome sensibility.

HM: It makes me think of Malevich. Is there an allusion to Malevich's monochromes and his layering of geometric abstract images under the black square?

SP: Not a direct one but for many artists working with the monochrome, reference to Malevich's painting is unavoidable and of course in the case of this work an association can be made with his 'white on white' canvas. His black square is different because the layers are concealed. It's a palimpsest while my layers are within the field of vision, even though there's the suggestion of something beyond the gallery. It's interesting that the intention behind Malevich's concealment of abstract layers beneath the square isn't certain. We don't know whether he expected future art historians to discover them - as they did - or whether he was simply recycling canvas. But it's perhaps significant that he produced that work at the point when x-ray came in and with it a more complex grasp of space. In his writing he frequently makes links between concepts of space, technology and art.

HM: Your work seems to demonstrate similar interests. Could you talk about the relationship between your photography and video pieces and this new project?

SP: Each medium has its own idiosyncratic temporal and spatial qualities that affect both the conceptualisation and realisation of the work. But the monochrome has a sensibility able to exceed the medium and environment it's operating in. I think this has something to do with the monochrome's ability to convey the intangible. At the material level, it's probably quite self-evident what I'm doing, whereas at another level, I'm trying to capture something elusive.

HM: Is self-reflexivity the common thread?

SP: Not in the sense of Flavin's "It is what it is" because with that kind of literalism I find that what is lost is a sense of the infinitudes inherent to reflexivity, a kind of "time dreaming itself." It's hard to talk about because as Georges Perec says, it's almost impossible to verbalise a notion of space that isn't functional. But I'm interested in exploring infinitudes on a number of levels - present, imaginable and unimaginable.

HM: In relation to that, it's interesting that the detection of the Higgs Boson particle apparently may lead to the discovery of space beyond space as we know it.

SP: Yes, it's a case of the invisible becoming factual. Lawrence Krauss [the physicist] indicates how complicated it is when he talks about the way things emerge from nothing and then revert to nothing, an endless process. There's a whole new scientific way of thinking about nothingness, which differs from the mystical notion of the void that has often absorbed the artist's imagination. On the other hand, I don't think it's essential to disentangle mystical, philosophical and scientific elements.

HM: Art isn't science, philosophy or religion...
SP: No, and it's not about logic or proof, primarily it's an aesthetic and imaginative experience.

HM: Is this why you avoid titles?

SP: Yes, but it's a common practice. Many artists prefer to let their work speak for itself rather than being mediated by the written word. I'm not purist about it. Some artists use word and image together as an intermedial approach. But for me, that means that the word dominates too much. Even if I'm interested in attempting to evoke concepts, I don't tend to label my works.

HM: So the unmediated experience is important?

SP: I think you can argue that our experience of art is mediated by what we already know. But you can also say, as Robert Irwin does, that art is an immediate experience related to our perceptual rather than cognitive processes. And James Turrell's description of art in terms of a perceptual psychology of seeing, in which the dynamic interaction between viewer and artwork is the key element, is equally important. It's complex and sometimes contradictory.

HM: Are some of these problems related to the gap between linguistic expression and the language of art?

SP: Yes, I'm increasingly aware of the lack of correspondence between the two, especially when I'm trying to evoke something abstract, intangible. As far as space is concerned, one way to think this project is to think about the way cinema uses the frame to contain action and at the same time to suggest off screen space. Here, though I'm not attempting that kind of realism, I'm exploring the limits of our customary exploration of space. You mentioned O'Doherty's concept of the modernist gallery as a white cube. Something I'm trying to do is to venture outside the containment implied by this term.

HM: And it's not just about space because light is dynamic ...

SP: Yes, and what emanates from a light fixture is, as far as we know, infinite.

HM: So if we follow imaginatively the line through the walls and floor there's a sense in which the division between inner and outer space dissolves.

SP: Something occurs, but I'm not trying to control the viewer's point of view nor am I trying to control mine. I think if I keep it open for myself, I also do so for the viewer.