C Magazine


Issue 136

Refracting Bush
by Ashok Mathur

This is not an essay, nor a review, nor very much of an interrogation, which means (perhaps) it fails to fulfill the intended desires of the editors. Nor does this fractured writing posit itself as daring to do much of anything, whether confronting binaries of Bush versus Cube or otherwise interrupting the hubris of established and power-bent art criticism. Instead, this is a speculation and a way of reflecting through.

  • Ashok Mathur, documentation of "A Little Distillery in Nowgong: a novel across media", presented at BUSH gallery, 2017. Inkjet prints on acetate.

This writing is more of a consideration. Of openings and opportunities that happen through what Bush might be. What Bush reaches for and pulls a muscle in doing so.

In other words (and there are so many other words dragging in different directions), in order to breathe, drink, ingest Bush, there may need to be a straggling outside the struggle, a way of speaking alongside instead of about.1

Then, for your consideration, co-readers/writers, here are 10 preliminary reflections on this thing called Bush. Not so much a primer, but a collection of ruminations.

Cube versus Bush – is there such an oppositional imaginary? One infects, informs and disrupts the other always. We cannot speak of Bush without having in mind Cube (or city gallery or artist-run space or artistic institution). And we cannot think of Cube without rendering its negative space as Bush.

I had an exhibition once where I tried to think through the project of the written novel and reimagine it as a physical space. I told my assistants and colleagues that my imagining entailed ensuring every word of the novel was available in the exhibition in some form or manner, perhaps not easily read or rendered, but present. One of the key elements was the novel writ large, printed out on a dozen eight-foot-long scrims so gallery visitors could walk through the text and read the novel in its entirety if they were so compelled. At BUSH gallery this summer, we took it upon ourselves to reinstall that work as a palimpsest of targeted love, those self-same scrims hanging between trees and across shrubs, readable in the moonlight and rain showers and giving evidence of the novel to the land and the bugs and the animals who came across the installation.

Driving north until you are too tired to drive but the sky is a gallery, yes, the sky reminds you of that time you remarked upon the colours of landscape paintings in a gallery down south. This was our journey to Tahltan territory where we left parts of ourselves in the grasslands precipiced over rivers. Feeling the body and its failings, I stayed behind as the others climbed to the peak, and I lay on sloped grass and watched the clouds shadow the prints Peter had installed on the banks. This, no Eames chair perfectly distanced from a framed classic, but a hump of dirt and grass and insect life that serves the same purpose.

Projecting light onto living objects that miss particles of light and just don’t reflect them back so they travel forward into eternal space. Old movies and long extension cords to bring a data projector into the eld. Kicking up dust to watch the light sprinkle through an image of a face caught on particulate matter and blown through onto trees. Like watching a movie between fingers, except these are not digits attached to hands but fine lines of foliage disturbing the unity and providing a different vision.

Bringing dirt into the gallery is a sign of Cube critique and re-invention of the gallery, but is it Bush and what might Bush be if you brought in hardwood floors and drywall, which is what the gallery in the urban centre is if you time-travel back a few hundred years. The question is not how to differentiate, but what constitutes the difference, perspectivally and perceptually.

Is being on Indigenous land what makes Bush, Bush? What of land unmarked by such designations? And land imitates art wherever it goes. The exterior of the Cube space, whether urban or far-flung rural has elements of Bush, even if the ground is concrete instead of humus.

The sun prints hashtags, ancient heat eight minutes away, wheeling and dealing with a new social media economy. Chemistry and solutions combine to make light permanent, but not in a laboratory unless Bush is a lab of unknown resources. Nevertheless, there are these #sunprints made inside and outside and living new lives inside Cube galleries.

If the earth sees the art, it can write a review, but its form takes many different tacks. It decentres words and moves from affect to affection. A stick drawing letters in the sand, a checkmarked thumb’s up as an act of criticality.

Addressing injustice with moral rectitude in the middle of the land. Social justice is branded by the activism of the street: the marches, the protests and ultimately the re/ presentation of ideas inside a gallery. But streets are not animal paths, and what of the idea of corrective measures taken by the streams and watering holes, demands of systemic change under a clear blue sky?

Bringing BUSH gallery into a city is an experiment in redecolonization or derecolonization. Or perhaps the very shi questions whether colonization has a fit here. If we cease a focus on those histories, might that reinvent a future, or does that doom us to historical repetition? Or maybe Bush, by its very iteration, already encapsulates such critiques – and yet, through oblique reference, allows a shift into new terrain.

Considerations such as the above are not suggested solutions or even earmarked directions, but merely a struggle to complexify and re-identify where Bush might lead us, or how we may lead ourselves into a new form of roughing it in the Bush. As with many a movement, the risk here is not that we fail to articulate an identity, but that we may overemphatically overdetermine and, in so doing, promote a demise as we prescribe a genesis. The path of Bush, it seems, is best understood not with a spotlight but under a whispering rain.