Australian artist Tim Craker undertook a 3-month residency at Rimbun Dahan in 2006. In July 2011, he returned to Malaysia to take up the first artist’s residency at Hotel Penaga in George Town, Penang. During the residency he created the installation sculpture Beyond the Pail, now on display in front of the main hotel entrance.
Beyond the Pail, plastic buckets & cable ties, ca. 160cm diameter, 2011.
Beyond the Pail is an assemblage of twelve ten-gallon yellow translucent plastic buckets, suspended in space and able to rotate about its vertical axis. The works’s construction is based on the dodecahedron, one of the five Platonic solids, each side of which is a pentagon.
The work stems from a fascination with both the everyday object, released from its usual purpose, and the possibilities of combination that it may offer. The bucket, in this case, is no longer a functional object, but becomes an element of a larger construction that refers to the basic geometry of the natural world – the underlying patterns that are both decorative and seminal – the perfection of which is alleviated by the random positioning of the buckets’ handles.
Suspended and rotating gently in passing breezes, Beyond the Pail provides gentle subversion of quotidian functionality, while making visual reference to – amongst other things – viral particles, Buckminster-Fuller’s geodesic domes (a local example of which is situated adjacent to the Komtar tower here in Georgetown), pollen grains and spaceships.
Beyond the pail, certainly! Beyond the pale, I hope not.
Artists’ Statement from the Travelling Exhibition dot-net-dot-au, 2008
In 2006 I was very fortunate to spend three months in Malaysia as a full-time artist. The residency – at Rimbun Dahan, a private estate on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur – was a fantastic and intense period of sensory stimulation, reflection, artistic exploration and creative production, in a luxurious and supportive environment. This series of work stems from that time.
My overwhelming impression of Malaysia – gathered from many previous visits, as well as my residency – was primarily pattern, both natural and man-made. From the tiling of Kuala Lumpur pavements to the lattice of tropical vegetation against the sky, my eye was taken by the prevalence and variety of pattern – botanical, Islamic and industrial.
Pattern is by definition repeated units, and a pattern is discerned through identification of these units, their repetition and interrelationship. Patterns can be merely decorative – children make patterns with seashells at the beach, for example – but we also talk of seeing a pattern, when we discern a connection between disparate objects or events, which hints at a meaning behind them.
One stimulus for the work is a fascination with pattern and how it “works”; another is the excitement of generating substantial pieces from myriad small, unregarded and everyday objects and things.
Several months ago I read in one of the weekend newspaper magazines a regular article about someone’s “favourite things”. This particular week one of the objects was a small length of an enormously long daisy chain, made as an entry in a sculpture competition by the person’s nine-year-old daughter, Lola. Part of Lola’s artist’s statement was: “I like daisy chains because you start with something little and end with something big.” I tore the page out, took it to my studio and stuck Lola’s quotation in my journal.
The materials themselves – objects by which we are surrounded but of which we rarely take notice – are also a stimulus, coupled with a desire to transform or release them from their expected role.
What if a plastic spoon is released from mere function and becomes part of a huge cargo net, screen or trap, for example? A single disposable plastic cup is just a plastic cup; hundreds of cups tied together become something else altogether, and many things at the same time. Dull practicality cedes to other ways of using objects, subverting or ignoring their actual purpose – less serious, unpredictable, more interesting….
Above: detail of ‘Thought Pattern’, plastic chinese soup spoons, nylon thread. 250 x 400cm. 2007
Plastic disposable materials have been chosen not only for their “transformative potential”, but because they are cheap (nine hundred plastic cups are still affordable, for example!), readily available, light, durable and easily worked. Safety fencing is also a cheap and abundant material – what excitement to buy fifty metres of it! The materials one uses carry a whole set of meanings, though, which are part – even if on a subconscious level – of why they are chosen and the meanings the work may suggest.
In Malaysia during my 2006 residency, I was invited to be part of an exhibition entitled “Feed Me!”. The curatorial theme was an exploration of food and its cultural and social significance. I thought of the role that a common interest in food – recipes, ritual, preparation, eating – has played (and continues to play) in the successful meeting of my family with my Malaysian partner and his family. I considered, on a broader scale, the importance of food – in all its various manifestations – in intercultural relations. Food is sustenance, embodies tradition, and demonstrates familial love and care. It also epitomises cultural difference – while offering the means of transcending it…
Food utensils have been objects and subjects I have often returned to – I realise, in retrospect – in my work. Aside from the tactile attractions of the immediately-recognisable and particular shapes, maybe what I return to is the symbolic representation of order, of ritual, of “civilised” ingestion, of the set table, of sitting down to dinner and conversations over a meal – and what that might stand against.
The materials are plastic and non-degradable – symptomatic of a throw-away society. They have little aesthetic value – their design criteria value low cost first, then functionality. They are disposable and “single-use”, yet fill kitchen cupboards, builders’ skips and landfill everywhere. They are the products of a petrochemical industry itself responsible for vast environmental damage – in accessing raw materials, in the by- products of manufacture and in the consumption of the end-product hydrocarbon fuels.
In a gentle subversion of the dictates of hyper-consumerism, the worthless, “unfriendly” and disposable is assembled in these works on a monumental scale, and invested with new aesthetic worth: the mundane is transformed, the banal subverted. Myriad units are assembled together; grids are formed piece by piece according to certain rules; lattices of both two and three dimensions are captured or created. The construction process becomes meditative – repeated actions of drilling, placing, threading, knotting or trimming are performed, but create an unpredicted and organic result, a molecular array, a crystalline lattice. The grid is also approached from the opposite direction: units of a “found” plastic lattice are selectively deleted to reveal a leaf shape in outline, a botanical silhouette – the plastic scoop removes the fallen leaf from the swimming pool. The contrast between medium and message is between the un-aesthetic, unregarded industrial fencing, used for protection, exclusion and visibility, and the living natural biodegradable leaf, between one pattern and another, between design and evolution. Offcuts, like dead leaves, fall below the screens.
What information might a pattern contain, and how is it encoded?
Does the botanical information always lie within the plastic screen?
Is the screen something we see through, or something that prevents our access?
Patterns are perfect, geometric and regular. More fascinating, however, is the disruption of the pattern: the net sags, stretches and folds; segments of the pattern are excised; the repetition is imperfect; the regular structure is deformed. The perfect geometry of a spiderweb only becomes useful when a fly has infringed its meticulous structure. [Alan Fletcher, “The Art of Looking Sideways”, Phaidon Press 2001]. Pristine rigidity morphs into organic imperfection; patterns and their shadows superimpose in Moire interference: perfection is both an illusion and much less interesting than reality.
At what point does a disrupted pattern become mere chaos?
When do patterns within patterns become too complex to apprehend?
My work in dot-net-dot-au refers to – amongst other things – genetic codes and their transcription errors, to cellular arrays and honeycomb, to the computer-drawing of three-dimensional objects and surfaces, to molecular models. It subverts the original use for everyday objects and materials, and in a gentle way addresses issues of biodegradability and permanence, of the culture of the disposable, of our cultural culinary appetites and of the occident and the orient. The motivation for the work is intuitive rather than primarily conceptual. The works arise from a response to materials, and from a desire – shared with Lola – to make something big out of something little, something valuable out of something worthless, something you want to keep from something you throw away.
Photography for dot-net-dot-au, except profile image of Tim, by Andrew Wuttke & Gavin Hansford.
Above: Tim Craker’s open studio at Rimbun Dahan during his first residency in 2006.