The Ronalds - Patrick and Shannon Ronald





















































April-May 2010

Art Monthly

Issue 227
  March 2010


Performance Space is delighted to present this new photomedia installation by NSW-based artist duo Patrick Ronald and Shannon McDonell.

Since moving to the CarriageWorks in 2007, we have commissioned works for the foyer area that have resonated with the site and its histories, or in this case, have juxtaposed a different kind of place and scale against its industrial architectures.

As a multidisciplinary organisation with a national focus, we are pleased to be working with contemporary artists who choose to work outside of the normative centres for cultural activity, bringing different perspectives into our program.

Ronald & McDonell’s Habits and Habitat offers visitors the opportunity to become part of a constructed scene and to take a voyeuristic look into another person’s home.

Through painstaking detail, the project investigates cultural transfer, the connection (and disconnections) between country and city, and the ways that the ‘bush’ continues to inform Australian culture and identity.

Daniel Brine, Director, Performance Space



Habits and Habitat

Jean Baudrillard began Simulacra and Simulation by referring to Jorge Luis Borges’ tiny paragraph-length fable about an unnamed empire that sought to represent its territory with a 1:1 scaled map as a “second-order simulacra”.1 No longer even useful as an inversion, Baudrillard used the fable as a spring-board to leap into notions of the Hyperreal: of simulation without territory and origin, without doubling and mirroring.2 But is Borges’ fable entirely useless if it is applied to place and temporality? The representation of empires on the cusp of change and disappearance? While the exact map could never stand for place itself, it could certainly show us a semblance of what once was. The drive to represent, however, would be borne of different motivations perhaps, more akin to certain obsessions in photography: to stop a place/ location in time, to “rescue time from its proper corruption”.3

 I became drawn to the almost forensic photographic practice of Patrick Ronald and Shannon McDonell not only from an uncomplicated enjoyment of their very complicated representational methodology and its results, but by the fact of their emotional connection to places: specifically to Australian country towns, which form a large part of their shared experience as young artists who have chosen to work outside of city-centres and hubs of contemporary practice. Their first attempts at a kind of measured exactitude in photography, called MICROCOSM in 2005 were further developed as part of a series of responses within a longer-term project called Disappearing Tasmania: An Image of the West which commenced in 2006. This year-long project took an interactive approach to documenting towns that had been transformed by shifting agricultural practices and economies, through both photographs of abandoned buildings and abodes, photographic portraits and in-depth interviews with each location’s remaining inhabitants.

The artists’ photographic representations of buildings in country towns shared something of the objective and aesthetically unfettered practice of German photographic duo Bernd and Hilla Becher, who began working together in the late 1950s on a typological project documenting disappearing German industrial architectures and engineered structures. Their famous series of black and white images of water towers stood out among examples of formal modernist photography, for the palpable sense of distance they achieved and attention to difference within a seemingly mundane range of subjects. Where the Becher’s approach relied on calculated distance, Ronald and McDonell’s process relied on a calculated proximity, with each photograph of buildings from the artist’s various series being constructed from hundreds of closerange images digitally stitched back together. The effect of this process was a kind of uncanny flattening, which represented the building as floating free of its surroundings, without the sense of perspective and depth that one can usually distinguish in photographic images taken from a single vantage point. Shown together, and often to scale, the range of buildings, from small houses, to local shops, to post offices to large warehouses, revealed the scale and scope of economic change and its impact on basic services and the ability of a town to function as a community.

Habits and Habitat is a micro-to-exact photographic extension of the artists’ deepening concerns with change in communities and places that have previously been defined by their relative stability. The project re-presents selected elevations of rooms in a working farmhouse in NSW, in two-dimensional 1:1 scale, like a small corner of the map of Borges’ unnamed empire. As a house that has remained largely unchanged for many years (save the necessary upgrades in entertainment and other technologies), it stands in opposition to the nature and appearance of city-based properties, as markets revolve increasingly around temporary occupation, cosmetic and structural renovation, and speculation. Viewing the kitchen image, with its original fittings and the texta-drawn graph accumulating the standing heights of loved-ones and visitors, it seems like we are being shown a projection from the past; a fragment from a time when people remained in one place, and followed a path firmly established by the generation that preceded them.

In this domestically reflective series, juxtaposed within the CarriageWorks’ post-industrial ambience, we are able to peer across (and almost into) a flattened scene, wherein walls, objects and the dust that occasionally settles on them, are given equal visual weight. Resisting the qualities that one could associate with ‘good’ photography, Ronald has taken thousands of evenly-spaced, evenly lit and equidistant photographs of each room, leaving the digital piecing-back together of the elevations to McDonell (amusingly reflected by the jigsaw image of the Mona Lisa shown hanging on the wall of the house’s living room). Through this apportioned methodology, the artists seek to undermine both visual hierarchies and the illusory qualities of photomedia. We see the image as a whole, from a distance, but its flatness and non-compliance with linear perspective forces us to look closer, to take in the details and to read the images with the same proximity and level of intimacy as they were originally taken. Though pseudo-scientific in nature, borrowing from archaeological photography I view Habits and Habitat as an attempt to take a measure and a resonance of domestic spaces that have held the lifetimes of their occupants, but are yet fragile and will, in time, disappear.

Ronald and McDonell’s work is processual in ways that are both epic in terms of scale and quantity of visual data, and also minute and painstaking in detail. From a small country town in NSW, the artists work in a micro-realist modality that is rooted to an emotional connection to the places from which they collect their images. Rather than tourists or day-trippers in their commitment to exactitude in representation, the duo is rather firmly entrenched in rural Australian habits and habitats.

Bec Dean, Associate Director, Performance Space

1 This single paragraph, On Exactitude in Science was written by Borges in 1946 and attributed falsely by the author to Suarez Miranda, 1658. Various sources.
2 Baudrillard, Jean, trans. By Sheila Faria Glaser, Simulacra and Simulation, The University of Michigan Press, 2003, pp. 1
3 Bazin, André, trans. By Hugh Gray “The Ontology of the Photographic Image,” Film Quarterly, 13, 4, 1960, pp. 8