In his solo show Mixed Emotions Melbourne-based artist Dan Moynihan has appropriated the processes and presentation of collecting, archiving and cataloguing to create an entrancing visual tribute, of sorts, to working life and the fruits of labour.
The work consists of 2,157 labels spread across 27 frames, all of which are hung across one wall of Tolarno Galleries. The labels are those that adhere to commercially sold tins of paint, indicating the colour mix, ingredients and date and time of mixing. Moynihan has also daubed onto every label a finger-swipe’s worth of the paint mix described.
Each of the labels represents a paint tin sold to a customer at Bunnings, where Moynihan has worked for 15 years. In the paint department he would mix tins according to customers’ needs and produce the corresponding labels, the process inspiring this artwork that explores the semiotics, and the aesthetics, of such a retail workplace.
Mixed Emotions may dazzle the viewer with its scale and its precision, but a crucial dimension is that this is a highly linguistic, text-based work. Each label is a kind of visual poem, or ‘vispo.’
“It did grow out of a linguistic fascination with the labels,” says Moynihan. “There is a poetry to the names of the colours and there is the pattern of the text on each label – the black print on the white label, left justified, always consistent. I’m hoping this makes a striking visual pattern when all 2,157 are on the wall. “
“Also,” he adds, “the details on the labels were focused on the colour but they themselves were void of colour. I wanted to add that colour in. It became a process of getting that colour onto the label and in the gesture of applying that colour, disrupting one pattern and adding another pattern to the overall piece.”
Given the volume of labels employed, Mixed Emotions also represents an exercise in endurance, and commitment from Moynihan. These printed stickers, symbolic of the minutiae and ephemera of administrative practicalities in a store such as Bunnings, were collected over the course of a year from April 2006 to April 2007.
It was a real challenge to myself to see how long I could keep this going.”
Mixed Emotions is, quite literally, art in the age of mechanical reproduction, to paraphrase the title of Walter Benjamin’s seminal essay of 1935. However, Moynihan intends no political or social comment with the work – although it does have some relation to certain previous works of his, such as Seeing Things, 2015, (a 30-metre wall, installed at Monash University, that played with light and angles) which also engaged with a theme of the worker and the application of their duties.
As for the ’emotions’ of the title, this can at least partly be put down to an essence of childhood that infuses Moynihan’s work. Many of us can perhaps relate to remembered visits to hardware stores as a child and being captivated by the mysterious array of unfamiliar objects, smells and textures in these emporiums of DIY. This sentiment, born of childhood memories, informed the making of Mixed Emotions.
“It’s probably one of the reasons for gravitating towards the job in the first place,” says Moynihan. “Those are wonderful memories, particularly visually, but also a strong presence is the smell of these places. Whenever I cut timber, memories of the local timber and hardware store become vivid. I have the same thing with newsagents – they also have a distinct smell, which I imagine would be almost extinct.”