Stephen Birch, Olga Cironis, Sione Francis, Helen Hyatt-Johnston, Bronia Iwanczak, Caolan Mitchell, Michelle Nikou, Kevin Sheehan

Curated by Philipa Veitch


December 3 – 21  1997


left to right – works by Bronia Iwanczak, Stephen Birch, Sione Francis, Olga Cironis, Caolan Mitchell, dimensions variable, 1997


left to right – works by Helen Hyatt-Johnston, Bronia Iwanczak, Stephen Birch, Michelle Nikou, dimensions variable, 1997


Always Having Everything

This exhibition ’Comfort’, curated by Philipa Veitch, at First Draft, opens the proverbial ‘can of worms’. Eight artists from Sydney and interstate explore the implications of the word Comfort, each in his/her manner, with his/her agenda in mind. What results is a discursive rumination on a word normally reserved for those things which ensure our happiness. What the show reveals, in partially concealing it, is comfort’s double edged promise.

Comfort is such a nebulous term, and like most terminology, prey to the paradox of Language itself and to linguistic and societal habits. Thus the comfort we have in Language, our dependence on it and the nonchalance with which we use it, hides a barb that threatens to turn Language on its head, reducing utterance to silence. So the word Comfort belies its other; dis-Comfort, anxiety. Desire, unlike comfort and despite appearances, announces Desire’s Death. Comfort is ease, the ease of reclining in prior knowledge, knowledge which is (always) already forgotten. It is the unsaid promise of an easy existence, respite from Desire’s demands. It is an existence cleared of anguish and of that which challenges us. In this case what comfort is, is death; the eradication of Otherness, the slow halt of an awareness founded in the amnesia of denial.

Where better to locate an ‘amnesiac denial’ than in the model of Suburban lifestyles, gradually losing favour. Here comfort comes to us in our retreat, most often from the pressures of the workplace, that Other place where we find ourselves in spite of ourselves and in spite of the intentions of our ‘better’ Selves. At work, immersed in enforced projects, we are kept from the comfort of our ‘true’ ‘inner’ Selves, or so we believe. Only at home amongst the material rewards acquired through the denials of Self-Discipline and of duty or necessity, can we justify the inevitability of a lifestyle we are bound to enact. Only here, away from self-regulatory observation can we create a space where we might become ourselves and in which being might temporarily be achieved. Yet we are never further from Being than when dependent upon things whose value is pre-ordained and guaranteed. We are never more isolated than when mediation takes us from our-selves and disposes us in an infinite ‘procession of images’, that require our obedient complicity, and have long since been dead.

Here is where Comfort takes a turn; when the dictates of chance and of choice enter, in which case the choices we make mark Identity, through the acknowledgement of difference. In this instance choice indicates an inclination to Self-Awareness and to Self-realisation.  ‘Things’, help this happen, and through the further creation of things, in which the processes of ‘becoming’ are evident, everyday objects assume a different role. Likewise our relationship to them is altered as they now assume a comforting role as the Signposts of Self Hood. In these objects Desire dwells and is not extinguished but enhanced, whilst simultaneously being made less threatening, less dangerous.

Strangely danger bestows comfort in calling it forth, for Danger requires that we be comforted. Comfort tames danger whilst paradoxically alerting us to its presence. Comfort here is fulfilled by the presence of Others, once again evidence of a process of Self-forgetting. To forget danger when faced with the burden of its proximity, is a means of stepping ‘out-side’ of ourselves. However personal experience is emphasized also in danger’s presence through its dispersal and the constant slippage from Knowledge to non-Knowledge, in which the Self assumes a meaning in-excess of its-Self. The wavering of Being, confronted by experience in excess, oversteps the parameters of the language which keeps us safe, comforted. It is surprising that language keeps us becalmed in the face of danger, when it requires but words to comfort and to unite us, outside us, with an-Otherness through the Otherness of Language in its exteriority.

If Comfort is to be found ‘outside’ us so it is found also in intimacy, and in a network of sensory experience. Yet once again the experience that locates the threshold of desire is similarly comfort’s antithesis. Comfort becomes a sign for that stage, of the experience of a relationship for instance, when two-selves having crossed over, then bask in the ease of having known an-Other. That ease of knowing exists in a past tense is testimony to comfort’s paradox and the ensuing difficulty of maintaining the immediacy of desire. Desire always threatens its own demise, though repetition and through difference mistaken in sameness.

Thus what Desire unites, comfort extends as the veil laid down over it. Comfort becomes  the means by which Meaning is either inferred and developed or annulled and forgotten, only to resurface elsewhere at another time. If comfort is exposure to the inside of Desire, then Desire is inside out, and arrives in spite of ourselves, seemingly at the (illusory) expense of Language. Comfort as the afterglow of Desire, promotes well-being; laughter to Desire’s gradually dissolving tears.

Comfort may also be had in laughter and the forgetting that takes place at laughter’s insistence. To be reduced to laughter is to ‘get the joke’, it is a code of belonging on the one hand, and on the other it is forget the experience of having known once but knowing no longer. If Art does not often elicit a belly laugh and the whole hearted abandonment of the self in spite of itself, it is because, Art’s humour is completed in the (partially hidden) knowledge of something once said. It is dependent upon us knowing and on continuing to realise the experience re-Knowing.  Art’s humour lies in the ministration of recognition, that hides and resurfaces and cannot be reduced to a punch line which quickly disperses and evaporates.  It is a code of belonging also, yet one relying upon a context where one may belong for only so long and then again but elsewhere and dissimilarly. Art comforts by refusing comfort. It entails the comfort of a discipline founded in a lingering awareness of its re-creation in excess of comfortable parameters.

The eight artists brought together for the show, ‘Comfort’, do not belong to it and are not to be substituted for an ideal of ‘group identity’. The comfort of such an ideal is forged in conformity and the self-forgetting demanded of it. That the Self is forgotten in this case, is only in order that the works might speak for themselves and of their own accord. Each artwork confronts the problem of comfort without offering it, except as a paradox or pun or the experience of Desire; in this instance a passion for ideas and comfort’s necessary precursor. The work’s represented in the show touch upon the issues briefly explored in this essay. Issues pertaining to urban experience and to intimacy; its difficulties and comforts, as well as to the comfort’s of Language, and the acquisition of ‘Things’. We are reminded that to be comfortable is likewise to be both sensitized and anaesthetised to ‘Being’. Without knowledge and without purpose we happily abandon ourselves momentarily to ease. Art, as a discipline demanding rigour, eludes comfort’s charms only to be simultaneously enticed and repelled by them.

Alex Gawronski,  1997