Show Court 3

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Show Court 3
Curated by Jane O’Neill, Rod Laver Arena Complex, Melbourne Olympic Parks

Show Court 3 was a 3-day event which involved setting up 75 sculptures in a professional outdoor tennis court, thus transforming a non-art environment into a transient museum.  The project successfully diffused the cultural barrier between art and sport, albeit momentarily, whilst offering viewers a playful yet stimulating experience.

A catalogue was produced by Nellie Castan Gallery in 2009 and was launched, along with documentation of the project, with the exhibition Mood Bomb in 2009.

Photos: John Brash
Video Stills: Annie Wilson

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Catalogue essay by Jane O’Neill:
A curious and often remarked upon aspect of Australian art history is that many of its key stylistic innovations have been the result of local artists’ reliance on poor reproductions in order to keep in touch with developments overseas: grainy black and white photos of works shown in Europe and North America have inspired Australian artists to produce works which, had they been exposed to foreign art in the original, might never have come into existence. Such events are bound to happen less often now, with the efficient dissemination of images through advanced technology; but the spectacle of Show Court 3, staged outdoors at Melbourne Olympic Parks, is the result of just such a mis-interpretation.

The exhibition was inspired by an image of The Happy Ending of Franz Kafka’s Amerika; a work presented by Martin Kippenberger at the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen in Rotterdam in 1994. Kippenberger’s installation consisted of a great number of tables and pairs of chairs placed in various interview settings and arranged across what appears to be an indoor sports stadium. The pieces of furniture recall different eras of design. Kippenberger, in a discussion about the work, remarked that “everyone will remember a chair that embodies something or other, and then you are transported to that time, as if you were carrying around a visual encyclopaedia with you”.[1] Kippenberger’s use of a sporting stadium as a backdrop emphasised the degree to which the modern interview situation is like a sporting event, in the sense that it requires strategic action in a rule governed environment.

When I encountered the first series of Jam Session sculptures by Louise Paramor at Nellie Castan Gallery in 2006, I was reminded of an image I had seen of Kippenberger’s work. Paramor’s works recall the culture of the discarded; plastic items mostly gleaned from the jumbles of rubbish placed at street kerbs. Her works share with Kippenberger’s, “the whole idiom of the found, mixed up with reproductions and with self-designed ideas”[2] Paramor’s use of furniture to evoke the absurd nature of human interactions also struck a familiar chord.

In jam sessions a white sun lounge wrapped around a rocking horse conjures notions of containment, perhaps the swaddling of a child or a type of pregnancy. Botticelli's Venus is recalled as a shelf penetrated with hosing rises up out of a blue clam-shell […]. The general ambience is that of a deserted kindergarten or playground, leaving the viewer in a similarly isolated position.[3]

As a result of the similarity I perceived between Kippenberger’s work and Paramor’s, I approached the artist and suggested a sporting stadium as an exhibition venue for the sculptures. Only once the search for a venue was underway did I discover that Kippenberger had in fact fabricated the look of an indoor soccer field within a museum; The Happy Ending of Franz Kafka’s Amerika, complete with astroturf backdrop was re-staged at the Tate Modern in 2006.

As is often the case when an attempt is made to stage a contemporary art project outside of the gallery, the idea was met with doubt by officials at the sport centre. A major concern was that the sculptures would damage the surface of the court. To allay such fears, Paramor trundled an example of her sculpture to the meeting: a white plastic chair with hosing of various colours protruding. The fact that this chair was exactly the sort that officials at tennis tournaments sit on convinced the court managers that the sculptures could cause no harm, and so a date was set.
When viewing exhibitions at art galleries, it is common to see the art in the context of other work exhibited in that particular space. Here, at Melbourne Olympic Parks, Paramor’s exhibition tended to be seen and compared with the other forms of mass entertainment the venue has hosted. The sculptures created a jarring visual disruption when placed in a location normally associated with play and movement. The stadium seating surrounding the tennis court incited an expectation of frenetic entertainment; a number of viewers sat looking at the sculptures, as though waiting for them to spin and jump around. For most, the exhibition reversed the usual role of visitors to such stadia: at such places one generally sits and watches others move; here the objects on the tennis court were static, it was the spectators who moved around.

The installation offered a kaleidoscope of juxtapostions and interpretations. Some of the works hinted at the theme of tennis. A bulbous red and black form suggested the shape of a ball machine and the lines of a black milk crate resonated with those of the court net. The collection invited the viewer to a game of playful exploration: searching out repetitions of particular objects, colours or shapes. The recurring use of balls, hula hoops and baby baths created a sense of structure and continuity across the sculptures, while colour provided a rhythm. The idiosyncratic palette of domestic plastics became apparent: the vividness of its hot pinks, the rarity of its purples. Children gravitated to the cubby houses, hula-hoops and sandpits, frustrated by their playful appearance. Mothers recognised the baby baths and children’s furniture as objects no longer confined to the world of everyday drudgery. It was possible for every viewer to form fresh visual and tactile connections with materials which had otherwise had their place in the mundane operations of domestic life.

Overwhelmingly though, the works address not only our experience of inanimate objects but also human interaction. Much of Paramor’s practice deals with the themes of love and sexuality. Through these sculptural pieces the artist expresses the surprising complexity of human physicality. …because the objects Paramor collects are designed for the human body, above all for hands and arses, the jam sessions acquire anthropomorphic qualities, even characters of their own, at once innocent and faintly obscene.[4] For instance, the way the artist jams things into each other seems to mimic the sex act. In one work, the two poles that protrude from a bin resemble legs splayed wide in the air. Elsewhere mint green baby baths are configured so as to resemble the smooth head of a penis. Staged within a sporting arena, we might well regard the exhibition as a tournament of fictional calisthenics.

There is a thirty minute video film of the installation and de-installation of the exhibition.[5] It emphasises the physicality of the artist’s involvement. We see her moving about the court carefully placing each of the works. While the photographic documentation presents the work as a finished product, in the video the exhibition appears a kind of marathon event. For Paramor, it was indeed an act of physical and mental endurance. In the lead up to the exhibition, the artist spent a year systematically collecting items, cleaning the plastic, creating the works, dismantling the works, labelling, packing and storing the pieces. In exhibition week, the works were packed, unpacked, placed, assembled and exhibited. As the artist staggered to the finish line on the last rainy day of the exhibition, the works were dismantled, thrown in the back of a truck and driven away.

[1] Roberto Ohrt, Kippenberger. Cologne: Taschen, Cologne, 1997, p.183
[2] ibid, p.18
[3] Jane O’Neill, A Bunch of Flowers, Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, Western Australia, 2006.
[4] Justin Clemens, Show Court 3, The Monthly magazine, July 2007, p. 65.
[5] Filmed by Annie Wilson the film is shot at intervals of 1 second every thirty for the installation and de-installation of the exhibition.


Show Court 3 was reviewed in Realtime Magazine, The Monthly Magazine and The Herald Sun newspaper.
The time-lapse DVD of the installation of Show Court 3 and seven Jam Session sculptures were included in the travelling exhibition Under My Skin (2008/9), an Asialink project curated by Sarah Bond and Georgia Sedgwick.

Under My Skin was shown at Ateneo Art Gallery, Manila, The Phillipines; Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore and Samuso: Space for Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea.
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