Testing Grounds

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Testing Grounds

Testing Grounds

Plane And Field

Beth Arnold
22.12.16 - 22.03.17
0023
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For three summer months, from December 2o16 to March 2017, Beth Arnold’s installation work Plane and Field cast rainbows all over the Testing Grounds site, produced by panes of safety glass installed throughout the superstructure. The work consisted of fourteen glass units, a publication, eleven umbrellas, and a series of rainbow-hunting performances.

Depending on the sun and the time of day, subtle rainbow spectrums were cast around the site – onto furniture, on the gravel ground, or across the bodies moving through the site. Visitors were invited to pick up umbrellas from next to the bar to ‘chase’ these rainbows. Because of the careful angling of the glass overhead, these rainbows were often found in unexpected places like the shadow of a bench, or bending up a metal pole, and not easily traced back to the particular panel producing them. This element of the unexpected added to the delight of the spectrum itself.

 

Plane and Field was based on Beth’s observations of glass in our urban environments; much of the glass used now is safety glass with a polished, arrised edge which acts as a prism. It is this standard edge finish which casts these incidental rainbows. The installation used this same glass, reminiscent of louvre windows and industrial glass, but strays from its functional application to focus on the rainbow effect.

As Beth put it in her application for the project, “The starting point was noticing and documenting how the glass used in contemporary architecture casts unintentional ‘rainbows’ into sites. The glass that is now commonly used in buildings is typically safety glass with a polished, arrised edge which acts as a prism. It is this standard edge finish which casts these incidental rainbows. I have been photographing these rainbows where I find them: in foyers, at tram stops and on footpaths. I have been thinking about them as subtle indicators of change in the materiality of the built environment. This particular glass is synonymous with contemporary buildings and constructs the rainbows as a byproduct of the present.”

This effect being created by everyday safety glass but installed in the context of an art space invited viewers to rethink the incidental delights of our built environment, and pay new attention to the materials of the city around them.

Rainbow hunting

One of the great pleasures of the installation was how the rainbows changed intensity and location not only throughout the day, but throughout the three months, drawing attention to the changing arc of the sun across the city throughout the year. As Beth put it, “Even the disappointment of visitors when when the weather was overcast or the sun had already retreated behind the surrounding buildings, hiding the rainbows, was a way for people to engage with and think about the relationship between the city and sunlight. In short, a work that was site specific in the most delightful way.

 

Panel shadow

While the work could be described broadly as a site specific sculptural work, it also involved intersection with engineering and building disciplines as the panels were designed in consultation with structural engineers to comply with Australian Building Standards. The engineering report was accompanied by technical drawings, and a manufacturer’s compliance report. The thoroughness of planning the design and manufacturing processes, and the documentation of those processes, underlines the link between Plane and Field as an installation piece and the work as a research project for the artist.

As a research project, the length of time the installation was able to remain installed was key to Beth learning about the materials she was using. In debriefing the project, Beth wrote, “It was very valuable to my practice to have the time and space with the work – both in the install period and over the length of the show. Having [regular] access to the site and being able to use the Clear and White Box during install and de-install was so beneficial. It gave us a base to enjoy the process of putting the work together. To have the work in situ for the three months allowed me to see how it functioned and shifted over time, in different conditions and also in the context of Testing Grounds changing program.”

These comments highlight how the work was site specific in the sense of time as well as space: the flexibility of the Testing Grounds infrastructure and the adaptability of the programming to be able to keep an outdoor installation in place for three months was key to the success of the project from the artist’s perspective. And in a nod to the spirit of experiencing the work changing over time, Beth has graciously left two panels installed in the superstructure; an enduring piece of the project living on at Testing Grounds.

 

Reflections on Plane and Field, by Katie Paine

The day that I first visit Beth Arnold’s Plane and Field at Testing Grounds just so happens to be Australia Day. After walking amidst the stifling, teeming crowds- just minutes after the Invasion Day protest- stepping down into South Bank feels like entering an altogether disparate realm. As I descend the stairs that lead down to the site, the pulsing heat subsides a little, as forbidding apartment buildings -concrete obelisks- obscure the glaring sun. The web of steel beams that composes Testing Grounds’ new ‘superstructure’ spreads out below me: an inviting haven from the surrounding chaos.

The buildings that loom above the site are hewn of dark inscrutable concrete: Testing Grounds in turn, all minimal spatial intervention; geometric metallic structures, sun-shades and plants-even the shipping container ‘studios’- seem feather-light. Curiously, segments of the site are connected to the core ‘superstructure’ with magnets, to allow for as great a freedom of movement and transition as possible. Upon hearing of this, I imagine parts of the structure rising up from the ground, defying all laws of gravity, suspended by some unknown elemental force: rotating, morphing, shifting until eventually it pauses once more, in its new configuration.

The superstructure stretches in a metallic grid, across the Testing Grounds allotment: a steely Mondrian amidst dull Brutalist office buildings. It is the subtleties of this metropolis, its cyclical temporality, that Melbourne-based Arnold explores in her three-month project Plane and Field. Minute, easy-to-miss details of her urban environment are explored in her broader practice: the city’s hulking buildings, congested traffic, liminal construction sites. For Plane and Field, it is the many thousands of safety glass panels, glinting in the sunlight: casting lurid motifs on the urban landscape that become the tool of her spatial scrutiny.

Whilst working in the city, Arnold began to notice and subsequently photograph startlingly clear and recurring rainbows projected throughout the city from the safety glass ubiquitously used in the windows of office buildings, at tram stops, and in shopfronts. The resulting rainbows seem incongruous to their settings: as pedestrians we may look up at office buildings to see a flash of magenta, gold and indigo, as a myriad sun beams are cast down from the window. Yet it is odd to think that behind a sheet of this incandescent glass lies a compact bureaucratic universe: a crumpled office worker sitting amidst piles of paper, breathing in stale air. After compiling a photographic archive of such fleeting glimpses of dazzling light refraction, Arnold looked to Testing Grounds as a site in which she might orchestrate a microcosm in which a phosphorescent constellation might evolve.

Throughout her art career, Arnold has sustained a fascination with relational aesthetics: with the way that we inhabit built environments, with the way site-specific installations can heighten awareness of the subtleties of the white cube, or gathering collections of images that document the prosaic gestures and rituals we act out repeatedly in our urban life. Indeed, Arnold has taken on the role of archivist frequently throughout her practice; forensically documenting her spatial interventions, or erecting sculptures from a culmination of casts. One notable archive took the form of an online project; an archive of forgotten objects: a trampled jacket on a footpath, a mattress lingering in hard rubbish, that was ultimately exhibited as part of Juliana Enberg’s exhibition Gestures and Procedures at ACCA in 2010. At times Arnold specifically focused on the history of a site more literally. Within Foundations, a VicUrban public art commission in Officer, Victoria, drew attention to site as a complex and often fraught palimpsestual environment- particularly in Post-Colonial Australia. Arnold and collaborator Sary Zananiri documented the construction a brick fence that followed the contours of the floor plan of a typical suburban house: a hybrid skeleton- housing development meets the ruins of a colonial farmhouse.

For Plane and Field, sheets of safety glass were attached to the upper frame of the Testing Grounds awnings. At certain times of day, the height of the sun, or cloud arrangements align to cast dazzling rainbows upon artists working during on-site residencies, passers-by stopping for coffee… and the occasional dog. Amidst this odd environment- a hybrid of architectural dynamism and bleak corporate uniformity- Plane and Field evokes a sense of play and absurdity. According to a strategically placed didactic, visitors are invited to take a coral pink umbrella, and meander about the site, searching for Arnold’s elusive rainbows, praying ‘the time is right’. To a passing pedestrian, it certainly is an odd picture: the sleek silver superstructure, below a vast overpass, wedged between buildings- cars roaring on either side-is interrupted by the waltzing presence of a visitor clutching a pink umbrella despite the dry, overcast day, looking about with the determined fervour of an ornithologist tracking down a rare finch. There is something of the delightful happenstance, the possibility of thousands –some unwittingly- participating in Arnold’s project, somewhat evocative of the instruction works of Yoko Ono or her fellow Fluxus practitioner George Brecht.

Walking and looking become processes of artistic practice for Arnold and Plane and Field invites visitors to engage in the same ongoing acts of spatial scrutiny. Immersed within Arnold’s site-specific installation, I take further delight in the couples that wander in to Testing Grounds, hand-in-hand, gazing at the site in bewilderment. “They must be setting up for one of those food truck events”, a woman murmurs to her partner, despite the signs announcing this as a site of artistic innovation at every turn. This is the very obliviousness, this lack of connection to space, to our physical relation to the world, that Arnold attempts to combat with her current installation.

To me, rainbows have always appeared such a temporal marker, a happenstance occurrence, certainly, one that feels rare to encounter day-to-day let alone abundantly in one afternoon. Plane and Field draws us into a waiting game, pulling us further into fantastical world, in which time collapses, and an infinite array of rainbows might be seen at the same time. Inviting visitors to allow their actions to be dictated by the solar cycles marks a return to agrarian time, to being at one with the natural world, in the midst of a city whose ‘8-hour day’ is rigidly delineated by Western chronological ideas of linear ‘clock’ time. Leaving the site, I climb back up the staircase that rises above Testing Grounds. Gazing down, Arnold’s work melds seamlessly with the superstructure: as if this complex network were the nebula of some machine of unknown purpose, flashes of light dancing across the metallic beams in a cyclical waltz.

The buildings that loom above the site are hewn of dark inscrutable concrete: Testing Grounds in turn, all minimal spatial intervention; geometric metallic structures, sun-shades and plants-even the shipping container ‘studios’- seem feather-light. Curiously, segments of the site are connected to the core ‘superstructure’ with magnets, to allow for as great a freedom of movement and transition as possible. Upon hearing of this, I imagine parts of the structure rising up from the ground, defying all laws of gravity, suspended by some unknown elemental force: rotating, morphing, shifting until eventually it pauses once more, in its new configuration.

The superstructure stretches in a metallic grid, across the Testing Grounds allotment: a steely Mondrian amidst dull Brutalist office buildings. It is the subtleties of this metropolis, its cyclical temporality, that Melbourne-based Arnold explores in her three-month project Plane and Field. Minute, easy-to-miss details of her urban environment are explored in her broader practice: the city’s hulking buildings, congested traffic, liminal construction sites. For Plane and Field, it is the many thousands of safety glass panels, glinting in the sunlight: casting lurid motifs on the urban landscape that become the tool of her spatial scrutiny.

Whilst working in the city, Arnold began to notice and subsequently photograph startlingly clear and recurring rainbows projected throughout the city from the safety glass ubiquitously used in the windows of office buildings, at tram stops, and in shopfronts. The resulting rainbows seem incongruous to their settings: as pedestrians we may look up at office buildings to see a flash of magenta, gold and indigo, as a myriad sun beams are cast down from the window. Yet it is odd to think that behind a sheet of this incandescent glass lies a compact bureaucratic universe: a crumpled office worker sitting amidst piles of paper, breathing in stale air. After compiling a photographic archive of such fleeting glimpses of dazzling light refraction, Arnold looked to Testing Grounds as a site in which she might orchestrate a microcosm in which a phosphorescent constellation might evolve.

Throughout her art career, Arnold has sustained a fascination with relational aesthetics: with the way that we inhabit built environments, with the way site-specific installations can heighten awareness of the subtleties of the white cube, or gathering collections of images that document the prosaic gestures and rituals we act out repeatedly in our urban life. Indeed, Arnold has taken on the role of archivist frequently throughout her practice; forensically documenting her spatial interventions, or erecting sculptures from a culmination of casts. One notable archive took the form of an online project; an archive of forgotten objects: a trampled jacket on a footpath, a mattress lingering in hard rubbish, that was ultimately exhibited as part of Juliana Enberg’s exhibition Gestures and Procedures at ACCA in 2010. At times Arnold specifically focused on the history of a site more literally. Within Foundations, a VicUrban public art commission in Officer, Victoria, drew attention to site as a complex and often fraught palimpsestual environment- particularly in Post-Colonial Australia. Arnold and collaborator Sary Zananiri documented the construction a brick fence that followed the contours of the floor plan of a typical suburban house: a hybrid skeleton- housing development meets the ruins of a colonial farmhouse.

For Plane and Field, sheets of safety glass were attached to the upper frame of the Testing Grounds awnings. At certain times of day, the height of the sun, or cloud arrangements align to cast dazzling rainbows upon artists working during on-site residencies, passers-by stopping for coffee… and the occasional dog. Amidst this odd environment- a hybrid of architectural dynamism and bleak corporate uniformity- Plane and Field evokes a sense of play and absurdity. According to a strategically placed didactic, visitors are invited to take a coral pink umbrella, and meander about the site, searching for Arnold’s elusive rainbows, praying ‘the time is right’. To a passing pedestrian, it certainly is an odd picture: the sleek silver superstructure, below a vast overpass, wedged between buildings- cars roaring on either side-is interrupted by the waltzing presence of a visitor clutching a pink umbrella despite the dry, overcast day, looking about with the determined fervour of an ornithologist tracking down a rare finch. There is something of the delightful happenstance, the possibility of thousands –some unwittingly- participating in Arnold’s project, somewhat evocative of the instruction works of Yoko Ono or her fellow Fluxus practitioner George Brecht.

Walking and looking become processes of artistic practice for Arnold and Plane and Field invites visitors to engage in the same ongoing acts of spatial scrutiny. Immersed within Arnold’s site-specific installation, I take further delight in the couples that wander in to Testing Grounds, hand-in-hand, gazing at the site in bewilderment. “They must be setting up for one of those food truck events”, a woman murmurs to her partner, despite the signs announcing this as a site of artistic innovation at every turn. This is the very obliviousness, this lack of connection to space, to our physical relation to the world, that Arnold attempts to combat with her current installation.

To me, rainbows have always appeared such a temporal marker, a happenstance occurrence, certainly, one that feels rare to encounter day-to-day let alone abundantly in one afternoon. Plane and Field draws us into a waiting game, pulling us further into fantastical world, in which time collapses, and an infinite array of rainbows might be seen at the same time. Inviting visitors to allow their actions to be dictated by the solar cycles marks a return to agrarian time, to being at one with the natural world, in the midst of a city whose ‘8-hour day’ is rigidly delineated by Western chronological ideas of linear ‘clock’ time. Leaving the site, I climb back up the staircase that rises above Testing Grounds. Gazing down, Arnold’s work melds seamlessly with the superstructure: as if this complex network were the nebula of some machine of unknown purpose, flashes of light dancing across the metallic beams in a cyclical waltz.

Reflections on Plane and Field

Katie Paine is an artist, writer and curator exploring historicity and the archive through the creation of complex fictions. Using writing as a mode of artistic practice alongside criticism, Paine has written for institutions such as Next Wave, Bus Projects, Nicholas Projects, Art Kollectiv, Art Almanac and Art and Australia. Katie Paine is interested in nurturing accessible professional development for emerging artists and facilitating sustainable multidisciplinary creative networks: Paine runs a critical writing program for RMIT Link Arts and Culture and also works as c3 Contemporary Art Space’s gallery manager.  You can find her at www.katielouisepaine.com, or documenting her ongoing practice at @dreamsofspeaking on Instagram.

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