Sunday, July 19, 2015

TULLY ARNOT / 'Jurassic Cup' reviewed in The Australian

Image: Tully Arnot, Jurassic Cup, 2013, Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, purchased 2013.

Tully Arnot's Jurassic Cup artwork was recently reviewed by Kitty Hauser for The Australian. Read the full story here, or an excerpt below. 


In 1973, the Dublin-born artist Michael Craig-Martin put a glass of water on a shelf and called it An Oak Tree. The work became almost emblematic of the chicaneries of conceptual art — this was around the same time as the media furore over the purchase by the Tate of Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII (also known as bricks) and the fuss over the purchase of Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles by the National Gallery of Australia. 

It’s not clear whether the young Australian artist Tully Arnot was thinking of An Oak Tree when he made Jurassic Cup, but the difference between the two works tells one story — among many others — about what has happened in contemporary art since the heady days of the early 1970s. Craig-Martin’s glass of water — which he insisted had been transformed by him into an oak tree — is a work of pure stand-alone conceptualism. Jurassic Cup makes fewer claims for itself. It is less grand, less pure, and funnier; it relies for its effect on the viewer’s absorption in a popular culture from which no one can wholly escape.

What Arnot has done is to re-enact — after a fashion — that scene in Steven Spielberg’s film Jurassic Park where the theme park visitors are sheltering from the rain in a Ford Explorer. We know the T-rex is coming because ripples appear on the surface of a glass of water on the dashboard of the car as the gigantic creature lumbers towards it. It is, apparently, one of the most memorable scenes from the film, and it’s certainly one of the ­cleverest. With visual economy, Spielberg shows us one thing while thrilling us with thoughts of something very different. And in a film famous for its use of state-of-the-art computer-generated imagery and other visual effects, the ripples were created with nothing more than a guitar string.

For Jurassic Cup, Arnot embedded a motor from an iPhone 4 in the bottom of a plastic cup filled with water and programmed it to vibrate at the same intervals as in the film, increasing its vibrations as the dinosaur gets closer. Twelve minutes of silence follow before the sequence begins again. The idea is that the viewer encounters what looks like an ordinary plastic cup half full of water (left behind, perhaps, after a gallery event), but then the weirdly automatic rippling rings a bell somewhere in deep cultural memory, evoking an uncanny feeling of familiarity.

The piece is a sort of visual joke that depends for its effect on our knowledge of the film to which it alludes. I can’t say whether it works, not only because I don’t remember the scene from Jurassic Park, but also because the piece wasn’t working when I visited Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, where it is on display (it has apparently since been fixed).

Malfunction is something of a hazard for an artist who specialises in handmade works that make subtle technological interventions into ordinary life, animating the objects that surround us.

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