an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image
Volume 7, July-August 2010, ISSN 1552-5112
‘[…] the utopia that has left its traces in a thousand configurations of life, from enduring edifices to passing fashions’
Since the 1990s, the Queensland-based artist, Donna Marcus, has exhibited
large-scale sculptural constructions that reference Modernity in its most
streamlined designs, including enormous grid, dome and sphere structures that have
been placed in galleries and outdoor/public settings. On first
glance, these grand structures evoke the utopian ideals of Modernity in its
quest to perfect efficiency and self-sustainability. Some of the forms reference the utopian
ideals of Minimalism and Constructivism, in which all polluting forms of
pictorial ‘illusionism’ are stripped away to reveal the purported purity and synthesis of the object’s form and function (See the series of city-grid works).
Other forms reference the utopian Geodesic principles underpinning Buckminster Fuller’s revolutionary architectural dome structures (See Marcus’ dome and sphere works).
On closer inspection however, the forms contain components that belie the
strict geometries of modernity, having been composed from hundreds of pieces of
discarded aluminium and plastic kitchenware collected from Marcus’ visits to
op-shops up and down the Eastern seaboard of
The modernity of Marcus’ compositions is therefore buoyed by a whole
series of paradoxes and tensions.
Firstly, the idealism underpinning the modernity of the forms is only
made possible by the content of the pieces – kitchen implements − which
reference the messy histories of women’s domestic labour in
Despite Marcus’ divergent references to Modernism, all of the pieces are invested in the ongoing potential of modernism as a paradigm. As Robert Nelson has put it in his introduction to Marcus’ monograph, they are thoroughly “modernist structures” infused “with a kind of grandiose architectural clout” (2005 7). However they are works interested in the possibility of modernism – in the complexity and difference of modernism/modernity − once it is removed from its safe locale in the early part of the twentieth-century, and from the European metropolis’ specifically. This interest in the difference and contemporaneity of modernity is in keeping with what Rita Felski identifies as the “New Cultural Theories of Modernity” (in her chapter of the same title) in which she traces the emerging interest in modernity as an unfinished project (2000 55-61).
According to Felski, modernity can no longer be easily dismissed as an
outdated homogenous tranche of European time − the domination of ‘grand
narrative’ or the tyranny of sameness – that has purportedly been surpassed by
postmodernism’s celebration of fragmentation, eclecticism and difference
(61). Felski identifies an emerging
interest in the way modernity is not the simply the dead and hegemonic ‘Other’
to postmoderism’s equation with difference and diversity, because modernism is
also emerging as a cultural field filled with differences and
contestations. These differences are
partly defined by the inclusion of non-elite groups of people in the formation
of modernity – by the inclusion of people marginalised by racial, gender and
sexual minority status. They’re defined
by the recent analyses of modernity in locales marginalised by European centres
This contemporaneity and difference of modernity is the subject here. I argue that Marcus’ interest in modernism evinces much more than the nostalgia for ‘retro’ objects and eclectic appropriation (symptomatic of postmodern pastiche and fragmentation and the purported end of history). Rather than marking the end of modernity to postmodern forms of pastiche, Marcus’ figurations allude to the unfinished potential of modernity and its differences − the differences it manifests as it emerges within the post-war Australian context. This chapter traces the difference and contemporaneity of modernity as it is taken out of its classic, European, urban and metropolitan phenomena, and resituated within the parochial Australian context. Furthermore, the differences of Modernity emerge in Marcus’ evocation of the irregularities that gender and memory bring to re-fashioning Modernity’s purported seamlessness, and the echoes of these irregularities are evident throughout her forms.
The contemporaneity of Marcus’ Modernism has been noted at length in Brigitta Olubas’ essays on Marcus’ works, particularly in her reading of the dome and sphere works based on Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic architectural design principles in “’That Which is Made in Making It’: Practices of Efficiency, Waste and Modernity in Recent Work by Donna Marcus” (2003). These series of works include Tripe (1998-2000 ) and My Millennium Dome I and II (1998-1999), which consist of aluminium vegetable steamers riveted into enormous sphere structures, the Fullerene series of works comprised of aluminium and plastic cooking containers (Fullerene 1, Fullerene 2, Fullerene + and Fullerene -); her work titled Glowing Defiance (1999), which consists of an enormous collection of plastic microwave cake moulds riveted into an enormous dome structure and the later Dodecahedron series of spheres comprised from numerous items of aluminium cooking steamers and moulds. Olubas notes the modernity of these forms in her reading of their invocation of the ongoing potential of Buckminster Fuller’s modernist design principles.
Fuller is still revered as one of the great visionaries of American
modernism for his revolutionary architectural plans of the 1930’s and 1940’s,
which were designed to economise all facets of modern living as a corrective to
the widespread environmental degradation and global disequilibrium that he
identified as modernity’s failure to properly industrialise. His
revolutionary structures took the form of large spheres (comprised from the
arrangement of seemingly incongruous triangular shapes) based upon the geodesic
principles he uncovered from nature’s most efficient taxonomies – in forms as
various as algae, the bone structure of bird wings, leaves, honeycomb, snake
skin, insect eyes and pineapple (in addition to industrial forms like golf and
soccer balls, umbrellas, tennis racquets, jungle gyms, bridges, silos, bicycle
wheels and baskets) (Lichtenstein 1999 442-5).
These geodesic designs were touted as the first truly modern structures −
strong, light and efficient − enclosing the largest volume of interior
space with the least amount of surface area, economising on materials, cost,
labour-time and natural resources (80). The economy
of the forms was also ensured through their capacity to be recycled. The structures could be dismantled, recycled
and reconstructed with minimal labour time in almost all climates, and their
construction from the most modern materials − aluminium and plastic –
were also celebrated for their capacity to be recycled, in addition to their
durability, their lightness and their affordability (Krausse and Lichtenstein
16, 18-19, 80, 250, 354). Despite the
enormous potential of these prototypes, they failed to undergo mass-production
Marcus’ deployment of Fuller’s dome and sphere structures, including works like Tripe, Growth: Milennium Dome, Glowing Defiance, Fall, the Fullerene and Dodecahedron series and Marble (1996-2005) re-stage Fuller’s central preoccupation with questions of urban and domestic waste and efficiency with a tongue-in-cheek humour. They do this by literalising his geodesic construction principles with used obsolescent kitchen refuse.
Her homages to these grandiose, efficient, modernist structures utilise
Fuller’s modern materials of choice (aluminium and plastic), yet they re-stage
his dreams of modern materials in the form of kitchen refuse sourced from
The health risks posed by aluminium cookware (in the hypothesised link between Alzheimer’s disease and aluminium materials) consigned these implements to the garbage heap, just as all of the other implements have been deemed useless over time, “discarded in the constant press of domestic innovation” as Elizabeth McMahon has put it (2004 29), weathered in the ‘storm of progress’ to use Walter Benjamin’s phrase (Arendt, 1992 58). The shifts in culinary fashions saw jelly moulds rejected as markers of outdated and limited suburban culinary tastes, redolent of a 1950’s parochialism, just as the future possibilities of microwave cooking were discarded as a multitude of plastic baking tins after the 1980s.
The irony suturing Marcus’ allusions to Fuller’s modernity – in both his conception of forms and materials – should not be read as a humorous acknowledgment of the failure of modernism’s dreams of formalist innovation and social utopia to the inevitability of waste and trash, evident in Fredric Jameson’s theory of postmodern renovation, eclecticism or pastiche. It may be tempting to read these grand, yet wasted modernist structures as an ironic take on the end of modernism’s dreams of formalist innovation and the various ideals of social utopia attached to them, nevertheless, Marcus’ humour exceeds the postmodern irony that attends to the recycling of history’s dead styles and failed utopian dreams. Rather, what emerges from this patterning between modern efficiency and waste (in both the form and content of the works) is a complex and concentrated meditation on the interstices between the new and the obsolescent.
Her works articulate the contemporary pre-occupation with the potential ‘newness’ of Modernity, via what Fuller identified as one of Modernity’s most enduring principles: recycling itself. That is to say, it is recycling that ensures the Modernity of Marcus’ forms, enabling a new outlook on the frozen dialectics between new-ness and obsolescence as a problematic. In doing so, the forms resist the imprisonment with/in the past by staging the dialectical tensions through which the new is actualised.
The forms therefore recall the ongoing potential of Modernity through their self-conscious references to recycling, and this recycling, in turn, evokes the frozen dialectical tensions that Benjamin examines at length in The Arcades Project – the tensions that surface from within modernity’s own trash and waste. As Benjamin notes in “<Expose of 1935>”, it is from within the failed utopian dreams of modernity − the discarded and dilapidated forms of modernity − that the new is resuscitated: “[…] the utopia that has left its traces in a thousand configurations of life, from enduring edifices to passing fashions (4-5).” Modernity emerges from within the resuscitation of its own failed detritus, in which its ceaseless tensions between the new and the obsolescent, efficiency and waste, is brought to a standstill in a frozen dialectical image. These dialectical images are “genuinely historical” because they are figural in nature – not “temporal.” They emerge at the intersection where the “what-has-been” collides with the “Now,” allowing modernity to become legible to the conditions of the present. Benjamin discusses this ‘Now’ time:
Every present day is determined by the images that are synchronous with it: each ‘now’ is the now of a particular recognisability. In it, truth is charged to the bursting point with time […]. It is not that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present casts its light on what is past; rather, image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation. In other words: image is dialectics at a standstill. For while the relation of the present to the past is purely temporal, the relation of what-has-been to the now is dialectical: not temporal in nature but figural <bildlich>. Only dialectical images are genuinely historical – that is, not archaic – images. The image that is read – which is to say, the image in the now of its recognisability – bears to the highest degree the imprint of the perilous critical moment on which all reading is founded (The Arcades Project N,3,1, p. 463).
Marcus’ compositions evoke the critical potential of Benjamin’s imagistic ‘Now’ time, brought to fruition in ceaseless dialectical tension – the inter-patterning between Modernity and its obsolescent forms. Here Modernity is not represented as ‘outdated’, nor yet to come, but emergent in obsolescent forms as the time of the ‘Now’. Modernity is perpetually becoming in each of its citations, its recycling, its repetition.
This ‘Now-time’ also bears resonances with what Brigitta Olubas has otherwise identified as Gertrude Stein’s concept of the time of the composition in her reading of Marcus’ forms. In “That Which is Made in Making It: Practices of Efficiency, Waste and Modernity in Recent Work by Donna Marcus,” Olubas argues that Marcus’ forms epitomise the tautological temporality of the modern, akin to what Gertrude Stein defined as the time of the composition. This is an understanding of modernity as something emergent in each moment, as “that which is made in the process of making it” (2003 19). She quotes Stein in support of this reading:
The time of the composition is the time of the composition. It has been at times a present thing it has been at times a past thing it has been at times a future thing it has been at times an endeavour at parts or at all of these things. In my beginning it was a continuous present a beginning again and again and again and again, it was a series it was a list it was a similarity and everything different it was a distribution and an equilibrium. This is all of the time some of the time of the composition.
Stein’s ‘time of the composition’, or the becoming-completeness of modernity, is epitomised in the recyclability of Marcus’ domes – their self-conscious references to their own incessant process of coming into being (2003, 19). Recycling is not merely an aspect of Marcus’ works, it is the very principle that underpins their compositional structure, allowing their mobility (their movement around the country) and their transience (their dismantling and reincorporation into other forms). Olubas notes that the components of the forms are endlessly dismantled and made into new forms. Tripe, for example, was re-used in the construction of My Millennium Dome I and My Millennium Dome II, and then later re-incorporated into a later version of Tripe.
My Millennium Dome I (1998)
True to Fuller’s belief in recycling as one of modernity’s most enduring principles, Marcus’ forms come to be Modern in their act of being composed. Modernity is made in the act of instantiation. As Elizabeth McMahon notes in “The Sculpture of Donna Marcus,” the objects are in a perpetual process of becoming complete; each kitchen utensil is an object, complete in its own right, which then becomes garnered in the process of creating another complete structure (2003-04 30).
This emergence of modernity – anew – in each of its invocations, in turn accounts for the differences that are at play in Marcus’ forms. In being instantiated within each moment, Marcus’ forms also frame the way that modernity is made differently each time it is invoked, and this difference is made manifest across numerous spheres in Marcus’ forms.
For example, her Modernity is porous to the differences of gender, such that the feminine domestic sphere, and its association with the ‘everyday’ and ‘prosaic’ worlds of cooking, is imbricated within the public, masculine and urban spheres associated with modernity and art. These intersections between the sphere of domestic cooking (and the ephemerality of its food products) and the masculinist strivings of modernist art (with its striving for perfection, truth and lasting value) is ironically teased apart in the title of one of Marcus’ lumpy vegetable steamer dome work titled Tripe (1998) which mocks the invisibility of women’s labour-time and the capacities of women’s aesthetic composition. Tripe (1998) (the word and composition) recalls the gendered histories and aesthetics of re-use whilst also literally mocking the feminine’s association with this derivative and supposedly parasitic practise. ‘Tripe’ is regarded to be something worthless or rubbish (its more specific meaning designates a type of food recycled from the ruminants of an animal’s stomach) and Marcus’ forms tease out the gendered histories of this labour of re-use across aesthetic and domestic domains.
Marcus’ allusions to the gendered dimensions of creation through re-use − the ongoing question of how women can create something new from within the restricted economies of male artistic genius and phallic presence − is further explored through Marcus’ evocation of Duchamp’s ‘readymade’ tradition, which is referenced in her own appropriation of factory-made forms. Ironically, the genius aspect of Marcus’ quotation of the readymade tradition resides in the way she frames it, not as the revolutionary moment in art that challenges the authenticity of the art object, but as the movement that is now reified in Duchamp’s image as the Ur-text of male genius, originality and phallic presence. This is cunningly suggested in her copies of readymade forms – in the sheer oversupply of her found and upturned readymade implements. The excessive number of readymade objects – the sheer excess and glut of kitchen waste – comments, with irony, on the way that Duchamp’s urinal has become co-opted as the singular and fetishised genius work of ‘Art’ – a signifier of phallic presence within modernism (despite its initial rejection by the Society of Independent Artists in 1917 as non-art).
Here, then, Marcus performs the role of feminine ‘mimmick’ as a means to reconfigure the critical potential of the readymade, in light of contemporary gender concerns. Her pieces lay claim to aesthetic innovation by replicating the master mind of reproduction himself, and in doing so, her forms illuminate how the proliferation of new forms is produced, rather than eradicated, by replicating the already replicated. This is the irony – this is her art; feminine mimeticism is no longer testament to a duplicitous and duped nature, destined to aesthetic (and biological and industrial) replication and reproduction. Feminine mimicry inaugurates the new.
Marcus’ preoccupation with the originality of second-hand images is also literalised in her code series of works exhibited under the title: Cover (2002-3), which metaphorically alludes to ‘cover’ versions on pop songs, the square electric fry-pan lids from which the pieces are composed, in addition to Marcus’ ongoing investment in creating something new by re-staging something pre-given and readymade.
Code X (2003)
These dialectics between mimicry and originality are further interwoven in Marcus’ Fullerene 1 (2001), which humorously mocks the distinction between phallic masculinity and feminine lack underpinning concepts of artistic creation. This is played out in Marcus’ series of plastic jelly moulds riveted into a large sphere, in which the placement of the plastic jelly moulds are alternated so that the spokes and holes of the moulds are visible intermittently. The spokes and holes evoke the conventional alignment of phallic masculinity and feminine lack, and the terms associated with this gender dichotomy: production and reproduction, originality and repetition, inside and outside. However, in Marcus’ forms, the conventional alignment of the phallis with ‘presence’ and the feminine with ‘lack’ is turned inside out in an infinite patterning of mutual interdependence and inversion, as both the spokes and holes are part of each plastic jelly mould, and are visible as such. The placement of the moulds, alternating between their positioning upright and upside down, reveals the spokes and holes as belonging to the same object, whilst also revealing how this interdependence between presence and absence forms the cohesion of the sphere itself.
Fullerene 1 (2001)
In addition to tracing the differences of modernity across the gendered divisions of labour and creation, Marcus’ works also evoke the differences of modernity by tracing their tenor in the parochial Australian context − resituating modernity from its ‘privileged’ locale in the European and American Metropolitan centres, and exploring the peculiarities it takes on as it is received by those cultures marginalised by the European centres. The specificity of the Australian context, and its reconfiguration of European and American forms of high modernity is played out in Marcus’ early city series of grid works specifically, which represent numerous Australian cities and towns alongside European metropolis’s. These city grids are represented by an explosive array of colourful aluminium saucepan lids, which are overlaid with other items of kitchen refuse, including jelly moulds, biscuit cutters, icing nozzles and cream horns, sourced from post-war kitchens up and down the Eastern seaboard of Australia. The very basis of Marcus’ Modernist grids are therefore comprised from objects that embody histories of use in actual Australian homes, and these city works highlight the particularity of Australian modernity as it was lived out in the ‘everyday’.
The Australian dimensions of modernity are also made explicit by the names and composition of the grids, named after smaller regional cities and towns like Weipa, Gladstone, Beaudesert, Brisbane and Sydney, and then juxtaposed next to grids named after world metropolis’ - Barcelona, Paris, Florence and London. This placement of Australian towns next to the large world cities has the effect of highlighting the differences in size and economic clout between Australian figurations of modernity and European and North American modernities. These differences are further flagged in the arrangement and density of the segments, as the world cities are embellished with excessive amounts of spectacularly shiny kitchen implements overlaid onto the lids – up to twenty-five saucepan lids overlaid with additional kitchen pieces including detailed biscuit cutters, icing nozzles, jelly moulds, cream horns, egg poaches, scone punches and serviette rings. The sheer oversupply of objects gesture to the phantasmagorias of the grand metropolis – the superfluous pleasures and excessive luxuries of unrestrained consumption in the big cities – such that the cities are personified as consuming bodies that eat and discard. The excessive, showy displays of the big consuming metropolis’ are then refracted in the forms and colours of Marcus’ smaller grids, comprised of up to nine saucepan lids, and named after devolving regional cities and towns in Australia, such as Weipa, Gladstone, Beaudesert and Normington (1996-1997) − towns which have themselves become outdated dumpsites full of bargain basement shops, symptomatic of the downturn in primary industries in post-industrial economies.
This juxtaposition between the gluttonous excess on display in the grand European metropolis’, and Marcus’ regional Australian towns and cities, also presents an ironic portrait of modernity’s idealisms: efficiency, standardisation and egalitarianism. These ideals are further suggested by the aluminium materials used across all of Marcus’ grids – the aluminium cookware which was once valued for its affordability. However, in Marcus’ grids, the standardisation of the aluminium forms, and their placement in neat rows, furnishes greater visibility of the differences between the urban cities, and the impossibility of Modernism’s utopian ideals of equivalence and standardisation. The aluminium forms highlight the inequalities at the heart of modern cities. The grand metropolis’ harbour an excess of consumption and waste that is off-set by the impoverished colours and forms of the Australian cities and towns.
Nevertheless, despite Marcus’ allusions to the uneven distribution of goods between Australia and the European metropolis’, her placement of European metropolis’ alongside Australian cities and towns also suggests that Australian modernity is not ‘behind’ Europe, but contemporaneous with European and American modernity. This is in keeping with Ann Stephens’, Philip Goad’s and Andrew McNamara’s view of the emergent character of Australian Modernism, alongside European and American forms, outlined in their book Modern Times: The Untold Story of Modernism in Australia (2008). They argue that what it means to be ‘modern’ and/or ‘modernist’ in Australia certainly means different things from the European and North American definitions of Modernity and Modernism, however they argue that it does not necessarily mean that Australian Modernity and Modernism is ‘behind’ European and American cultures (xvi). While Australian modernism is often dismissed as having occurred in a ‘time lag’ in relation to European and American modernism (as Bernard Smith argued in Australian Painting), Modern Times argues that this history, “narrated through a succession of delayed, style-based shifts occurring discretely with painting, sculpture, design or architecture” is “not an adequate explanation of the reception of modernism in Australia” (xxi). Australian modernism emerged contemporaneously with European and American modernism, even as it emerged in a different guise. It was a modernism that exceeded insular aesthetic definitions of it as formal experimentation, encompassing a more fluid relationship between the aesthetic and sociological dimensions of modernity (xx). Modernity, in other words, not only inhabited the worlds of art and architecture, but it infiltrated all areas of industrial design, including the design of suburban kitchens, milk bars, swimming pools and cars, not to mention furniture, fashions and other areas of everyday life.
This new and broad definition of Australian modernity is certainly highlighted by Marcus’ forms, all of which evince a greater fluidity between the realms of industrialisation (understood in sociological terms as the key condition of modernity) and art (which is conventionally understood as an aesthetic response to the limitations of modernity – defined as ‘modernism’). Marcus’ aestheticisation of machine-made objects certainly highlight a stronger awareness of the inter-patterning between art and industry, at the same time that they seek to expose the geographical and cultural dislocation between Europe’s quest to perfect and aestheticise everyday living, and the prosaic drudgery and standardisation of everyday life in the Australian colonies. This is humorously dramatised in Marcus’ exquisitely coloured flat patterned arrangements of triangular aluminium steamer lids titled after grand nineteenth-century European domestic interiors and dwellings, including Parlour, Spare-room, Lounge, Sun-room, Porch, Observatory, Hall (2006), all of which evoke the redundancy of such grandeur in the Australian colonies, literalised in Australia’s suburban kitsch refuse specifically.
The unique dimensions of Australian modernity is also underscored by the affective/mnemonic dimensions that adhere to the kitchen implements – a dimension that is otherwise purportedly erased (along with notions of use and occupation) in the conventional understanding of Modernity as a site of pure rationality. As McMahon has noted in “The Sculpture of Donna Marcus,” the forms set up a tension between “an ironised minimalism of post-efficiency – the re-use and rearrangement of modernity’s waste and refuse – and the perceptual and affective superabundance experienced by the viewer” (29). There’s a paradoxical unravelling of the proliferation of affective reference attached to each component (the abundance of mnemonic associations that each kitchen implement is likely to elicit for the baby boomer generation, specifically) and the conceptual density of each of the modern forms. While each individual item of kitchen refuse invites the mnemonic associations of Australia’s post-war kitchens, these memories of everyday living – of touching and handling − are thrown into relief by the conceptual labour of the aesthetic abstraction of the objects and their relegation to the visual. Here modernity is re-cast in relation to the specifics of Australian cultural memory, such that the purities of utopian formalism are off-set by the mnemonics associated with use and usefulness.
Marcus’ references to the specificity of Australian geography and Australian memory is given epic proportions in her series of gridded works titled From Alice Springs to Weipa (1999), which records Marcus’ memories of a childhood trip with her mother and sister from Alice Springs to Weipa. This series incorporates numerous city-grid works comprised from aluminium saucepan lids, each of which is named after small towns Marcus encountered on her road trip across Australia’s regional North, from the inland town of Alice Springs, through to Mt. Isa, Cloncurry, Normanton, and finally, Weipa on the coast. This series of works pays homage to the colour spectrum of the landscape through the shifting colour palate of the aluminium saucepan lids, beginning with a red grid, them moving on to orange, yellow, green, and finally, the representation of the blue oceans of Weipa. As Alison Kubler has noted in “I Love Metal,” Marcus’ series is “an investigation of the great Australian landscape tradition through anything but conventional means” (2003 11).
One of the cities in this series, titled Wepia, has an ‘elemental’
resonance within Marcus’ broad interest in memory and its relationship to
geography, since Wepia is the town where the material, Bauxite, was
mined for the production of aluminium. Marcus
references this mining history within the work itself, by casting the
blue-green aluminium refuse as an after-image of the regional town. By casting the aluminium refuse as an after-image
of the town itself, Weipa becomes
about Australian national memory generally.
The representation of Weipa as aluminium
refuse becomes metonymic for the rise and fall of Australia’s mining
industries, recalling Australia’s economic development via the once-booming
aluminium mining industry in the post-war era, in addition to the devolution of
many of Australia’s primary industries in the contemporary turn to
post-industrialist information-based economies (Weipa being one of Australia’s original mining towns
still functioning). That is to
say, by referencing the devolution of Australia’s mining history, through the
representation of the town as a ‘waste site’, Marcus replaces the positivist
histories of Australia’s production era with tarnished memories of these
narratives of national development. Weipa references the devolution and
redundancy of these origin myths which celebrate
This shift away from an affirmative Australian identity rooted in notions of essentialist and foundational concepts of labour, land and primary industry, is also made explicit in the compositions through their play with the very concepts of ‘mining’ and ‘labour’. The concepts of mining and labour are pushed into a hyperbolic excess in Marcus’ pieces, as the physical labour associated with the mining of Bauxite (the ‘hard work’ associated with masculinity and land that is so revered in the national consciousness), is transformed into the second-hand aesthetic ‘mining’ of these aluminium products once they’ve become discarded in op-shops and seconds bins across Australia. Flagged as the title of Marcus’ PhD exhibition at Monash University in 2006, Mining is stripped of its associations with physical exertion and becomes re-cast as a hyperbolic and metaphorical practise evident in ‘shopping’ and ‘aesthetic appropriation’ – the mining of secondary signifiers (in op-shops and recycling bins) that determine labour in post-industrial economies reliant upon cultural and aesthetic capital. Marcus’ allusions to the secondary minings in op-shops and recycling bins can therefore be read as metonymic for the shifting value and meaning of national identity itself – where primary industry, and its essentialist notion of labour and land, is given over to secondary revisionings – where place and value is weighted towards signifiers and signification in post-industrial economies.
The end result of this hyperbolic presentation of labour is a thoroughly
camp presentation of
If aluminium is the perfect metal for Marcus to corrode essentialist representations of Australian ‘country’, ‘landscape’ and ‘identity’, it’s also the perfect medium through which to highlight the forgetting at the very core of Australian national memory, since aluminium has been embroiled in Australia’s widespread post-war amnesia. This is demonstrated by Alison Kubler’s claim, in her essay “I Love Metal,” that aluminium cookware played an instrumental role in the forgetting of the Second World War, even after it played a critical role in securing the Allied victory (and we might surmise, the concretisation of the Australian national unity in the post-war period). Kubler notes that the shortage of aluminium required for the production of strategic ‘attack’ war planes in Britain during the 1940s resulted in a national campaign directed toward English citizens to encourage them to donate their pots and pans “to assist in fighting the ‘good fight’” (10). The slogan “Saucepans to Spitfires” was adopted as one of the most successful propaganda campaigns of WWII, and a number of cartoons were published in newspapers to back the cause. One of the cartoons from Punch, dated to October 1940 is described by Kubler as “depicting a mechanic working on a WWII warplane with a pile of aluminium cookware nearby declaring “‘We’re just a frying pan short on this one’“(10). This campaign was also accompanied by a war-time poem that Kubler cites:
The Housewife’s Dream
My Saucepans have all been surrendered,
The teapot is gone from the hob,
The colander’s leaving the cabbage
For a very much different job.
So now, when I hear on the wireless
Of Hurricanes showing their mettle,
I see, in a vision before me,
A Dornier being chased by my kettle.
- Elsie Staffordshire
After the victory of the Allied forces (no doubt aided by the generous donations of aluminium pots and pans) the war planes were once again recycled into shiny domestic cookware, just as their role in the war effort was also erased from official history as it was transformed back into domestic products. This recycling of the planes back into cookware therefore helped to facilitate the forgetting of aluminium’s tarnished role in the war, not only because it played a literal role in erasing the tarnished memories of the war, but because it also facilitated the baby boomer’s attempt to forget the war via a flight into the mass consumption of domestic bliss. As Kristin Ross notes in Fast Cars, Clean Bodies, the production boom in innovative and ‘modern’ domestic commodities after the Second World War underpinned the post-war attempt to forget the war and to bolster a new sense of suburban security. Discourses surrounding the increased production of domestic technologies enabled this “flight from history” (108), not only in an attempt to erase the past, but in the “attempt to make the world futureless and at that price to buy security” (108).
We might extrapolate from this context to suggest that the boom in the
increased production of aluminium kitchenware in
These ‘tarnished’ histories are explicitly referenced in the title to the IMA monograph on Marcus’ work: 99% Pure Aluminium, whilst also connecting aluminium’s history back to the economies of forgetting that suture the very basis of post-war cultures, based upon perpetual recycling, malleability and impermanence. This is also alluded to in the title of one of the gridded displays of aluminium saucepan lids titled In Flight (1999), which not only draws an explicit connection to aluminium’s ‘dirty’ history in its involvement in the construction of war planes and the Allied Victory, but it also references the recycling of aluminium materials, and the way that recycling is metonymic for forgetting, amnesia, or the ‘flight from history’ that, according to Kristin Ross, is part and parcel of the amnesia of post-war consumer culture generally. In Flight gestures to the economies of forgetting and recycling that epitomise Australian national memory, recalling John Frow’s claim that memory is never a self-present or stable repository of objects and events, but that memory is constituted by the forgetting that suture all processes of representation (1997 255). Aluminium, then, becomes the basis for an alternative figuration of Australian cultural memory – a figuration in which widespread forgetting and littering rests as its very possibility.
The histories of forgetting embodied within aluminium’s history (and in
its capacity to be recycled) are further complicated by the popular science and
health discourses surrounding aluminium since the 1980s and 1990s. These discourses hypothesised a further link
between aluminium cookware and forgetting, suggesting that aluminium cookware
may be the cause for the high proportion of Alzheimer’s disease patients
amongst the baby boomer generation.
Aluminium became the key suspect in the search for the mystery of the
‘forgetful generation’ – the generation of baby-boomers lapsed into a broad
cultural amnesia after the war. This
health scare prompted yet another large-scale national campaign, encouraging
Australian households to once again discard their aluminium cooking implements
– not to save the war, this time, but to save their memories. In a bid to save the nation’s memories,
anodised aluminium objects from the 1950s and 1960s − drink canisters,
cocktail trays, ice-buckets, saucepans and other items − were discarded
in op-shops en-mass across
Marcus’ mining of these aluminium resources therefore become
self-conscious interventions into the repository of Australian national memory,
where the collection and recycling of aluminium objects allude to the histories
of forgetting that comprise the very basis of Australian cultural memory
itself. By casting Australian cultural
memory as the metaphorics of mining –
as the recycling of waste −Marcus is able to highlight the operations of
memory itself, in which Australian national memory is only made possible
through recycling and forgetting. This
allusion to the centrality of waste and recycling in Australian national memory
evokes John Frow’s concept of memory as tekhné or ‘writing’, outlined in his
book Time and Commodity Culture, in which memory is never a self-present
or stable repository, but is actively re-made by the forgettings that suture
all processes of representation (255). Olubas
appropriates Frow’s concept of tekhné or ‘writing’ as a useful model through
which to read Marcus’ forms; indeed Marcus’ collections visualise the active
forgetting which suture the memory process (2006 64). Marcus’ forms represent memory as the
arrangement and re-arrangement of memory fragments at every point in time such
that memory is constituted by the process of discarding and leaving fragments
out (Frow 225, Olubas 64). This explicit display of Australian national
memory AS recycling and forgetting also has an unsettling effect on the
national consciousness, since it erodes the certainty through which we remember
Marcus’ investment in Australian modernity as an ‘after-image’ − as a wasted, recycled after-image of the land’s mining riches in refuse − is tracked back to questions of aesthetics and visuality in one of her later works, Green, which acknowledges the after-image, not only as a central part of national representations, but as an integral part of all visual representations. The composition draws explicit references to Goethe’s theory of the retinal ‘after-image’, which was first expounded in his Theory of Colours (1810) in order to explain the inverted impressions that the eye registers long after any external stimulus has been removed. Green is a monochromatic grid comprised of round saucepan lids which evokes Goethe’s theory of the after-image, literally; the composition appears to be a different colour from that which the title signifies, having been composed from a series of red anodised saucepan lids. This disjunction between the title of the image, Green, and the colour of the actual form, draws explicit references to Goethe’s challenge to conventional analyses of visual perception, by acknowledging the way visual perception actively constructs images rather than merely recording an actual reality (67-74). As Jonathan Crary has noted in Techniques of the Observer (1999), Goethe’s theory of the ‘after-image’ challenges the notion that vision is pure, and that the eye captures an untainted referent – an objective or literal truth that exists before visual perception itself (97-107, 139-141, 138).
This concept of the eye’s active formation in the constitution of images relates to Marcus’ broader preoccupation with the erasure of ‘objectivity’, ‘origins’ and ‘truth’ in her interest in the second-hand status of found images and the economies of signification beyond landscape, authenticity and actuality. The impossibility of objective truth, before subjectivity, also holds resonance in the context of her references to minimalism specifically, because the ‘after-image’ challenges minimalism’s purported capacity to strip the art object of visual illusion, and to achieve an objective or ‘literal’ art. Green frustrates this minimalist impulse by recalling Goethe’s theory of the delusory nature of vision itself. By situating the after-image within minimalist aesthetics, Green suggests that minimalism’s ideals of achieving a literal or actual art, stripped back to avoid visual illusion, is an impossibility The citation of the after-image alludes to the illusory dimensions of minimalism, evoking what Michael Freid has called the theatricality of the minimalist object in his 1967 essay “Art and Objecthood” (125). Marcus’ Green alludes to the performativity of the minimalist object, its ability to trick the eye and elude placement, highlighting the tension between the objectivity of the pieces and their status as a perceptual image. This theatricality of the minimalist object is further underscored by Marcus’ allusions to the camp and excessive dimensions of the object, given that her minimalist forms are comprised from ‘kitschy’ kitchen utensils, laden with their histories of suburban consumption and use. Here then, the minimalist dictate of an objective or ‘literal’ art is literally off-set by the performative, camp rearrangement of modernity’s excess – the excess which exceeds any possibility of reaching the object in a pure and untainted form.
Marcus’ references to Goethe’s theory of the retinal after-image is also echoed in her preoccupation with the social and cultural dimensions of obsolescence – her references to obsolescent aesthetics, cultural practices, identities and places – which also resonate with Walter Benjamin’s writings on the obsolescent after-image. In The Arcades Project, Benjamin notes that the ‘truth’ of modernity comes into legibility in urban modernity’s detritus, or that which is resuscitated as an ‘after-image’ of modern progress and development (475 [N,10,3]). Cultural phenomena, like commodities and technologies, only become truly important to the contemporary moment once they’ve become outmoded. As after-images, these outmoded goods are able to highlight Modernity’s failed utopian potential – its muddied and tainted visual illusions – whilst also showing Modernity’s potential to be regenerated.
Marcus’ preoccupation with the social and perceptual resonance of the ‘after’ image, as both Benjamin and Goethe have defined them, result in her complex meditation on the perceptual and cultural resonance of modernity itself. Her ‘after-images’ represent the ongoing enactments of modernism (and minimalism) in an era that has been dubbed, by the art critic Rosalind Krauss, as the age of the ‘post-medium condition’, or the ‘Postmodern’ shift toward eclecticism rather than formal purity (2000). Marcus’ obsolescent forms highlight the way modernist/minimalist forms come into legibility as ‘after-images’ – in their outmoded state. Her grids offer a timely take on the difference of modernism and minimalism by re-casting the visual purity and simplicity of the grid in light of the perceptual and affective superabundance of obsolescent objects.
an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image
Volume 7, July-August 2010, ISSN 1552-5112
 Walter Benjamin. “
 Marcus’ works have been placed in
 The tensions between pictorial
illusionism, and the literal and objective aims of Minimalism and
Constructivism, are played out in Marcus’ series of city grid works, first
exhibited at the Home of Memories exhibition in
 The dome and sphere forms reference Fuller’s geodesic principles. These works have been an ongoing aspect of Marcus’ corpus since the mid 1990s and include pieces such as Fullerene + and Fullerene -, Fullerene 1 (2001), Fullerene 2, Fall (2002), My Millenium Dome (1998), Tripe (1998), Glowing Defiance (1999) and the later Dodecahedron series of spheres, including Dodecahedron i, ii,iii, iv, v, vi, etc.
 Olubas has written extensively on Marcus’ forms, and her approach to the temporality of Marcus’ forms has been foundational to my own reading of Marcus’ works. See her essays: “Round” (2001), her revised paper “‘that which is made in making it’: Practises of Efficiency, Waste and Modernity in Artworks by Donna Marcus” (2006) and “’The Dirt Does My Thinking’: The Re-use of Materials in the Work of Donna Marcus and Bruce Reynolds” (2001).
 The recent interest in Fuller’s work was commemorated by the book series edited by Joachim Krausse and Claude Lichtenstein dedicated to the ongoing relevance of his work. See Your Private Sky. R Buckminster Fuller. Discourse (V.2) (2001) and Your Private Sky. R Buckminster Fuller. Art, Design, Science (1999 V.1).
 Krausse and Lichtenstein note: “As technical artifacts, they aimed at maximum efficiency in the relationship of volume to weight, use of materials to useful services and assembly time to mobility. The domes were sociocultural alternatives to typical rectangular architecture, and as such, they crystallised society’s dreams of a life liberated from constraints and tutelage” (1999 354).
 For Fuller, dwelling in accordance with nature’s geodesic principles was an ‘art-ful’ existence – a dwelling in perfect form that would finally eradicate global disequilibrium. His dream that industrial production might one day eradicate history was most fantastically demonstrated in his later architectural plans, titled ‘Gardens of Eden’, which were conceived of as enormous spatial and climatic skins to shield dwellings from the environment. These enormous glass-domed structures would be large enough to shelter a house and a sizable crop of land from the extremities of the weather. They were conceived of as Ur-historical paradises in their self-sufficiency, their abundance of produce and their eradication of waste. They were imagined as utopias, in which the alienation of nature and technology would be finally reconciled, as labour would be rendered obsolete, and value would be everywhere present in things. Fuller wrote: “From the inside there will be uninterrupted contact with the exterior world. The sun and moon will shine in the landscape, and the sky will be completely visible, but the unpleasant effects of climate, heat, dust, bugs, glare, etc. will be modulated by the skin to provide “Garde of Eden interior” R.B.F. in J. Allwood The Great Exhibitions (London 1977) 169, quoted in Your Private Sky, p. 434. For Fuller’s allusions to these biblical motifs see Your Private Sky V1 p. 39, 412-434, 453.
 In The Cultural Turn, Jameson writes: “[…] in a world in which stylistic innovation is no longer possible, all that is left is to imitate dead styles, to speak through the masks and with the voices of the styles in an imaginary museum. But this means that contemporary or postmodern art is going to be about itself in a new kind of way; even more, it means that one of its essential messages will involve the necessary failure of art and the aesthetic, the failure of the new, the imprisonment in the past” (1998 7).
 This demise of Modern formalism and the related shift to a historically eclectic postmodern aesthetic is a standard feature of postmodern theories of aesthetics. Postmodern architecture is often understood as a marked shift away from construction, and an aesthetic interest in fragmentation, pastiche, distortion and exaageration. See Demetri Porplyrios’ discussion of this in “Architecture and the Postmodern Condition” (89).
 In The Dialectics of Seeing Susan Buck-Morss claims that “modernity can no longer be identified with a formalist modernism which expresses utopian longing by anticipating the reconciliation between social function and form, just as postmodernism can no longer be identified with a historically eclectic non-identity that functions to keep fantasy alive. Each is structurally intrinsic to industrial culture, such that the paradoxical dynamics of novelty and repetition repeat themselves anew” (359).
 For more references to Benjamin’s concept of ‘Now’ time and its relationship to history and modernity see The Arcades Project p. 119 [D10a,5], 473 [N,9,5], 462-4 [N2a, 3], [N3a, 3].
 See Selected Works of Gertrude Stein p. 522, cited in Olubas’ “That Which is Made in Making It: Practices of Efficiency, Waste and Modernity in Recent Work By Donna Marcus.” p. 19.
 Alex Chomicz’s short film, My Milennium Dome tracks the movement
and ephemerality of Marcus’ My Milennium Dome: Glowing Defiance (1999) as it
moved along the shoreline of
 Olubas writes in “‘That Which is Made in Making It’: Practices of Efficiency. Waste and Modernity in Artworks by Donna Marcus”: The domes take us into the field of movement and transience. They travel, move around the country. They also change; “My Millennium Dome 1 no longer exists – shortcomings in construction materials and the pressures of the environment in the form of weather and vandals necessitated its dismantling (much like many of the Buckminster Fuller houses themselves) with materials reincorporated into other work, that is to say, into My Millennium Dome 2, according to the logic of industrial development, of the prototype, and also back into Tripe, organic core of the series” (2006 68).
 For a detailed discussion of the intricacies of women’s relationship to time in contemporary culture, see Elizabeth McMahon and Brigitta Olubas’ Women Making Time: Contemporary Feminist Critique and Cultural Analysis (2006).
 Olubas notes that Marcus’ forms bear a
close visual connection to the food Tripe, with its lumpy, irregular, formless
shape, recalling, also, the ‘home economics’ practises where domestic
efficiency, or ‘making-do’ with second-hand scraps becomes an ‘art’ in its own
right. She cites Marjorie Bligh’s home
hints book, Life is For Living, published in
 Felski also notes that the rhythms of modernity include “…repetition as well as innovation. Stability as well as flux.” (70). Modern temporality is “hybrid” – it contains “multiple traces and residues of the past, to consist of a complex, nonsynchronous blend of the old and the new.” Modernity includes the familiarity associated with repetition, habit and the home in addition to avant-garde rupture, ceaseless change and innovation” (70-1).
 The individual pieces in the Cover exhibition have been titled Code (with roman numerals differentiating each of the eleven individual art works, including Code XI, Code VI, Code XIV, Code VII, Code VIII, Code VI, Code IV, Code V, Code XVI, Code XVII, Code X. The composition of the pieces according to the pattern of air vents, in addition to the screw holes left by the removal of the handles, have created the overall effect of a visual code, reminiscent of outdated punch cards used in factories by labourers to clock-on and clock-off work time. These allusions to the precision of industrial time, and its strict patterning between the act of clocking on and off, also alludes to the tensions set up between work and play in Marcus’ forms, and the paradox of finding creativity from within a limited system. This is further emphasised by the pieces that are composed from alternating coloured lids, like Code xiv, Code xi and Code xiii, organised according to the strict pattern across and down each row, giving the works the appearance of a board of chequers, once again suggesting a certain measure of freedom and play that is possible within a restricted economy of patterns.
 Marcus’ allusions to the interdependence between masculine progress and development, and the archaic and cyclical forms of time associated with femininity in Fullerene 1, also recall Julia Kristeva’s concept of ‘women’s time’ (1982), or that temporality which complicates the masculine, linear time of project and history in addition to the mythic, archaic maternal realm that is full, total and englobing “with no frustration, no separation, with no break-producing symbolism” (801).
 From Alice Springs to Weipa was exhibited
as part of the Home of Memories exhibition shown at Gallerie Tammen and
 Rio Tinto Aluminium began mining activity at Weipa in the late 1950s, following discovery of the vast bauxite resource by a geologist working for Consolidated Zinc Pty Ltd named Harry Evans in 1955. Evans was assisted by three men, George Wilson, Old Matthew (whose traditional language name was Wak-matha, meaning Stormbird) and Lea Wassell. The town Gladstone (also featured in Marcus’ work) hosts one of the refineries where Bauxite is refined into alumina as feedstock for Rio Tinto Aluminium’s smeltering operations. See Rio Tinto’s website: http://www.comalco.com/31_weipa_bauxite_mine.asp
 Silverton is another one of
 Marcus’ PhD exhibition titled Mining,
 It is little wonder that Marcus has
sourced many of her trash works from the capital of Australia’s kitsch wasteland
– Brisbane – renowned for its ‘trashy’ aesthetic, and often affectionately
nick-named ‘Brizvegas’ in recognition of its kitsch identity. This is particularly the case in the region
 The scarcity of anodised aluminium after the 1990s, given the fashion for retro 1950s objects, has made it increasingly difficult for Marcus to source affordable aluminium pieces. This led her to change her collecting patterns, sourcing more affordable materials like the ‘new-ugly’ plastic microwave cooking implements and electric fry-pans from the 1970s and 1980s for her later grid and sphere works.
 On the issue of memory as tekhné, Frow recalls Mary Carruther’s work on medieval memory systems: “the activity of writing is a kind of memorization itself, or at least is intimately bound up with it. Thus, on the one hand, “the symbolic representations that we call writing are no more than cues or triggers for the memorial “representations” … upon which human cognition is based”; and, on the other, ‘anything that encodes information to stimulate the memory to store or retrieve information is “writing,” whether it be alphabet, hieroglyph, ideogram, American Indian picture writing, or Indian knot-writing’[…] It is only by working out the implications of ‘writing’ (in these senses) for memory that we can avoid the nostalgic essentialism that affirms the reality of an origin by proclaiming its loss (224-5).
 Many critics have re-evaluated minimalism’s impossible quest to perfect a literal or objective art. See Rosalind Krauss’ essay “Grids” (1986) and “The Double Negative: A New Syntax For Sculpture” (1977). Hal Foster also provides a useful account of the theoretical paradoxes of minimalism in his essay “The Crux of Minimalism” (1996). Some of Foster’s concepts are also taken up in Lynn Zalevanskky’s reading of women artists’ negotiation of minimalism throughout the 1990s, discussed in her book Sense and Sensibility: Women Artists and Minimalism in the Nineties (1994) Gregory Battock’s Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology is another recent anthology devoted to critically analysing minimalism (1968).