Jack Lanagan Dunbar

In Issue 44, Sydney artist Jack Lanagan Dunbar spoke about his diverse ‘day-to-day’ inside and outside the studio – from building a bar and designing furniture to his fascinating mixed-media artworks exploring the mechanics of recording moments in time.

When someone asks ‘what do you do?’ I’ve found it’s better to make up something normal rather than own up to being an artist. ‘Horticulturalist’ is my personal favourite, I’ve tried ‘banker’ a couple of times too but no one ever believes me. To answer ‘I’m an artist’ leads to the even stickier question; ‘oh cool, what kind of art do you make?’ and it’s in response to this that more often than not you lose them: ‘Well if you really want to know, my work deals with photography, mark-making, history, feelings (a big no no), the everyday, fragments, imagined futures, fictitious presents, misused objects, poetics, surfaces with personalities …’

They’ve fled the room by this point, or their eyes have glazed over, and who can blame them really? It’s not a standard response, it’s not the clarity that was being asked for; each comma takes the conversation further and further away from safety.

I can tell you what I’ve done. I trained as a designer, then as a photographer, worked as an artist assistant and installer, taught in art and design degrees at various institutions and, well, I’ve always been an artist.

To give you a picture of what the recent day-to-day has looked like, outside of the studio: I designed and built a bar early in the year (Poor Toms, in Marrickville, Sydney, go and check it out), have been working on some small furniture commissions, have begun a design and fabrication consultancy with a friend, and still occasionally hang other people’s artwork at various galleries and residences around town.

Based on the above you may not be surprised then to find that central to all my work as an artist is scrutinising that ever-progressing flow we call time – that infinite, illusive dimension we have always been caught up in and continually attempt to circumvent, overcome or control. My work thus far has been a broad inquiry into the mechanics of recording moments in time. Some of the practices I engage in, such as photography, are well known as strategies for holding things against time. Others, like etching marks into the surface of metals, are perhaps on their way toward being forgotten.

Earlier pieces from bodies of work such as Studies in Light Movement and Time (2016) grapple with the medium of photography and its deceptive representation of time. Presented are images of what appear to be brightly coloured vessels yet on closer inspection it becomes apparent that something is not right. We assume we are viewing an object recorded in an instant, a standard photographic cataloguing, when in fact these images were made over long periods of time – minutes in some cases – and the subjects presented within them are nothing more that bent, coloured rods spun by an electric motor. It is only by elongating time through the use of the camera and introducing movement that a seemingly stable object appears. It is a series of works that asks us questions of our own way of perceiving photographs as knife-edged instants of time.

Following from this leads to my most recent solo showing, ‘After All’, a collection of pieces brought into being thanks to the wonderful Art Incubator program and shown at Alaska Projects in Sydney in late 2017.

In this exhibition the photograph has been entirely abandoned. The work presented is attempts at isolating and memorialising interior moments, more effervescent things like thoughts, imaginings and emotions. They were born in the aftermath of an exploratory art-trip to Europe, a trip I decided to take sans-camera (albeit I had my iPhone, on which images were recorded) in favour of a small sketchbook and some pencils. The suite is made up of etched copper surfaces drenched in patina, steel frames and groupings of ceramic sculptures, bones and found objects. They represent a return to basics and an engagement with more traditional processes often utilised to memorialise a past or to envision a future. Work titles are sometimes used as indicators of the spirit of some of the imagery and at other times more like notes from a list of archaeological findings. Time is confused in this collection and when assembled together the pieces portray a blurring of past and potential future.

This mode of working continues. Currently I find myself chasing down evidence that represents a more vernacular approach to overcoming time: abandoned shopping lists, dropped notes-to-self, smudges on glass and mirrors, crumbs on park benches. It is an unending process, much like the subject that it deals with.

This article was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 44, 2018

Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship
20 September – 20 October 2019
Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney


Latest  /  Most Viewed  /  Related