This Brittle Light: Light Source Commissions 2020-2021


I watch as a young deer explores a redwood forest, projected onto the gallery wall. Sometimes it sits down, stretches, sleeps; sometimes it walks into the middle distance and stares out at nothing. I could watch this computer-generated deer walk through this computer-generated forest forever, I think. It is hyperreal and I cannot look away. My friend explains to me that it moves at random; that we are not watching a video on a loop, but an ongoing sequence programmed by a computer. The deer will continue to move through the forest or disappear, controlled, but not controlled, by code. Whatever happens next is anyone’s guess.

Grant Stevens, Fawn in the Forest, 2020, Live streamed procedurally generated computer graphics with sound, Assisted by Pat Younis, Light Source commission – Buxton Contemporary 2020. Copyright the artist. Light Source commission, Buxton Contemporary, The University of Melbourne, 2020.

Fawn in the Forest
by Grant Stevens is one of six works at Buxton Contemporary. These works began their lives online, in response to the pandemic, as Light Source Commissions, and have shifted to the gallery space as This Brittle Light. Curator Melissa Keys tells me that the physical exhibition marks “a moment of transition in which we are re-adjusting and re-balancing.” She is talking about the experience of viewing art, but it feels apt for life too.

Some of the works are more suited to the space than others. Stuart Ringholt’s Looking at a painting without clothes on in the safety of your own home had its initial life as a flatpack mail-out, inviting the audience to stick the print onto the wall and then sit naked in front of it. Standing in the gallery space, viewing it behind glass, is a disparate experience. But still, I think about all the time I spent by myself in 2020, staring at the wall. How different I might have felt if I considered it an artistic act.

Although most of these works don’t directly refer to the pandemic, there is an unsettling feeling of disruption beneath them, or at least, the human response to disruption. Laresa Kosloff’s video work Radical Acts, which stitches together stock corporate footage to create an abstract narrative about climate and consumption, has a moment that sticks with me. A voiceover states, “We used our privilege to lie down in radical acts of horizontality.” And I think that that is such a bizarrely fitting way to describe the year that has just passed; that there is radicality in rest, that we may have created something artistic just by continuing to exist in a time of great strangeness.

I feel moved by What Goes Around, a video work by father and son Hossein and Nassiem Valamanesh, which animates a previously existing artwork, For Honey – a dedication to a lost family pet. A bundle of sticks and oil burners adorns an upside-down chair, which rotates slowly, hypnotically, zooming in and out. Beauty in the everyday, in the ordinary – it is easy to forget to look for it sometimes. There is power in making something with the person who made you.

Hossein Valamanesh, For Honey 2020, Wooden chair, Persian salt bag, red-gum sticks & copper oil burners, 107 x 45 x 40 cm © the artist. Light Source Commission, Buxton Contemporary, The University of Melbourne, 2021, Photo by M. Kluvanek.

Elsewhere there are ruminations on Bitcoin, racism and the concept of a museum collection itself, where it feels as though we have passed through realms into the back rooms normally reserved only for staff. It’s an immersive experience that also feels strangely detached. “Each commission has its own complexity and continuities that transcend the restrictive conditions in which they were produced,” Keys tells me. And I think, yes – each of these artworks is both here and beyond.

Keys says that visitors have been “intrigued with how the participating artists have approached the different contexts and environments.” She tells me, “Some visitors have made the observation that the two environments tend to effectively complement one another in art, as they do many aspects of life.” I think of John Berger who wrote, “Every image embodies a way of seeing.” Except, I think, that every image embodies multiple ways of seeing, or of living. And especially in the context of a pandemic, the possibilities of what we can see have been blown open.

Ultimately, I keep coming back to the deer. As I watch it stumble around the forest, then turn and walk into the light, I think of how fragile this all is, we all are, and how maybe art is the only thing that makes any sense, or matters, at all.

This Brittle Light: Light Source Commissions 2020-2021
Buxton Contemporary
12 March – 20 June

Feature Words by Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen