26 Aug - 4 Oct 2009
DAN MOYNIHAN | EXPERT
Exhibition Text by Virginia Mawer, 2009
There’s nothing punny about the work of Dan Moynihan. Sorry, I really can’t seem to help myself. They say humour is infectious, but this is worse than swine flu.
As a lover of puns, in fact, all manner of junk shop gag and cheap humour, Moynihan jokes with himself and the rest of us wherever he possibly can. In his latest show Expert, he shows us his prowess as a prankster with striking and catchy versions of reality. Full of self-effacing humour, his candour wins our hearts but simultaneously promotes caution, or at least the awareness that there’s more than just a little trickery going on. Although gleefully dropping clues to lead us towards certain conclusions, the artist revels in the “beforeness” of the punch line. He focuses on the moment of suspense and pure hope, wishing like hell that the joke will be funny, that the party guests will laugh. It is a space of highly charged anticipation.
With both sly wit and not-so-subtle puns, he creates spaces that trick us. The artist is, however, fully complicit in the suspense we experience. In the time before all is revealed, he’s right there with us, only too aware that anything could happen. This moment contains all the potential in the world. If things go well, glorious success adoration follows. If not, disaster. Faux pas or seeing a joke fall flat can be social suicide. Is it ever worth the risk? Moynihan says it is. Or maybe he just can’t help himself.
From John Donne’s puns, based on his own name, to Shakespeare’s puns on just about everything, literary wordplay has historically been both lorded and admonished. If Samuel Johnson was correct in saying that the pun is the lowest form of humour, Moynihan revels in its depths. He uses wordplay, substitution and visual puns to unsettle us once we’ve been seduced into his almost-real sculptural spaces.
Scale is also a crucial part of the comedic substitutions. The delightful suitcase on legs, Endless Summer, is akin to a Joseph Cornell boxed assemblage, with compartments for a Jacaranda pocket guide to Australian weather by A.J. Shields, a Walkman, spare batteries and a very stormy soundtrack. Moynihan describes it as “a summer survival kit for someone who prefers winter.” As a model train completes the circuit, it must pass through snowy peaks and out onto a dangerously precipitous curve all the while towing advertising space on its final carriage. With dry wit, the flip side of the billboard is only seen as it passes the alarm clock, reminding us that time is a constant.
While this miniature world inside a suitcase invites us closer, disarmingly life-sized casts, like in his Loose Cannon and One Small Step for Dan make a double take absolutely necessary.
Expert sees the entry into a world where Moynihan plays a lead role in a theatre of absurd possibilities. With an entrance way made of a massive polystyrene brick wall, prized open like a curtain in the night, the audience is drawn into Loose Cannon. Comprised of this wall and a flaccid 19th century polystyrene cannon, materiality belies utility. The wall betrays its very function by the ultra-lightweight nature of its bricks and the cannon hangs impotent, containing a plaster daredevil’s feet in repose yet ready to be hurled into the wall. Beyond the illogical use of polystyrene as a building material, we find another irony in Moynihan’s past life as a carpenter. He is certainly a master craftsman of traditional construction materials, but here we see a rejection of the firm foundations of dependable timber and the like. Unexpected found objects and discarded materials are used as absurd building stuffs. Often flimsy and unstable, they rise above their materiality, elevated in status by their new forms. There is calculated whimsy in these material substitutions.
Casting himself as the reluctant hero, another figure attempts a cartoon-style escape through the ceiling using his trusty hand saw in One Small Step for Dan. But like a malfunctioning projector flicking through frames of film, we see his same tool rising from the floor. Again, we are presented with the moment before the slapstick is delivered. Is our figure set to fall through the very hole he has cut? With homage to Duchampian aesthetic, he stands on a round stool, but with a secret prank (of which Rose Sélavy would be proud) our plaster protagonist wears his art history on his chest.
And so, when a second of suspense is stretched for a painful yet familiar eternity, things really could go either way. During inbetweenness, the absurd may be the most likely outcome. In the end we all know who will be laughing.
- Virginia Mawer