RMIT University
School of Art Gallery
December, 2010

In the John Hillcoat film The Proposition where a lawman apprehends a notorious outlaw and gives him 9 days to kill his older brother, or else his younger brother will be executed, writer Nick Cave invokes the pointy edge of a proposition. While propositions carry the possibility of chance they often intrinsically embody risk and failure. In the case of the Hillcoat film Cave’s precept embodies risk and dare, the proposition implying an inherently conclusive and redundant solution.

Broadly speaking propositions in art are not factual but are rather more linguistic in character. They do not describe the behaviour of physical or even mental objects but express definitions, or the formal consequences of definitions of art. Accordingly we can say that art functions on a logic as the characteristic mark of logic is that it operates on an enquiry of the formal consequences of our definitions (of art). In this sense propositions (in art) might be employed as descriptions that are based in a particular logic1.

All propositions embody risk. And if art has certainties then it ceases to serve a purpose. Historically a noteworthy practice exemplifies a form of questioning where the intent is not to provide an answer but to make us aware of the requirement of risk within our thinking. Characteristically in the field of art, propositions are not altogether unambiguous, because as ideas, as mental phenomena, they plainly play the role of permeable models and inventions.

Artists believe that they construct art, and artists construct art with a propositional attitude. A proposition usually affirms or denies a subject or a predicate and may be thought of as the “mental content” of an attitude. Artists in all fields believe that they construct art where their mental content reflects the way we live, the way we are, and what we are. Furthermore, since such mental states are aboutsomething, namely propositions, they are said to be intentional mental states.

The work of Boe-lin Bastian, CJ Conway, Sean Crossley and Edward McAliece could be seen to embody aboutness.

Boe-lin Bastian’s often-humorous video works consider the ambiguous nature of interpretation reflecting on domestic and social environments. She utilizes consumables ranging from garbage bags to eatable coloured jellies, each work containing some aspect of cause and effect, control and randomness. While her approach is based on initiating an action, a proposition of randomness, she seeks a highly considered petite histoire within the film ‘capture’ and the editing process.

Bastian’s works don’t identify, but rather hint, or call to mind the events within our experience of living, implying the individual stories that surround social and personal relationships.  Through carefully edited video footage in The Formal she re-presents the action of two helium filled balloons within garbage bags floating randomly in an enclosed and seamless modernist space.  While this is simply a recorded action, through framing and editing Bastian alludes to the negotiations that we as individuals may enact both personally and socially within private and public spaces, at the same time making us acutely, perhaps uncomfortably aware of our role inprojecting onto and into her work attempting to locate and attach meaning and narrative, while simultaneously, humorously, we recognize the footage to be banal in character.

The Jellies involves coloured eatable jellies that shake uncontrollably on a washing machine, characterizing an almost absurdly sexualised domestic environment coupled with a self conscious, but uncomfortable sense of anticipation as we anticipate the probability of the jelliy falling to the floor. And while jellies wobble on one monitor, a human figure walks and balances on a rope on another monitor, while another monitor presents a figure who repeatedly somersaults, flipping from side to side on a trampoline. Within these random and seemingly pointless actions Basian’s work evokes and involves a sense of futility coupled with absurdist humour in order to help us reflect and question our impulse to seek and to locate meaning and significance. While she provides us with a propositional model Bastian repeatedly poses the question: is there meaning within this?

CJ Conway also utilizes everyday domestic items within her work, often combining these with elemental materials. She locates things that are ‘at hand’, objects that are left around or found in garages, things that are inherited, particulars that have been retrieved from markets or other people’s houses, all combined with a certain proclivity for disused laboratory equipment and apparatus. Conway likes ‘old stuff’ and not plastics. She reflects on the natural and physical world, investigating materials such as salt and graphite, copper and iron filings to understand their composition and to consider how they perform under specified conditions.

Everything that Conway chooses is considered from a point where she ponders the object or substance materially, and then subsequently from a point of reflecting on each item metaphorically. Conway’s works rely on forms in balance, harmony and symmetry, recognizing that the elemental character of the natural world is order. However ‘No mercy, no power but its own controls it’and Conway’s proposition is that order and constancy witnessed through the elemental characteristics of materials, coupled and juxtaposed with a re-examination of the objects that surround us in our daily lives, may assist us to reflect on themes that involve an interconnection of all things …‘and what is left is a state of constant instability driven by invisible tensions.’3

Sometimes Conway’s work can be compact or spare in appearance and when installed, as one moves around or past each work, there is a heightened sense of encounter, of locating specific and defined instances that are not unlike stations. Conway’s installations provide us with spaces in between as we move from one location to another, considering her simple re-presentations of everyday materials and objects, the elements within our lives that we take for granted.

Sean Crossley explores concentrated, heightened and defined moments in his combined drawing / painting / video installations. Conscious of ‘drawing as propositional, investigative or fundamentally explorative’, Crossley subjectively examines portrayals of the human form with an almost sentient awareness of trying to reflect the character of drawing within each of the other mediums.

Crossley’s work does not assume a singular individual and is more concerned with a dynamic and fragmented idea of identity, without an ‘essential’ core. Crossley explores and delves into representations of the human figure attempting to define something about the anxiety that we all experience through our awareness of our own consciousness, or our state of ‘being’; our human-ness. During the development of post modernism and within recent psychology the typification of the individual has come under question, making it difficult for artists working within the idiom of figuration to posit notions of an essential self. It may be that figuration as a subject illicits an anxiety and attraction to younger artists because of the disputations that surround contemporary identity, and that in a contemporary society that as a whole seems to hold a multiplicity of views of itself, the framing and interpretation of the fragmented ‘self’ carries an innate fascination.

Crossley’s figures are versions or projected mental states where he attempts to define entities within limitations, caught within actions where his propositions are based on the questions: Is this you? Is this me? The use of an assortment of materials and approaches in attempting to embody aboutness in relation to the figure indicates the difficulties Crossley experiences with this subject. His installations involve drawings that seem unsure or uncertain, as much drawn as they are erased. His videos entail an intimate and close capturing of the figure involved in an action that hints at futility, while his paintings seem caught between viscerality and depiction.

Edward McAliece notes that plans and models expose the constructed nature of our reality, and in a similar fashion to Conway and perhaps Bastian, McAliece provides us with the idea of the model as proposition and invention. His ‘drawing models’ involve an idiosyncratic investigation into various forms of bases that serve as essential structures within our lives. These include the formats of visual languages such as page layouts, motion graphs and arrangements for the diagrammatic presentation of utilitarian objects such as furniture and tools. And in earlier works McAliece focused on 2-minute noodles and a mattress base as the foundations and supports for a contemporary life.

The shapes and forms in McAliece’s drawings (silhouettes of objects and diagrams of what seem to be ‘cause and effect’ events) all seem to be arranged with a sense of the particular, yet they also seem to lack practical and useful connections. These drawings suggest random combinations, open possibilities and possibly incomplete thoughts. McAliece’s depiction of accumulated bits and pieces, shapes and forms, seems to lack any apparent function making one reflect that they are more about the logic of visual thoughts or the creative process of an artist’s thinking than in any way a depiction of any workable system. These works involve a spurious balance and order that leads towards chaos, a rigidity that suggest fluidity, and they each owe more to proximity and placement, to the idiosyncratic arrangements, than they do to reasoned systems.

McAliece has developed an archival display within his works and his methodology that has a deep-rooted connection to studio as laboratory and incubator, reflecting process and containing no real sense of the complete, the definitive or the ‘finished declaration’. McAliece’s method is based in the  an established and contemporary strategy of ‘refusal to closure’4, where he explores process and response in order to reject conclusions in favour of reformation, re-presentation or recalibration. McAliece is intentionally forming a converse position to conventional ideas that ‘at every moment the work (of art) itself is wholly manifest’5. Therefore ‘ideas and motifs are kept open, always available to be pushed in new directions (and) reconfigured for new situations’6.

The idea …  falls between model and copy. But I can never use an image directly and exactly. It is always a kind of translation.

The copy should be the copy. I hope I can still use it in another way – to be concrete but not in a kind of photo-concrete way. It should be very universal and exact, together. Like an invention and also not really; near an invention.7     Thomas Scheibitz

The works of Bastian, Conway, Crossley and McAliece embody an exploration of the parameters of personal, psychological, perceptual and societal spaces in order to shift our perceptions of what we may consider as actuality, in turn critiquing how we understand and how we interpret within present times.

Peter Westwood

Peter Westwood is an artist, writer and curator based in Melbourne. Westwood is a Lecturer in the Drawing Studio in the School of Art at RMIT University.


  1. Harrison. C., & Wood. P. (ed), Art in Theory, 1900-2000: an anthology of changing ideas. Blackwell Publishing Ltd 1992. Ch. Objecthood and Reductivism; pp 857
  1. Melville. H., Moby Dick, Chelsea Publishing NY, 2007; pp 267
  1. Kenny. A., (catalogue) Mercy Street, Gertrude contemporary Art Spaces, Australia, 2010; pp 20
  1. Ferguson, R., Francis Alÿs: Politics of Rehearsal, Hammer Museum, USA, 2007; pp 12
  1. Fried, M., Art and Objecthood, University of Chicago Press, USA, 1998; pp 167
  1. op cit; pp 11

Flash Art (magazine), Thomas Scheibitz: The Importance of Being Earnest by Patricia Ellis, Flash Art, October 2001, page 80.