Josh Lord: Art for work's sake

josh lordJosh Lord is, despite the agit-prop-like art, a conservative. The morning after the opening of his Melbourne exhibition, Josh rose at 7am and started work on his next series of artworks. Then he went to town and did an interview. Then, finally realising he was still wrung out from the night before, he crashed.

Now, if most of us had worked all year and put everything into one night - granted the exhibition runs for a while yet, but the opening was “the event” - we’d be reeling around all wibbly-wobbly and a bit dazed for most of the following two days.

Josh is a working man, really. And art is his business. Whoever said that all capitalism is evil? Josh makes art which criticises both art and capitalism, but capitalism itself doesn’t have to be evil. There’s a lot of evil nasty sods out there. And it only takes a small percentage.

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Some of the aural entertainment: Legendary aural terrorists Ollie Olsen and Ash Wednesday.

Josh Lord: "Newspeak and Thoughtcrimes" opening
Ministry of Art, 238 St Kilda Road, St Kilda, Victoria
Featuring performances by Kollaps, and Ollie Olsen and Ash Wednesday
Saturday, October 15 2016

Artists? We all know what artists are. They’re radical Bohemians, taking every substance they can get their paws on in order to expand their minds and piss on our poor struggling everyday existence down here in the food chain. An artist is always admired by the academics and art critics; artists are a combination of a mystic yogi and impenetrable mage: if we can’t comprehend what they’re on about, we must be ignorant. It’s a bit like one of those dominance cycles, really.

Disagree..? Why do you think those Pro Hart cleaning commercials were so successful - the humour of this poor Mediterranean cleaning woman diligently working to remove the ungodly mess on the genius’ carpet … she is us, really, writ large enough so we’re not threatened. But hush, notice …the artist is still a demigod…

Josh Lord worked his arse off last year to produce the work on display here: his work is painstaking, careful in its casual carcrashiness, firm in its beliefs. The shadows draw us to the placement of the images, make us aware of a fragility in our everyday. That said, the baldly stated opinions are not intended to convince us; there are many opinions on display here which I disagree with: ‘That’s good!’, Josh smiles. ‘The work is there to provoke a reaction.’

We sit down and order. I’m starving and hoe into the brekkers while Josh, who has presumably nibbled a morsel of toast at 7am along with a black coffee (bloody Bohos), opts for water.

The conversation is wide-ranging and would make a rather entertaining short film. Perhaps the conclusion might be;

“When there are no check and balances to the advancement of the business-is-all, ‘greed is good’ crowd, then greed is an ideal in itself, encouraging a disregard of responsibility because personal accountability is lost, because ‘personal accountability’ is now just a buzzphrase. As a consequence, we lose what communities we did have, and we become isolated individuals twitting away, thinking we’re part of something when really … well, have you ever seen a really huge shoal of fish moving, shifting direction..? Yeah.”

See, Josh himself is a challenge: most artists go with the flow and have their openings on a night early in the week so there’s nothing much to clash with except cooking or talent shows. Josh picked a Saturday night. And he has musicians - ugh - yukky scabrous musicians - playing in the gallery because he knows the history of symbiosis between music and visual arts goes back a damn long way.

Fascinated with the effects and repercussions of some of the techniques used by the pop-art mob half a century ago, the super-real forcing us to re-examine the usual images, Josh also uses a technique which sounds a bit like a Pixies’ LP title: “Trompe L’oeil”, which basically means that the flat image on the canvas looks three-dimensional when you look at it. Josh has been working up the technique for about 14 years or so. It’s a natural thing for him, of course: see the peeling, torn posters flapping on walls, revealing other layers hidden beneath… Josh brings a fresh perspective to an area many thought long-dead and irrelevant.”

And it’s incredibly effective. You walk into “Newspeak and Thoughtcrimes” and your first thought is that all these artworks are just collages. Look, some of them are peeling off the canvas, they’ll flap in the breeze… no, they’re not. Josh has portrayed the shadows perfectly. That masking tape holding that cut-out photocopy of our little doomed planet … that’s expertly applied paint. And that’s not a photocopy, but … paint again.

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Which gets your attention, over and over, because you’re forced to look more closely at what Josh is trying to do: engage you in a thought, or a discussion. Exactly what the Dadaists and their antiwar movement were trying to do; proof yet again, if you like, that art moves in grand cycles, a bit like climate. (ooh! will I get letters?)

Another thing he does is to use a piece of plywood instead of a stretched canvas, which is so … outre, so cheap’n’nasty, that it immediately commands your attention.

One of the several things I do like about “Newspeak and Thoughtcrimes” today is that instead of taking, as many do, close-up pixelated images from the media, Josh has taken to photographing friends and putting them into the artpieces. Author Edwina Preston is in there, the original artwork for Harry Howard and the NDE’s lp is there, musician and singer/songwriter Hugo Race, Ollie Olsen and Ash Wednesday are all there too. You probably won’t recognise them, though they look like they belong, as if their images have been torn out of the media. Such aspects of portraiture are themselves significant. One day Josh will be asked to do an exhibition of portraits, and that will be a very interesting day.

There are 49 pieces in “Newspeak and Thoughtcrimes” (the 50th was the performance by Ash and Ollie with Josh’s video backdrop) and, while there’s less than that available for sale now, the exhibition is well worth your time. More than most, I would say. Those of you overseas, pester the gallery for images available and postage rates.

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Josh asked Kollaps to do a performance of chaos, and that’s what they did: Wade Black striding through the crowd, shoving us out of the way as their new (and rather brilliant) bass player locked in with their drummer and the most awful row emanated via Wade’s pedals.

Quite loud, in fact. The glass in the front window looked like it was going to fall out, some of the lighting fixtures inside did topple out onto the ground. Kollaps tonight were compelling, threatening, and their intent will doubtless continue and, since there are so few bands doing what they’re doing you really do need to experience them. Hire them as the wedding band for someone you really despise.

Ash was wheeled in bang on cue, white mime make-up and huge hair by Marilyn Rose-Veil, Ollie took to the keyboard-with-plugs-and-bits-of-wire while Ash manned his apple. Behind the crowd, hunched in a corner, was the forgotten artist, hoping to god the program he had made and was now projecting on the two musicians would not fail.

It was a great performance, powerful, nuanced, smart. The music (more of a soundscape, I suppose) perfectly matched the visual collage of the isolating world we live in, providing us with a broader, much bigger vision of ourselves on our little blue planet.

The night was replete with folk who hadn’t seen each other in years, names you’d recognise and names of bands you’ve forgotten. It was a great triumph for Josh - both artistically and commercially. I think he was a little surprised by all the attention, to be honest.

No wonder he got up at 7am the next day. Not cut out to be a rock star.

And thank god for it.

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Tags: st kilda, josh lord, ash wednesday, ollie olsen, kollaps

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