Spit Me: Scott Eady

Scott Eady makes disruptive and troublesome sculpture that confounds expectations of the medium, unsettling the viewing experience through provocation, frustration, or rogue humour. The painted bronze sculptures in this exhibition are part of a family of recent ‘blob’ works which have been variously placed, dropped or roped off in galleries or public spaces. These obdurate blobs offer a kind of full stop, a place where sculpture might confront its own histories, its contested place inside and outside gallery walls, and probe that often tense relationship between audiences and the sculptural object.

One such sculpture appeared half buried in a public lawn outside City Gallery Wellington in 2012, as if it had fallen from the sky. A gag on public sculpture as ‘plonk art’, dropped into available space without any consideration given to the specifics of site or community, there was also the sense that the sculpture was less debris than a missile which had missed its target of the gallery and its exhibition of contemporary New Zealand sculpture just a few feet away.

A few months earlier, Eady‘s work had transformed a local sculpture competition held on an island site into a giant treasure hunt. Visitors fruitlessly scoured the island for Booty (2011), guided by a bronze set of cross bones which acted as a cryptic map. Refusing to function as a marker of site or in harmony with the natural surrounds, Booty upset and even ridiculed the art as lesiure or pleasure seeking pursuit cultivated around such events. The promised reveal in a follow-up exhibition amounted to a giant treasure chest, presumably dug from the ground following the event. The chest remained locked, preventing further access to any material object. The absence of the sculptural object became something to be lamented, to be hunted for by its frustrated audience.

For this exhibition Eady appears to have lobbed a group of these garishly-coloured sculptures into the courtyard at Palazzo Bembo. This is sculpture treated as rubbish, taking its cue from the colourful blobs of chewing gum left in public spaces all around the world—a universal language of form which the minimalist traditions always lurking in the background of Eady’s work can only dream of. A form of public art from rather than for the masses, the guerilla placement of blobs of chewing gum in and around galleries—on the bottom of chairs, inserted into cracks in the wall, or in some reported cases even stuck onto sculptures themselves—here provides a sculptural tradition for Eady to follow, one distinct from the more authorised traditions often kept at arms length from its audience by ropes, barriers and art history.

As much as the physical intervention, it’s the gum-spitter’s antiauthoritarian messing up of sanctioned experiences that Eady really celebrates here, and which takes on additional resonance as a New Zealand artist expected to put one’s best foot forward at a collateral exhibition at the Venice Biennale. It’s another example of Eady destablising sculptural modes and institutional frameworks before the audience even encounter the object, another take on his earlier buried artworks, or the sculpture that falls from the sky.

Eady presents sculpture as prank, often calling on childhood games or tricks. Like these most recent sculptures, Ivan (2010) has a solid bronze core slathered with thick layers of bright paint. While unsettling those fraught battles over the boundaries between painting and sculpture, here this material subterfuge primarily assists in prank-making. A hand-written ‘Kick Me’ note is stuck onto Ivan’s seemingly soft and gooey surface, setting a trap for anyone willing or gullible enough to take up its invitation. During exhibition this sign has been repeatedly removed by presumably well-meaning visitors who perhaps felt they were saving a perfectly functioning sculpture from a nasty trick played by its audience, rather than the other way round.

The ‘boy’s own’ nature of Eady’s sculptural setups comes from activities carried out alongside or in collaboration with his children. These sculptures spring from family fimo-sculpture making sessions, the resulting blobby, unruly forms upscaled for the adult spaces of the gallery. They turn the modernist tradition of heroic sculpture into child’s play, insist on the making of sculpture as an act of resistance to the grown up world, and reinscribe the gallery as playground—as a place of tricks and games, where one can spit balls of gum into a courtyard from the floor above, or kick a sculpture when no one is watching.

The 100 Bikes Project liberated its audience from stuffy gallery behaviour in another way, by encouraging the riding of bicycles inside exhibition spaces. A two part work, this project had its first outing at the Dowse Art Museum in Wellington, New Zealand, in 2011, the second a year later at the Gwangju Biennale in South Korea. It seemed to herald a new accessibility and generosity in Eady’s practice, a pushing of the obdurate sculptural object into a bright new world of participatory and community-focused installation.

While lauded as a major shift in direction, the project is best considered an extension of Eady’s object-based sculptural practice into installation by stealth, a continuation of his on-going interrogation of the nature and function of contemporary sculpture in the gallery context. The combination of dump-salvaged and beautifully restored bicycles, tricycles, and scooters occupied and took over exhibition space. Eady cluttered galleries with sculptural form, presenting objects to be encountered rather than, or as well as, an invitation to participate. Audience participation was invited, but not necessary to activate the meanings and potential of this project. These possibilities were firstly built into Eady’s restoration of these objects, which in conventional sculptural terms, was based around the transformation of material into new form.

Eady’s emphasis on making and encounter brought a very sculptural element of risk to this project. The invitation to ride these bikes around the gallery was a provocation made through sculptural form, positing the medium not as something to bump into but as something to gleefully bump into other things with. Any participatory element really emerged from an activation of the sculptural possibilities born from that very physical encounter between body and the sculptural object played out in real space and real time. This channelling of the sense of the danger and disorder carried by sculpture invited chaos and mess into the gallery experience under the guise of participation, where it acted unhindered by the raft of protective devices and barriers typically used to regulate the separation of body from object.

If there is a disputed zone between this project and the blob sculptures it’s likely patrolled by another work Ping and Pong (2010). Twin catapaults occupying either sides of the gallery, this sculptural double act invites the audience to load and fire small rubber balls across the space. Participation is again invited but ultimately turned on itself in what quickly becomes a parody of gallery behaviour and encounter. All of those fraught relationships played out in the white cube are encompassed: between audiences sharing space, between audiences and artworks, and the often highly combative relationship between objects brought together in an exhibition and somehow expected to be get on and behave. This is also the terrain of The 100 Bikes project, of Ivan with his plaintive ‘Kick me’ sign, and Booty’s buried treasure. It also lurks behind the apparently throwaway gesture of spitting gum-like balls of sculpture into the courtyard of the Palazzo Bembo on the ocassion of the Venice Biennale.

Published in Personal Structures, La Biennale di Venezia, Global Art Fairs Foundation, 2013. An earlier version of this text appeared in Art New Zealand, Number 141, Autumn 2012.