Vanila Netto | Some Futures are More Equal Than Others

25 September – 25 October 2008

Vanila Netto Cross Fire 2008 digital photograph on gataboard 70 x 55.5 cm

Clare Lewis

Combining photography, sculpture and performance, she creates minimal constructed environments that reclaim the uncelebrated shapes of consumer detritus, assembling a dark playground for human intervention. Juxtaposing the impassive human form with the stark contours of industrial surplus, she highlights the symbolic and formal possibilities of both entities and questions the direction of our socio-political aspirations. Our present sees itself as separate from the ideologies of the past, and yet borrows indiscriminately from the designs. We have ceased to learn from the modernist era, relegating its project to earnest nostalgia while we construct ourselves tirelessly through acquisition, rarely thinking critically about existence itself. Netto makes art with our leftovers, containing and confining the human with the synthetic.

This latest exhibition includes a series called Hogshead, a biographical work about powerlessness and reinvention in which Netto makes a rare appearance, emerging embryo-like from a black plastic drum. This is a sinister setting for rebirth; the vessel alludes to the contours of a WWII aerial bomb, Netto is alone, connected only to the cable release of the camera, and is seemingly lethargic, stillborn perhaps. Her camouflage underwear renders her doubly conspicuous and fragile. A hogshead is a cask of alcohol from old England, so Netto's immersion suggests a reduction of the self to a transitory commodity, and has the implication of excess, intoxication or drowning. It also refers us to the Orwellian genesis of the exhibition title with its associations of anarchy and chaos from the pages of Animal Farm

Netto combines a range of influences in her work: prior to coming to Australia to study art a decade ago, she was to become an architect in Brazil, an interest which continues to affect the way she expertly navigates form and space in her photographic work. Much of her practice although unequivocally contemporary, recalls and extends the utopian projections of the modernist dream, alongside sci-fi futurism. The exhibition includes a special nod to Kubrick who features within a curved neon mantra, STANLEY DID EVERYTHING, a phrase representing an infallible persona adopted by the artist to fuel her enquiry into artifice, dissent and possibility. Netto's expert transformation of everyday materials also recalls arte povera, for instance a series of paint tin clasps are configured to replicate the rings of an atom or solar system, and wooden crates are cut and reassembled into a hybrid of the much imitated 'Wassily chair' by Bauhaus designer Marcel Breuer. Netto's low-fi but no less timeless versions of these now mass-produced designs have the appearance of a constructivist stage set, poised for interaction. Her productions exist in a multiplicity of timeframes, through the artist's playful selection of form and reference reassembling appropriated histories from consumer debris as a subtle activist action. 

Where we see unrecylable waste, Netto sees human dimensions. Polystyrene protectors for electrical appliances, are again adopted as support structures but in the form of vertebrae or cells. The symmetrical motif of modular packaging glows and flickers in neon alongside the video; interrupting the projection with its insistent electrical 'life' and reminding us of the never-ending production of these synthetic by-products. The packaging resurfaces in a photograph in which long exposure creates a chain-like 'spine' obliterating the human figure standing behind it, foreshadowing a future in which consumer waste 'burial grounds' takeover. This motif also features in Netto's short video, The future exists, piled onto a black drum, the artist proceeds to decimate these modular disposables using two bound ropes, a symbol of socialist containment and death. Both the polystyrene and ropes appear bone-like, and the quasi-tribal performance recalls the seminal 2001 scene in which primates discover the potential for tools or weapons from human bones scene which establishes a tension between the vitality and energy borne of a moment of progress, but is aware of its destructive power and visually shrouded in death. 

Netto's work speaks of the alienation and loneliness of the individual in society while alluding to a broader sense of collective disconnection. The body is rendered passive in these scenes, fusing and interacting effortlessly with its man-made counterpart, but far from dispossessed cyborg, or doomsday prediction Netto's exercises in destruction and rebuilding, suggest the answers lie in what we so readily overlook.

Clare Lewis is a writer and curator based in Sydney, 2008