Ali McCann

In Issue 43, Melbourne artist Ali McCann speaks about the unique processes behind her carefully constructed photographs, videos and sculptural works.

Several years ago I inherited a number of art history textbooks from my mother, a high school art and ceramics teacher who began teaching in the early 1970s. It seems to me now that much of my art practice has been an unconscious channeling of the pedagogical aesthetics of these publications.

I’ve noticed parallels in my recent works with an educational handbook called The Story of Sculpture (1969). I’m particularly drawn to its photographic reproductions of ancient, ‘primitive’ and modernist sculptures. In technical and aesthetic terms, these images vary considerably: objects are presented in greyscale, monochrome or against de-saturated backdrops, in situ, or as part of a museological display. Some are bland, awkwardly cropped, and captured with harsh lighting. Others are beautiful, emanating a strange nostalgic resonance that transcends their instructional purpose.

The objects in my photographs, videos and sculptural works are invariably sourced from the storerooms, cupboards and waste bins of educational institutions where I have taught photography.

In my 2017 exhibition ‘An Introduction to Liminal Aesthetics’ (at c3 Contemporary Art Space), I photographed a number of outmoded teaching aids, which had been used for decades to teach the principles of mathematics, physics, art and textile design, but were now defunct and marked by time. Other sculptural forms appearing in this series were assembled from wooden off-cuts from the college’s luthier workshop.

More recently, in the exhibition ‘Polytechnic’ (at Tristian Koenig, 2018) these abstract forms and teaching aids became my point of departure, such that I regarded these singular objects with a sort of reverence, as miniature ‘monuments’ to the recurring forms, motifs and imagery of obsolete art and design text books.

Such reverence for the object has carried over to my recent works Untitled (Sphere) (2018) and Untitled (Bust) (2018), which will appear in my forthcoming solo show at Caves Gallery in Melbourne. In the latter work, the found object is elevated on a custom-made triangular plinth; a polystyrene head is covered with black pantyhose. Once used to display headwear designed by students, the form is weighed down by a kitchen tile, with dressmaker pins illuminating the eyes. Aesthetically, the works have parallels with Dada and Surrealist photography.

My underlying interest is primarily in the reactivation of these disused and abandoned objects, and to re-contextualise the psychological space once occupied by such artefacts and their inherent aesthetics, which have long been relegated to the archives, laying dormant in the interiors of educational institutions.

This article was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 43, 2018

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