the Australian,

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

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The four sculpture machines by Arthur Wicks ("up to his tricks", as used to be said) at the Art Gallery of N.S.W. are satirical parodies on the machine age but, like art, as Oscar Wilde opined, are utterly useless.  They are made of wood, painted to effect an archaeological patina, for indeed they look like the first awkward models for an armoured car, a rowing boat on tram tracks, an observational helicopter Solstice Observatory and two robot crosses on rails; the bogies carrying earthbound missiles.

They look as if they are made of bricoleur materials that resemble rods and lathes of metal.  But all, including the wheels and the cogs like the enormous pale pink ones in Solstice Observatory are made of wood.  At times the wood is elegantly turned and the balance of shapes has all the exquisite fragility asssociated with early aeroplanes.  By way of contrast the bulky, solid, wooden forms of the Robert Klippel in the entrance foyer are wedged in the earth while Wicks's absurdities are about to levitate as space flows through them.  Wicks denies solidity in emphasising the beautiful oddities of machine structures.  All is made of ribs, antennae and armatures.

Some think he is provoking the public into considering the absurdity of the machine but artists such as Wicks have more complex aims.  In 1970 the one-time Power Gallery bought Gianni Piacentino's useless bicycle.  A Nickel Plated Framed Vehicle, with two wheels but no seat, pedals or handlebars.  Piacentino was later included in a selection of Kassel Dokumenta that treated vehicular forms as fascinating founds objects.  Most looked like elegant toys incapable of dominating lives like the real thing.

Again in 1976 that gallery bought Fumio Yoshimuro's Tricycle made entirely of linden wood - seat, chain with moveable links and all.  Like the Piacentino it is for people such as mankind, who are going nowhere.  It is usually hung from the roof.  Yoshimuro, a New Yorker, did not carve the chain until purchase was guaranteed.  These pieces are meticulously finished - unlike Wicks's inventions - for he is the rough bush carpenter, rougher than you'll find anywhere and master of the makeshift, seemingly temporary devices like the treacherous wheel spikes in his Armoured Car with its unclad turret surmounted by a red rocket.

The objects, especially when he drives them are allegories of vain, harmless, forgiveable endeavour - like tilting at windmills.  They are not about greed or gain but endurance and survival.  The Survival Boat being designed to run on tram or train tracks in time of adversity.  The oars protrude from it like pleading, clumsy hands.  It is the awkwardness that evokes pity.  Survival Boat when not in use, is mounted on a stand like an exhibit or relic.  In 1970 Robin Page's smoothly executed print Survival Pipe entered the Power collection with a large pipe from which a cigarette hung on davits.  It was witty and involved a stamped statement about the "survival principle".  Wicks made his piece in 1984 and suggests that the possibility of survival is a dodgy, half-baked idea.

In 1968 Pontus Hulten's exhibiton The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age  at New York's MOMA, traced the relation of art to the machine from Karl Marx's 1856 expression of disappointment through Futurism, Duchamp, Picabia, Man Ray and Tatlin to Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times and The Great Dictator; the little man at the end of the latter film saying, "machinery that gives us abundance has left us in want . ............. more than machinery we need humanity".  Karl Marx had said, " machinery gifted with the wonderful power of shortening and fructifying human labour, we behold starving and overwork it".

 To keep a balance it should be noted that the exhibiton warned against the attempts at the total engineers of life; where the technician was glorified.  Le Corbusier writing in 1925 that "engineers are healthy, virile, active and useful, moral and happy".  Such terrifying stuff that no wonder Pontus Hulten writes in the catalogue introduction of the sapping of faith in technology and confidence in rational behaviour as a result of dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki - "the most terrible shock the world has ever received".  The exhibition's wonderful catalogue had a tin enamelled embossed cover that opened on hinges;  its first and last pictures dealing with Jean Tinguely's Homage to New York that destroyed itself in MOMA's sculpture garden on March 17, 1960.  Tinguely's machines usually have humour without proclaiming along with Wicks the "increasing irrelevance and uselessness" of the machine.  Incidentally, the former Power Gallery's Tinguely is the noisiest art  work in Australia.

All this is by way of hinting that Arthur Wicks occupies an important place in any exhibiton considering art and the sociology of the machine.  The pity is that eventually we might have to ask the computer about Arthur 's contribution.

Elwyn Lynn
Extract, The Weekend Australian, February 23-24, 1991 (Review 8)




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