The Slow Cancellation of the Future, by artist and academic Daniel McKewen, is being staged in an old reservoir adjacent to a colonial windmill in inner-city Brisbane. It opened on 9 October on an unseasonably hot afternoon. We acclimatised whilst descending three flights of stairs. The dry heat dissipated to be replaced with a mild dankness. Our ears became aware of the melodic voice of a woman reciting verse. Our eyes adjusted to be greeted with a feast of contrasts.
Visitors to this subterranean metaphor for a collective subconsciousness may first become aware of a series of objects, which are suspended and spot lit in ambient darkness. The canvases appear weightless, yet dense. The picture planes resemble landscapes, yet without subjects. The surfaces are textured, yet devoid of gesture. The nuanced gradation of colour and luminosity are reminiscent of the ‘colour fields’ by the New York-based painter Mark Rothko. He suicided at the age of 66. There is a primitiveness in the dusting of coal. In Australia, comparison may be drawn to the indigenous application of natural pigments and minerals.
Although these paintings may be encountered by visitors to the exhibition first, they could be read as consequential of the catastrophe unfolding in the adjacent space. The principal artwork in this solo presentation is a three-channel 3D animation depicting a flooded urban vista. The dulcet tones of the narrator belie her words, which draw from the poem Desiderata. Written by Max Ehmann during the interwar period, it includes the verse:
Keep interested in your own career, however humble: it is a real possessionMax Ehmann
in the changing fortunes of time.
The video is abundant with aspects of 20th-entury civilisation, such as skyscrapers and highway signs, being subsumed by nature. However, there is exquisite beauty in the visual execution and a calmness in this virtual representation of calamity. This lends a sublime quality to the paintings, which subsequently may be interpreted as endings, beginnings or just transitional spaces in-between.
The hot weather, arguably reflective of climate-change, and tinderbox-like socio-political environment of the COVID-19 epoch serve to enhance the atmosphere. It is an immersive exhibition that is visceral to experience in person.
The Slow Cancellation of the Future by Daniel McKewen
Spring Hill Reservoir
230 Wickham Terrace, Brisbane
The Slow Cancellation of the Future is on display from 13-16 October 2021.