This review by Christopher Allen published in the Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday, March 2, 1991 to coincide with my exhibition "Machina: Persona"at the Art Gallery of NSW, January– March 1991 . Other critical reviews for the same exhibition by Elwyn Lynn (the Australian), descriptive material by Wendy Symonds (AGNSW magazine "Look"), Pat Hoffie published in Art Monthly Australia, March 1991.

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I cannot help wondering, however, whether effective promotion by the gallery could not draw in more people for something truly delightful and incisive, like Arthur Wicks's impossible machines currently showing on the floor below. There is a skeletal helicopter, all of wood and pedal-driven, mechanically functional yet flightless, which is like the late Industrial Age's nostalgic reminiscence of Leonardo's notebooks. Then technology was all hope and the ambitions of the spirit; now it is disillusion and the instrument of our self-destruction. There is a boat, too, whose oars end in hands and serve, through a system of cogs and shafts, to drive the craft on a pair of wheels. Also constructed of wood, poignant and absurd, the boat is designed to run on a railway track or the rails of a city tram, creating an eloquent interference in the smooth functioning of a mechanised urban environment.  At once heroic and ridiculous, such an action is an affront to the utilitarianism that dominates our lives; at the same time, the very inefficiency of the machine reminds us that it is powered by human labour.

Arthur Wicks stands out in  the sameness (conformity in the frantic pursuit of distinctness) of so much contemporary culture as an unaffectedly, in fact, incurably idiosyncratic artist. He once said that the Australian environment "tends to exclude human presence" and that the attempt to live here, especially outside the big cities, is "accompanied by an element of anxiety and vulnerability". No doubt instinctively drawn to the point of maximum tension (just as he once did a series of performances on the San Andreas Fault in California), Wicks has lived for many years in what appears from Sydney's perspective, the deepest provinces.  It may seem a paradox but it is perhaps a lesson that he has become an artist of international stature based in Wagga Wagga.

His latest overseas project was driving another extraordinary vehicle through the streets of Amsterdam and Berlin. His Armoured Car is, like the helicopter and boat, an open-work construction made of wood.  It is pedal-driven, with wheels that run on short radiating spokes; on top, it bears a rather scrawny red missile.  The vehicle itself is accompanied by a video and photographs of Wicks pedalling it in Amsterdam and the historically scarred places of Berlin.  It is not easy to drive or to control, and the effort and difficulty of his progress are as touching as the construction itself , at once ingenious and crude.

Once again, it is as though the hard shell of power and efficiency of the real armoured car had been stripped back to reveal a frail and clumsy device, driven by an even more frail, straining body.  Hence the irony of the artists's remark to the Dutch interviewer on the video: when he asserts "this is a machine of war",we should understand too: "a machine of war is this".

Christopher Allen  Extract, Sydney Morning Herald,
Saturday, March 2, 1991, p.48.



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