alex wisser

The blue. That mad blue of the post in the midst of faded grey-green rural suburbia.  The colour of elsewhere quietly imploding its surrounds.  Wisser has an eye for detail, for honing in on small absurdities of place, each photograph feigning that look of not particularly paying attention, the camera’s nonchalance played off against each carefully composed rupture of the scene.

So first, it’s the post so maddeningly out of kilter, holding the foreground against the faded tones of the peeling cream paint of the corrugated shed, the likewise faded sandy path and faded blue of the sky. The upright stroke of the blue post garners to itself a mismatched intensity, like someone dipped a brush direct into the pigment tube and erroneously marked a palette mixed to the washed out tones of a Kandos autumn.

It recalls that scene in Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry, in which an abstract painter sets up his easel in the midst of a spectacular American Fall, the leaves red russet in Nature’s full glory, to then daub away with fierce, swift abstract strokes.  The painting bears no relation to the scene, another in the long series of Hitchcock’s visual jokes.  Likewise Wisser has snuck up on this scene of  Modernist transgression, transforming the post into an abstract mark which questions the scene it interrupts.

More follows this cue to the unnaturalness of an ordinary scene.  Against the grey-green of the native gums on the right-hand side, an imported poplar is twisting itself in a muscular torsion of acidish yellow, spiralling upright in contest with the erect trunk of a tall dead tree on the left hand side.  Your eye cannot but be drawn inwards to this series of vertical strokes, the dead tree and the poplar now looking equally put of place.

Overall, the image is a brash and subtle work: brash in the first encounter of a blue that is unnatural, out of place, but subtle in the contagion of strangeness that begins to effect the other elements.  The native and natural seem startled by the impudent imports.  Also why is the tree dead? Why hasn’t someone cut it down?  Was it a local or foreigner? Surrepticiously, this scene which had seemed so ordinary is full of questions and mismatched elements.

We’re taken to the heart of the aesthetics of contact history, much more noticeable in a suburban enclave at the heart of the rural.  Wisser was particularly interested in the ongoing frisson of two aesthetic systems – the original landscape of sky and bush – as it continued to rub against imposter elements.  The madness of incompatible systems.  In this sense his photographs recall those strange ‘no-place’ landscape of John Glover and other colonials unable to let go of what landscapes should look like.  Glover’s ‘gums’ or whatever they were certainly did not exist in the Australian landscape and neither did his colours.  Australia had to wait for the Heidelberg school in the 1880s to get those right in their own hazy Impressionistic way, but at least they got the fadedness of the bush which Wisser certainly lets be to reveal itself against the often absurd and seemingly partial systems of taste imposed by the suburbanists.  Perhaps you could call Wisser’s outdoor shots ‘contact landscapes’, as the two aesthetic systems continue to slug it out in an ongoing contest that has now been going at it for some two hundred years.

It’s a battle that some Australians never see, never engage with – hugging the city, never venturing to the liminal zones where bush meets the town.  The nineteenth century contact was less pronounced; materials were more natural, more wood, iron and stone, colour less brash.  No plastic.  Much of the nineteenth century contact history has been so romanticised, so naturalised, as in the European tradition, that ironically it is the more recent contact history of the twentieth century that is more pronounced.  This contest in the landscape is snapped by Wisser in a line of orange roadworks plastic gone feral and ragged across a paddock, screaming that it doesn’t belong there, whilst at the same time adding a Modernist dash of colour to an otherwise drab scene. Wisser is interrogating the paradox that the colour enhancing the aesthetics is also a pollutant of the natural order, this time pitting aesthetics against the health of the landscape in this ongoing battle of contact.

For the most part, Wisser’s camera tour of Kandos’ liminal zones has focused less on such accidental, undetermined aesthetic processes than on the strangeness of everyday aesthetic decisions.

Wisser has been photographing personal aesthetic decisions for some time now.  In part, this was opportune, given his job of photographing homes for sale, looking their very best, for real estate ads in the local papers.  This is aesthetics as played out in real life by real life people, often with no formal connection to art.  Still it’s a good enough place from which to interrogate aesthetics as a function of life and everyday experience, and it takes a talent, such as Wisser’s to extract, through framing, the many aesthetic decisions which compose suburbia.

In this context, his works can be juxtaposed to that of early Tony Schwenson, whose installations were uniquely composed of store bought elements from the like of Bunnings’ gardening stores – fencing, plastic pools, hose, tubs – you name it, all the accoutrements of the average suburban garden.  Further, he had hailed from Sydney’s west where the evidently proud owners of riverfront homes have made many an aesthetic decision on the elaborate tiling of their sweeping driveways.  The difference is that in respect of suburban aesthetics, Schwensen composed his own more hyperbolic version, creating readymades which would never actually live anywhere outside an installation space.

Wisser is more quietly appreciative, more in Heidegger’s school of  “letting be”, leaving the elements alone to explain themselves from within Wisser’s interrogating frames.  It is as if Wisser cannot help himself: look at this.  Why?  Why this?

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