Sally Blenhiem 'Trust'
12 October - 30 October 2004
Bus Gallery, Melbourne

I had the weirdest dream last night

you know the kind that rocks you wakes you with pools of tears in your eyes or laughing out loudthe kind that stays with you all the next day? I feel the need to write these types of dreams down before I forget them. They represent intangible moments in time where my imagination dominates and I can transcend my regular mind set. Moments that open my world to new states of understanding, physicality and emotion. The problem is as soon as I start to talk about these dreams with my friends or look up their meaning in my dream book, I lose their thread. I forget the procession of events, the protagonists, the smell and season. I forget the colour and always the last words spoken. Worst of all I miss the sensation of the experience.

A similar conundrum exists in discussing Sally Blenheims latest work, TRUST. This installation seeks to provide a meditative space in which the viewer can experience a significant moment in time. Like a dream, the work exists entirely in the momentart experience, completely. To stop and theorise or contextualise it is to miss the artists point, it dilutes its strength the experience of being in the work itself.

Instead of using this space to tell you what the work might mean, let me write about what it is. Let me record it in posterity before it disappears into a de-installation. Let me do this before I lose the sensation of TRUST.

The viewer enters a small, darkened gallery via a light trap and finds themself standing at the foot of a narrow corridor carpeted in basalt rocks, the kind used on train tracks, extending wall to wall. Whether travelled physically or optically, the trail leads the viewer to a series of illuminated pink fluorescent tubes installed horizontally at equal intervals along the height of the gallerys back wall. There is a path to be travelled here but how far is up to you.

The fluorescent tubes fill the room with a hot light. The stones, usually so cool, seem at odds with the heat of the atmosphere. Perhaps they are hot (they were thieved from North Williamstown station!) like the rocks in a sauna or those traversed by people seeking faith. Can you walk on them? Should you walk on them? What do you trust? If youre willing to take the step, the sound of stones underfoot heightens the surreal atmosphere. The clinking and echoing provides a soundtrack of almost cinematic proportions. What fate awaits you at the end of the blue stone road?

The composition of the fluoroscent tubes is minimal and repetitive. Their glow is mesmerising and evocative in hue. They also play a damn good optical trick on the viewer. Standing in the entrance of the gallery space, the light appears to stream through a slated door at the other end. Like moths to a flame we are drawn to this light and its suggestion of another space. But if there is a space on the other side how do we get to it? There is no handle. And what awaits us on the other side? Is it heaven or hell out there? The end of the world or a beautiful sunrise? Or perhaps we are not looking out to anything. Perhaps the space we inhabit, the stones we stand on, already locate us in the outside. Perhaps we are faced with a slated door, which hides the amorous activities of something carnal inside? Or worse, perhaps the room is empty.

There are those of us who enjoy thinking about things, who trust in the intangible nature of imagination. Then there are those who need the cold hard facts. Blenheims installation accommodates bother viewers and it is here that the title of the work comes in to play. If you are the former you will be open to the sensations evoked by the atmosphere of TRUST. You will trust that the artist is not playing a joke on you, she wants you to feel. If you are the latter, you will probably traverse the path quickly and come to a dead end. There will no longer be illusion but simply an interior wall marked with artificial lighting. You can no longer trust in what you felt but only in what you see.

The components of TRUST work together to create a space between spaces. A moment in time. Like a dream, this work offers us an experience in which we can be awash with a range of sensations without physically moving. It also offers us a truth. What you take away is what you trust.

Hannah Mathews, 2004


'Filthy minds, clean pillows: Dirty Pillows'

Kate Vickers

Would you reject an offer of intimacy with a desirable stranger? Sally Blenheim’s Dirty Pillows comes free from the prospects of morning-after bad breath and all the other sense experiences associated with the one-nighter. This work is guilt-free hedonism and the message is desire. But should you engage in such private feelings in a public exhibition space? Inhibition heightens the risk and the attraction. The video loop already running, eyes focus on the screen. The pull of the work succeeds, extinguishing any concerns as you surrender and settle on the pillow.

Dirty Pillows takes the form of a single bed and pillow, covered in a shiny, smooth, white vinyl. A woman looks at me from a screen next to the pillow. I return her silent gaze, reading her expressions: the brightening of eyes, the flicker of a smile. Every small change seems magnified as she apparently responds to me. I’m no longer in a public space with other people. I feel very aware of my body in this familiar position. I stay within this intimacy and later return to the room, satisfied.

Later I find that the seductively shiny, smooth, white surface is described as "clinical." The curatorial blurb also talks about the "ultimate emptiness that tele-visual relationships offer" and I discover that I am described as a "user." It is in these legislative judgements that the artifice of the curator becomes evident, tritely abstracting Blenheim’s work. The contradiction between my experience and the words I read creates a tension, testimony to the ability of the artist and curator to each hook a spontaneous response.
The curator's desire to drag arguments surrounding technology into our understanding of the work extinguishes passion. Why associate Dirty Pillows with the sad old battle over the pros and cons of new media? It would be as strange as staring into the eyes of a lover and asking them what their purpose in society is–it just doesn’t come up. The experience was stronger than any formulaic, didactic one-liner and is based in an un-abstracted experiential aesthetic. Blenheim’s use of it is adroit, appropriate and unselfconscious. For me the work’s sole aim is to engage. Paradoxically, such experiential works are often used in arguments against new media. Luddites suggest aesthetics are being beaten out of contemporary art by cyborgs. I find the mediation of the screen to be rich and alive. Perhaps we are looking for our own authenticity in the ubiquitous screens of our society.
In a sense the only way Dirty Pillows could be considered clinical is in the artist's meticulous removal of any visible intent. There are little or no psychic remnants of the artist in Dirty Pillows, the response has to be subjective. The 'dirt' on the pillow is my own subjectivity. Blenheim authors and conducts seamlessly. She has a deep understanding of signs and the authoring of codes. It is the emergent properties of the work that are the prize. Screen finds its tenure in its ability to deliver the contemporary sensory experience that other mediums fail to achieve in a culture of hyper-reality.

I wonder if the artist would be concerned by these conflicting views. Perhaps they are an inevitable part of the work. The artist is not in the gallery space. In her place stands guesses at intention and the irreducible emergent properties of the work. I am content with enjoying a few dirty pillows and getting intimate with the screen. Dirty Pillows is a work that is experiential, not discursive. So read this no more. Go and interact with Dirty Pillows. And afterwards speak for yourself–it was good for me, how about you? Sally Blenheim is a superb artificer, able to mediate the individual and return their experience to them as her art. .
There are little or no psychic remnants of the artist in Dirty Pillows, the response has to be subjective. The 'dirt' on the pillow is my own subjectivity. Sally Blenheim is a superb artificer, able to mediate the individual and return their experience to them as her art.

Sally Blenheim, Dirty Pillows, Experimenta, House of Tomorrow, BEAP 04, Western Australian Maritime Museum, Victoria Quay, Fremantle, Sept 3-Oct 3