“Dissonant Rhythms”: Australia’s Ross Manning – artist profile

The Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, is currently showing an exhibition of the kinetic light and sound sculptures of Australian artist Ross Manning. 

“Dissonant Rhythms”, the first full survey of Manning’s work, runs until 28 October 2017. 

Ross Manning, "Bricks and Blocks", 2016. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

Ross Manning, “Bricks and Blocks”, 2016. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

“Dissonant Rhythms” is the first major exhibition of Brisbane-based artist Ross Manning, renowned for his exploration of repurposed, everyday materials, including ceiling fans, projectors and fluorescent tubes. His work is an intriguing interplay of light and sound, creating an atmosphere within the gallery that promotes self-play, introspection and a sense of wonder, as animated objects activate multiple senses in the viewer. 

A key highlight of the exhibition is Manning’s major new commission made especially for this exhibition: a large-scale, self-playing-instrument which dominates one of the galleries, taking the form of a wave.

Ross Manning, "Six Short Films", 2016. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

Ross Manning, “Six Short Films”, 2016. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

Hailing from Brisbane, artist and musician Ross Manning’s practice revolves around experimental music, immersive installations and new technologies, with light typically serving as the focal point of his work. His work has recently been featured in the 11th Shanghai Biennale in “Why Not Ask Again?”, as well as “Set in Motion” at Govett-Brewster Art Gallery.

Ross Manning, "Endless Sheet", 2011. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

Ross Manning, “Endless Sheet”, 2011. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

In his exhibition at the IMA, the works focus on systems that are “driven by their own logic”, moving objects that are propelled by their own kinetic forces and electricity. As the IMA explains,

This is a sculptural practice with a totalising scope and vision: just as it appears to consume all manner of household and industrial objects, hardware, and technologies, so it harnesses visible and audible frequencies. It then uses those same energies of light, sound, and motion to colonise nearly every surface and wavelength in its vicinity.

Ross Manning, "Bricks and Blocks", 2016. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

Ross Manning, “Bricks and Blocks”, 2016. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

Key to Manning’s practice, as the exhibition’s title suggests, is the idea of rhythm and the interplay between the aural and the visual, influenced by his musical background. This underlying premise belies the various disciplines he works with: sound, light, colour and movement. As the IMA elaborates,

For Manning, rhythm is also what animates the frame rate of the moving image; what turns the cog in the machine; what powers the internal clock that drives the computer; what drives the flicker of light waves. Most importantly, rhythm is in the pulsation of energy. A dissonant rhythm isn’t any less an order of time; it is simply one in which things appear out of time. Elements may not work together—they jar, grate, and compete for attention—but they are bound by the same energy and intensity. Despite this sense of disorder, the ear and eye search for an underlying unity all the same.

Ross Manning, "Sad Majick", 2009. Photo: Louis Lim. Image courtesy Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

Ross Manning, “Sad Majick”, 2009. Photo: Louis Lim. Image courtesy Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

His recent commission, Wave Opus (2016–present), is the latest in a series of sound sculptures that encourage self-play as well as live performance. This particular installation is the largest the artist has produced of the series, with three rows of aluminium cut to different lengths forming different undulating wave-like sections. A length of rope runs alongside each row, connected to motors at either side of the gallery, and creating waveforms when played. At thirty minute intervals, the motors spin the rope and strike the chimes.

Ross Manning, "Wave Opus III", 2017. Photo: Louis Lim. Image courtesy Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

Ross Manning, “Wave Opus III”, 2017. Photo: Louis Lim. Image courtesy Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

In this sense, the work serves as a “tonal curtain”, to quote the artist, a “literal and figurative wall of sound to divide the space”, with the length of each tube determining the note and creating different sounds.

Ross Manning, "Wave Opus III", 2017. Photo: Louis Lim. Image courtesy Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

Ross Manning, “Wave Opus III”, 2017. Photo: Louis Lim. Image courtesy Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

Other key works in the exhibition include Six Short Films, originally produced for the Len Lye Centre housed in the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth, New Zealand. Inspired by the pioneering films of New Zealand artist Len Lye, the work pays tribute to his 1935 film Colour Box, a film made without a camera, rather using hand coloured celluloid frame-by-frame. In this exhibition, Manning uses coloured theatre gels assembled together in loops with tape, which are then rotated along motorised rollers, using the same colours that Lye used in the original film. As the projectors rotate and colours shift across the gallery walls, viewers are bathed in multicoloured rays.

Ross Manning, "Six Short Films", 2016. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

Ross Manning, “Six Short Films”, 2016. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

In a similar sense, Endless Sheet also uses moving image and overhead projectors, breaking down early computer programming and the mechanics of animation. As sheets of paper loops through the projector in a simple conveyer belt system, light passes through holes to cast shadows and light onto the gallery walls, triggered by a motion sensor that starts the performance.

Ross Manning, "Endless Sheet", 2011. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

Ross Manning, “Endless Sheet”, 2011. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

The bright, vivid colours in Bricks and Blocks rely on a simple feedback loop using cameras, mirrors, and television monitors. The camera picks up light emitted from two fluorescent tubes and the image in the mirror, which in turn captures the lights, monitor and movements of any surrounding visitors. The imagery is infinitely repeated, as the camera records the mirror, the recording is broadcast on the monitor, which is in turn reflected in the mirror and recorded by the camera. The result is an extremely simple but exquisite feedback loop, turning the banality of a mirror and monitor into something extraordinary, and giving order to the potential visual chaos of the shifting lights.

Ross Manning, "Spectra XIII", 2017. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

Ross Manning, “Spectra XIII”, 2017. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

Born in 1978, Manning previously worked as a repairman for data projectors. Talking to The Guardian in 2014, he explains his “surgeon-like passion for the inner workings of machinery”:

When you show a video through a data projector you have predeterminants that technology will produce your artwork out of. I like to start with the technology, start with the machine, and then try and get it to do the things I want it to do.

These feelings were intensified after a period spent in Japan working as an English teacher, which greatly influenced his interest in sound, technology and music. He explains:

Japan is where I first started mucking around with electronics. I would go into Akihabara and all the electronics stalls. It was a music focus because I built my own instruments and electronics for audio. In Japan is where I saw all this amazing music and art and also got the chance to start building and experimenting with my own stuff.

Ross Manning, "Six Short Films", 2016. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

Ross Manning, “Six Short Films”, 2016. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

Manning is now represented by Milani Gallery, Brisbane. His work was originally shown in the IMA’s annual exhibition, “The New Fresh Cut”, which showcases the work of emerging, Brisbane-based artists. He has been exhibited in joint and solo shows in Australia and internationally, including Berlin, Helsinki, London and New Zealand.

In 2014, he exhibited his kinetic light sculptures “Different Rhythms” as part of Tasmania’s annual festival Dark Mofo. The exhibition took place in a network of underground tunnels, exhibiting pieces such as Sad Majick, which uses an oscillating fan to propel LED lights, which in turn send splinters and fragments of colour through the tunnels, in a similar way that the artist uses light in Six Short Films at the IMA. Celebrating the simplicity and beauty of ordinary objects was key to this former exhibition, and the same values and ideas shine through Manning’s work in his current show.

Anna Jamieson

1826

Related topics: installationevents in AustraliaAustralian artistsAustralian artmuseum shows

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