LAZNIA 1 2012 - Gabriella Szablewska and Brent Wilson VOICE OVER MATTER

30 MARCH – 6 MAY 2012
Opening 30 MARCH 2012, AT 6 PM
Curator: Agnieszka Kulazińska
If we succeed in gaining acceptance for an art that includes opportunities for action, it will overturn the presently accepted definition of art.1

Gabriella Szablewska and Brent Wilson are artists with a conscience. Compelled to comment on the ills of contemporary society, they seek a conversation with their audience that has effect beyond gallery walls. Both have backgrounds as painters, being Visual Arts graduates from the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia. In recent years, they have explored the potential that objects have to evoke ideas, and to provoke thought. They utilise three-dimensional forms with the view that painting as a practice tends to cannibalise itself; to emphasise material substance, and neglect art’s potential to have broader meaning. Szablewska and Wilson prefer to go direct to the source, selecting with care objects with the capacity to communicate. Counting among their diverse influences the late comedian, writer and musician Bill Hicks, the cartoonist and social commentator David Shrigley, and the illustrator synonymous with the early punk movement, Raymond Pettibon, they create work that reveals their commitment to social justice, black humour and a street-art aesthetic.

Since collaborating on the exhibition it’s the thought that counts, Flipbook Gallery, Brisbane, 2009, they have continued to work together, and to refine a visual language in which Szablewska’s impassioned, intuitive approach complements Wilson’s considered, technically adept methods. Their shared desire to work as activists as well as artists forms the platform from which their art springs. In Voice Over Matter their focus is the notion of free speech. It is a subject close to Szablewska’s heart, given her Polish Australian heritage, and the conditions under which the Polish people won their right to that privilege. Both artists interrogate the concept of democracy and its potential to deliver personal freedom, while mindful of Poland's struggle to attain it after years under more repressive regimes. They act, then, as agents provocateurs, querying the status quo and inciting speculation, without invalidating the impulse towards a political system that proffers freedom as an ideal.

Voice Over Matter explores the contention that ‘those with freedom [of speech] impinge on the freedom of others’ in exercising that right, and that people ‘are only free to speak if [what they say is] okay within the dominant ideology’.1 The installation, situated between two interconnected rooms, employs equipment essential to disseminating the spoken word, as well as a technical system designed to circumvent that. In the first room, a miniature microphone and screen are enclosed under the transparent dome of a bell jar. The motifs allude to the idea that for speech to be truly ‘free’ it must be transmitted – a bell jar is used in science to create a vacuum; when the vacuum is activated air, a conductor, is removed, and sounds made inside the jar cannot travel. This metaphor is powerful in itself, but is amplified by the second component of the installation. A pair of headphones hangs from the plinth supporting the bell jar, enticing the viewer to put them on and listen. What they hear, potentially, and perhaps without knowing its origin, is the voice of someone in the adjoining room who has chosen to speak into the free-standing microphone that dominates that space. In the second room, the speaker hears a soundtrack of noises: boos and hisses, ‘raspberries’, laughter, applause, bleeps from a TV sensor – the kind of sounds an orator might hear when addressing a crowd. Denied access to their own words, the speaker literally ‘can’t hear themselves think’. Other elements within the space also talk to the subversion of intent, and the short-circuiting of communication. A microphone lead has, for example, been used to scrawl graffiti-like text over a wall, rather than to supply power. The iconography of the animation on the adjacent wall, reminiscent of the backdrops designed for rock bands, and of political posters, features the nonsensical and irreverent tags ‘Blah, Blah, Blah’, and ‘#@*$!’.3 The cartoon also features an image that invokes the white eagle from the Polish coat-of-arms, but which could equally reference the North American bald eagle, the national bird and emblem of the United States. The inference here is to the hegemony of democracy.

Voice Over Matter is, of course, dependent on cooperation between a speaker and a listener and on systems that facilitate this alliance, conditions of free speech. Without this interaction, the work does not function. Its meaning, however, is not lost. The installation embodies Szablewska’s and Wilson’s own intentions: to collaborate and communicate on a deeper level. Their premise and its execution are evidence of their dedication to social reform – what they demonstrate is the true value of having a voice. By depriving us of the power of speech, they free our thoughts.

Samantha Littley
Curator, The University of Queensland Art Museum 
February 2012

1. WochenKlausur (artists collective), “WOCHENKLAUSUR”, in Art & Agenda: Political art and activism,
ed. Robert Klanten, Matthias Hübner, Alain Bieber , Pedro Alonzo and Gregor Jansen, 61 (Berlin: Gestalten, 2011).
2. Gabriella Szablewska and Brent Wilson in conversation with the author, 16 February 2012.
3. Wilson is lead guitarist in the Brisbane-based band, BMX-RAY.


Municipal Institution of Culture