JULIAN DASHPER, Untitled (O), 1992, photogram with black frame, 21.9 × 21.9 cm. Courtesy Minus Space, New York. 

RICKY SWALLOW, Tube Lamp Study/Yellow, 2011, bronze, 19.1 × 15.2 × 7.6 cm. Copyright the artist. Courtesy Stuart Shave Modern Art, London.

Julian Dashper & Ricky Swallow

Influential & Emerging

New Zealand Australia
Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

Julian Dashper (1960–2009) was a conceptual artist from New Zealand who made work about the ways we receive and process sensory experiences, as well as the ways we insist on formalizing aesthetic experiences through the institutional mechanism we call the art world. Buzz (2001), for example, is a recording of a fluorescent Dan Flavin sculpture. By eliminating the visual element and foregrounding ambient noise, Buzz reveals something that no one ever talks about regarding these over-discussed, glowing altars to Western art in the second half of the 20th century. Buzz feels like it should be a one-liner, but it refuses to be funny. The sound of electricity is elemental and true, as much a fact of Flavin’s pieces as their prestige and value to museums of modern art the world over.

Ricky Swallow is an Australian sculptor based in Los Angeles. He became an international name after exhibiting Killing Time (2003–04), a virtuosic and uncanny life-size wood carving of a large table covered in dead sea creatures, at the 2005 Venice Biennale. The work resembles a dripping, cornucopic Dutch 17th-century still-life painting. For the past two years, Swallow has produced small works cast in brightly patinated bronze from forms made of taped-together cardboard tubing. They resemble, to varying degrees of specificity, guitars and vessels and lamps and hats and cups. Mostly, however, they resemble models—the sculptor’s sketch in space, casual, personal and preliminary, before real life in the world of people and other three-dimensional things. They are often eerily indistinguishable from works made 60 or 70 years ago. That being the case, why did Swallow make them?

Similarly, Dashper returned throughout his career, as a totem, to the drumhead, the round bit of stretched skin or plastic that you bash on top of a drum. He hung them on the wall, painted imaginary band logos on them, cut holes in them, and most often painted target patterns on them in colorful concentric circles of enamel or vinyl. They are beyond familiar, these targets. And as works of art they seem beyond redundant. The American artist Kenneth Noland’s 40-year obsession with targets has hardwired such circular designs into our understanding of what abstract painting is and is about. Jasper Johns did his part too. So why did Dashper make them?

The notion of “folk forms,” a vernacular of the shared and passed-down most commonly associated with music, presses hard against the way we instinctively feel, especially in capitalistic societies, about ownership. Appropriation is now too universal a gesture not to be considered an act of creation, and the word “author” no longer connotes godlike authority. Everything we make is laden with the influence of, or is perhaps even a collaboration with, things that have been made before.

A folk form is a form that is so strong, and so clean, that we need not claim it, or change it, but simply propagate it and let it resonate forward to future generations. A folk song is a song that is easy to sing because it has been sung for centuries, changing in arrangement alongside cosmetic changes in fashion, while fundamentally carrying the same tune. Modern and contemporary art have never worked this way, demanding instead continuous invention and discovery. Yet Julian Dashper’s insistent, repetitive drumheads and Ricky Swallow’s recent bronzes are folk forms. They are objects that have visual potency without the sheen of freshness or uniqueness, or a need to be aggressively interesting today. They trust and enjoy being good objects. They could live anywhere for a long time, if not forever, and still be beautiful, because they are elemental and true.