LYNDELL BROWN & CHARLES GREEN
Sep 24 – Oct 24, 2010
Lyndell Brown and Charles Green
Artist Statement, 2010
These works were painted as we emerge from two years of processing our experiences as Australian war artists, which led us to strip down the Byzantine mazes of images and associations that usually mark our work in the face of the astonishing bleakness of contemporary conflict. Here we turn towards the palimpsests and layered trompe l’oeil that we have sought for many years. When we were in New Delhi at the start of 2008 for an exhibition of our war photographs, our Delhi Dealer was playing a CD in his car as we drove around: the Kronos Quartet’s new CD, cover versions of music for 1970s Bollywood films. We thought of paintings to incorporate that other history of Western interaction with the East: the hippy trail of the 1960s and 1970s. We have returned to India perhaps 15 times and have a strong connection with Tibetan culture. We decided to tell the story of the same times that we have been dealing with in our war images, bringing images from our travels in Asia into our paintings alongside the many other images we use. Now, at the level of art, this is painting in the tradition of Orientalist travel painting, current from the 18thc. on, in full awareness of the ideological baggage we now locate in those pictures. We are immensely aware of all our painter predecessors, and the paintings we cite are variations upon them.
Charles was walking on the very spine of the Himalayas, crossing to the Tibetan side of the Annapurna massif. A few months later he was to meet Lyndell, and she was to feel the same powerful connection with Asia and India and Central Asia in particular. This main image is of the valley floor just below that crossing. At the lower left corner, a crumpled clipping. The slogan was one that protestors attached to buildings in Beijing during the Olympics. And as well, the image of the protestors atop this communications tower in Beijing has added poignancy in the light of the terrible horrors the Chinese Government has inflicted on Tibet. Lower right, a detail of Bellini’s St Francis, from the Frick in New York. Top right, a larger image of Indian police patrolling for terrorists in Mumbai railway station.
A Darwinian mandala. A crudely painted and sculpted Tree of Life from the Chennai Natural History Museum is splayed over an encampment of pilgrims in North India, a monastery in Tibet and a tableaux of dancing hippies drawn from an amazing 1971 Bollywood film, Hare Rama Hare Krishna, where for the first time middle class Indian audiences realized that the young Western visitors flocking to sacred Indian sites were not solely in search of spiritual enlightenment. Over all this floats a crumpled photograph of Mohammed Haneef, the young Indian doctor imprisoned as a terrorist in 2007 under draconian Australian laws, in an update of the conflicted Australian relationship with the East.
At the epicentre of the painting a view of Bodhnath stupa, the ancient Kathmandu monument to which pilgrims and young Westerners flocked. Around this, wildly dancing hippies from the amazing 1971 Bollywood film, Hare Rama Hare Krishna, where for the first time middle class Indian audiences realized that the young Western visitors flocking to sacred Indian sites were not solely in search of spiritual enlightenment. Underneath and over them, an explosion of crumpled paper and cardboard. This cubist space is peeled back at the corners: at the bottom of the painting a view of an encampment of pilgrims at dusk in North India; at the top left, a view of opium poppy fields from a fast-moving helicopter during a military mission over Helmand province that we were on in early 2007. At the top right, a bridge across a void in the high mountains of Sikkim, from a journey in the early 1980s. Both the distorted image of Mohammed Haneef and the Helmand poppy fields update the collision of East and West.
This is the second of an ongoing series of double self-portraits. We are posed according to the figures an early 19thc painting; the postcard beside us shows this painting and beside that is a very degraded view of a famous Russian Constructivist monument to the Revolution being wheeled through Moscow. The drapery peels back on the left to show Robert Smithson’s great Spiral Jetty, 1970, at dusk and on the right, an old Tibetan painter who Green visited in the early 1980s in a remote corner of Zanskar. Beside and below us is a cascade of postcards, newspaper clippings, crumpled paper and book pages, including several images from the contemporary conflicts that we have been depicting.
A crumpled newspaper clipping of the scandalous and shameful Tampa incident hovers beside an image of a man running towards a burning bus in Baghdad and a small photograph. This image of ruined buildings is based on a photograph taken by Douglas Green (Charles Green’s father) in Manila, just after the Philippines was liberated by American troops in 1945. Douglas Green was an artist, a member of the George Bell School, and he worked as a cartographer in the AIF during the Second World War. Along with a group of other young Australian artists, he moved from island to island with General McArthur’s command, just behind the front line, making the maps each night that bombers used next day. In this image, a street market materializes from the ruins almost immediately the American soldiers enter the city. Stalls and shoppers float in a small island of light in the darkness beneath the wrecked buildings amidst the reassuringly purposeful movement of an Asian market. Shopkeepers arrange wares. GIs look at postcards, and one young American looks straight at us; the events of history return our gaze.
This duraclear print started with a slightly earlier painting, which we adapted for printing onto transparent film over a long period of time, digitally retouching and altering tonal and colour values. The main moonscape is adapted from a NASA Apollo moon mission photograph; the equipment suspiciously resembles late 1960s avant-garde sculpture. The book is an 18thc. medical textbook in the artists’ possession. It is illustrated by a portrait of Brigitte Bardot, who according to theorist Leo Bersani personifies the economy of the gaze-attractor. This is a film still from Jean-Luc Godard, Le Mepris(1963), Godard’s masterpiece. Michel Piccoli and Brigitte Bardot play a weak-willed scriptwriter and his beautiful wife. Godard descrided his cinematic recapitulation of Homer’s Odysseyin this film thus: “[T]he story of castaways of the Western world, survivors of the shipwreck of modernity who, like the heroes of Verne and Stevenson, one day reach a mysterious deserted island, whose mystery is the inexorable lack of mystery, of truth that is to say. Whereas the Odyssey of Ulysses was a physical phenomenon, I filmed a spiritual odyssey: the eye of the camera watching these characters in search of Homer replaces that of the gods watching over Ulysses and his companions.” (Jean-Luc Godard (“Le mépris,” Cahiers du cinéma146, August 1963). Godard's phrase, “in search of Homer” is a reference, of course, to Proust’s book’s title, À la recherche du temps perdu(Godard’s original French reads: à la recherche d’Homère).) With its refusal of written or spoken hermeneutics and captions, and its insistence on the affective power of images over other images, Godard’s systems have rules. His systematic organization of film history into an archive established a memory system that emphasized resonance: images are double-voiced, resonating with past meanings and predecessors. The artist’s hand at the bottom of the picture is overlaid by a tattoo of petrochemical complex pollution in the Bay Area, near San Francisco.