MARK SIEBERT: Poetry and Paydays



16 Mar - 17 Apr 2011


MARK SIEBERT | Gauche Praises Cool by Wulfe Hubermann, 2011

Mark Siebert’s work is characterised by provocation and coat-trailing, and by a focus on conceptions of art and value. Consider his work to date. There is the 2007 Downtown exhibition Fan Letters (not to go too far back). In this instance the fan’s ordinariness and the star’s untouchable glamour are crucial elements. They make an essential binary: the two things maintain each other. In the exhibited letters Siebert attempts to celebrate, but more importantly to defi ne or isolate, some essence of the particular musician’s oeuvre—or of the aesthetic to which the artist subscribes. The deliberate and amusing ineptitude of these celebrations, of these defi nitions, enacts that divide between artist and fan. The major, though unacknowledged move each letter makes is to touch the recording star: the Siebert persona will claim an equivalence, a familiarity with the star addressed, will insist that their meeting, their conversing as more or less equals is imaginable. The letters then go on to imagine that scenario. The letters—badly typed (anachronistically, you might think), words overtyped with Xs, and with corrections, typos, hand corrections—praise and admire, but offer also advice and criticism, they offer adulation with caveats and reservations. Thus the fan/star gap is bridged, the tension defused, the terms confl ated or collapsed. What price the ideal?

Siebert’s proposals are tendered at one level sincerely, at another as tongue in cheek. The purpose, or the effect, is to test our own identifi cations and reservations, to bring them into play—presenting a diffi culty, pushing impossibly for resolution: comic impasse, comic dilemma, for some people an irritation.

The recording star’s imagined horror and distaste at this lapse supplies some of the humour here. The writer’s comic hubris itself represents a storming, an envisioned storming, of the ideal. It may be amusingly Quixotic, but if it is Quixotic then it partakes, too, of idealism, of ‘greatness’. We can’t doubt, either, that this is also part of the work’s mission—an apprehension or statement of something abstract, ideal, an approach to the condition terrifi c music confers. The listener, too, can be cool, great.

These are very early 19th-century, Romantic conceptions, miniaturised (?) made bathetic (?) or merely democratised—by being instanced through rock n roll and pop music. We will be aware that this is High Art’s institutional perspective—even if we do not share it. (Maybe this registration of ‘bathos’ is High Art’s reserve position.) For Siebert’s purposes our recognition of discrepancy is enough. In any case Siebert’s ostensible persona can live with many contradictions. Just as we do, is the implication.

Mark Siebert’s 2008 Greenaway exhibition, Apples, was in a way quite perfect—a hymn to cool music and the new listening technology. Its centre-piece was a life-sized model of himself—of the artist-as-fan lying in state under glass, dressed in a cherished Velvet Underground t-shirt, an ipod clutched to his chest, headphones on, his face beatifi c, relaxed. Paradise achieved.

The paintings that fl eshed out that show were formatted like (i.e., they ‘referenced’) current bus-shelter size advertisements, deliberately just a little daggy and artisanal—so as not to be passed over as slick advertising and so as to emphasize idea over execution.

Siebert’s next, Forever 27—at AEAF in 2009—also dealt in hero recording stars, all of whom had died at twenty-seven? Was that it? This was Siebert’s (approximate) age at the time. The opening included Siebert’s claiming rock-star equivalence with the angry performance of a loud, amplified song. (The artist accompanied himself on electric guitar and, with his minder and body-guard, stormed out immediately he hit the last note: the star must not touch the audience.)

The tribute depictions that made up the exhibition were perhaps not strong enough technically to state the idea clearly from one piece to the next—though as a body perhaps they did.

Where the usual mode of much Adelaide art is imprecise and vague allegory, imprecise and vague metaphor or metonymy—endless meaning claimed but unearned, distinctly un-summoned, ‘themes’ standing boringly and inevitably in the wings, like barely willing extras on a movie set, dubious of the lighting and askance at the script. The content is a cliché. Siebert’s subject is a cliché—the ironic content is not.

Since the Greenaway and AEAF exhibitions of a year or more ago we have seen in CACSA’s New New survey a DVD fifi lm of the-artist-going-to-perdition, drinking himself to death and ruin—or to purgative apprehensions of an absolute, an ideal, an ur-truth—in the bars of the seedy East. Or the seedy bars of the East. A cliche, of course—of Rimbaud, of Graham Greene, of Mr Kurtz?—and its being distinctly invoked and only indistinctly or approximately evoked is again intentional. We see him playing chess, a hand regularly picking up the glass and drinking, drinking. Almost like a discipline, right? The themes are the usual—of art, the absolute, truth and abjection, idealism and the material world’s gravity.

Siebert’s current show promises to deal similarly with concepts of the artist and with the contradictions they contain. Is it a calling, a vocation, a job, a gamble, a delusion, a confi dence trick? Did Rilke have to write so many letters? (and he was a success story! Must you toady for money?) Does the system depend upon the failure of the many? Can you, come to think of it, spare a dime? Buddy? M’am? Cool!

- Wulfe Hubermann