A critique on Alicia Frankovich's contemporary art installation for NZ's Walters Prize 2012

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Floor Resistance, 2011 at Hebbel Am Ufer, HAU 3. photo: Conor Clarke. Courtesy the artist
Floor Resistance, 2011 at Hebbel Am Ufer, HAU 3. photo: Conor Clarke. Courtesy the artist | Source

Written by Vera Lin 2012

Alicia Frankovich’s Jumping Guy (2011), much like a jack-in-the-box personified, sums up the jolting and disorientating effect the artist wishes to conjure for her audience with her Walters Prize 2012 installation. A very strong contestant for New Zealand’s most prestigious art prize for a recent contemporary exhibition within two years, Alicia Frankovich conveys most effectively through her performance-based work the Walters Prize’s aim to “make contemporary art a more widely recognised and debated feature of cultural life” (Auckland Art Gallery, 2012a, para.2). In this critique, I propose to look at the way Alicia systematically turns past rules and opinions upside down and wrong way round. The emphasis of her work is not so much on inventing new rules but rather subverting the old ones. In Alicia Frankovich’s work, the past and the present are summoned for an artistic face-off in a volatile, provoking and confronting manner. The conversations across time, in this case, plays out, not in words, nor in pretty pictures, but energetic fists fights.

It all started when the young girl Alicia didn’t make it as a gymnast ( Hebbel Am Ufer, 2012, para. 1). The frustrated would-be-gymnast grew up to be fascinated by the body and the space it finds itself performing in, in a somewhat rebellious manner. Alicia Frankovich’s Jumping Guy (2011) reaches the audience before he or she even enters the Walters Prize 2012 exhibition at Auckland Art Gallery, where ruckus thumping and heavy breathing assault one’s ears and a jumping waving figure in tight sporty pants disturbs one’s equilibrium. The entrance is transformed into a darkened tunnel to better present a large wall size video, where a dancer is jumping up and down ceaselessly while swinging his arms in circles vigorously, rounding up the audience sitting obediently on chairs like cattle. They have the kind of incredulous looks on their faces, as if mentally scratching their heads because Alicia Frankovich is messing with their preconceived ideas of how a theatre performance “should” be. The living body sculpture turns the theatre stage into a gymnastic floor, except where the audience is traditionally on the outside looking in, now they are on the inside, on the stage, turned into involuntary performers by default. Moving further into the gallery, the Bison series (2010-2912) consist of a photograph and two TV sets facing each other rather uncomfortably closely on the floor, both playing a synced video footage of past live performances where the artist challenges the audience for a one to one rugby scrum. Now I know the audience in Jumping Guy (2011) are being rounded up like bison cattle ready for a bullfight. Across the floor, a large Michael Dahl’s portrait of King George I (1714) is sulkingly facing the wall in a rather antisocial manner. A well trained conventional gallery goer might docilely observes, even admires, the back of the painting as if there’s nothing amiss, but anyone with a healthy curiosity can not help but squeeze into that narrow space between painting and wall to satisfy one’s need to know. The centre of the room is taken up by Floor Resistance (2012) with up-side-down stands for the music scrolls hanging from the ceiling amid 7 or 8 folding chairs scattered around like a messy aftermath of a music gathering gone wrong. On the far wall, a kinetic sculpture consists of a long wooden plank, Floor Dance (2012), programmed to move in a slow but ceaseless motion towards and away from the floor with the help of a rope and a device moving round and round anticlockwise. The new serenity inspired by Floor Dance (2012) suddenly shed on the Jumping Guy (2011), how they both move in the same rhythmic up-down manner and circling to the side. When the animated human body and inanimate-made-kinetic object echo each other both in motion and their positioning in the gallery, wrapping the beginning and the end for Alicia Frankovich’s installation, the audience is made aware of a pressing emphasis on the athletic human body in sublime performance. Could I be excused as to say that the Frankovich’s obsession is altogether very Greek.

Alicia Frankovich's Floor Resistance

4 stars for Alicia Frankovich's Walters Prize 2012 installation

The ancient Greek is well known for their love of a perfect athletic human body and adorned their temples and our museums with muscled gods and goddess of the Olympic (PBS, 2012, paras 1-2). Even Floor Resistance (2012) reminds the audience of a drunken aftermath of a wild night at the Greek theatre. Or how else could the music stands turned upside down in mid air if not gazed through a drunken Dionysus haze? During the two special live performances of Floor Resistance (2012), the musicians performed string quintet on the floor while the audience sit on the chairs scattered among them, subverting the conventional hierarchy of theatre in a very Altermodern fashion. Clearly, the Greek is no sooner summoned then strike down by Frankovich’s artist/Zeus fury. Frankovich only references the past to point out its folly and laugh at its face. In Bisons (2010-2012), she bewitched the Roman gladiators into two solid mute TV sets, forever condemned in their endless death battle, faces inches away from each other, covered in their challenger’s static spits. The title itself would equal the glamorous Spanish bullfighters to the very beasts they slay. For Frankovich, the face-off is between artist and her audience as well as the curators (Auckland Art Gallery, 2012b, pp. 16-19), but the confrontation as a human condition is perhaps even more far reaching then that. The entire Walters Prize exhibition is about reconstructing a past installation of the artist. Whenever the past is referenced in the present, distortion and slippage become inevitable. Frankovich has to translate her work from the original theatre setting to the present gallery setting (Auckland Art Gallery, 2012b, pp.16-19) and adapt gallery prompt such as Michael Duhl’s King George I (1714) and subvert the conventional cultural, social and political practices of the gallery (Auckland Art Gallery, 2012b, pp. 16-19). It is not her nature to leave stones unturned. In the conversations with Alicia Frankovich, the past is indeed dumbfounded.

Within the entire Walters Prize 2012 exhibition as a whole, Frankovich’s work balances out quite nicely with that of Sriwhana Spong in the sense that both installations look to the performing human body with a past reference. However, the two artists depart in themess and styles of execution. If Spong is a ballerina of songs and dances, Frankovich is the tomboy that frequently gets into scrubs. Spong’s art is formal in nature, while altermodern subversion is in Frankovich’s hot blood. Simon Denny’s Introductory Logic Video Tutorial (2010) in the adjacent room is cool and heady in contrast despite the insinuating red dessert backdrop. Kate Newby’s Crawl Out Your Window (2012) brings the entire show to a lovely end note of freedom and liberation and has a partners-in-the-subversion-crime comradery affinity with Alicia Frankovich’s work, but more light-hearted, off-handed and outdoorsy in nature.

In uprooting traditions, Frankovich is unrelenting. Her works made reference to the past only to dismiss. The ancient Greek will love her performing human bodies but abhor her open insubordination. The Spanish will either resent or be flattered over her bison reference even if the Romans remain unconcerned of their treatment. But, the gallery curators will not mind if a contemporary artist jibes at them now and again if it’s all for the sake of art! I personally find Frankovich’s work rather refreshing, if a touch wanting in subtlety. Whatever commotion that was stirred up in the installation is masterfully soothed back down by the lovely touch of Floor Dance (2012), and serenity restored. I find myself leaving with a new equilibrium, where one is no longer stuck in the old grooves cut out by well use, but arriving at a new sense of freedom. Frankovich definitely has my vote for the People’s Choice Award without a minute of hesitation.


References

Frankovich, A. (2011). Jumping Guy in Floor Resistance [Image]. Retrieved September 3, 2012, from http://www.aucklandartgallery.com/whats-on/events/2012/august/the-walters-prize- 2012

Auckland Art Gallery. (2012a). The Walters Prize 2012. Retrieved from http://www.aucklandartgallery.com/whats-on/events/2012/august/the-walters-prize-2012

Auckland Art Gallery. (Ed.). (2012b). The Walters Prize 2012 [Exhibition catalogue]. Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland Art Gallery.

Hebbel Am Ufer. (2012). Floor resistance – by Alicia Frankovich. Retrieved September 3, 2012, from ttp://www.hebbel-am-ufer.de/archiv_en/kuenstler/kuenstler_21284.html?HAU=3

PBS. (2012). Ancient Greece naked pefection. Retrieved September 3, 2012, from http://www.pbs.org/howartmadetheworld/episodes/human/greece/

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