HEAR FROM THE ARTIST
The text and audio below was recorded with artist Peter Tyndall to accompany the exhibition.
Maintaining a rigorous studio practice spanning 50 years, Tyndall‘s work contemplates fundamental questions about image, language and the construction of meaning. Celebrating Tyndall’s remarkable career, this exhibition charts the development of his philosophical framework for seeing and viewing art – and ourselves – in relation to the world around us. In November 1974, Tyndall began to use a unique set of symbols to describe this relationship, including his iconic ideogram and repeating title. He continues to use these devices today, structuring his entire artistic practice around this insight.
For Tyndall, making art is a collective endeavour and the interconnectedness of all things is at the core of his practice. Peter Tyndall reminds us that we are not alone, and the viewer is an active participant in the art-making process. Reflecting on his unwavering commitment to this way of seeing the world, and the process of making art, the exhibition reveals the incredible breadth of innovation possible within the parameters Tyndall sets himself. Featuring more than 200 works, the exhibition presents significant paintings and drawings alongside correspondence art, protest banners and objects and ephemera from his experimental music group SLAVE GUITARS.
Below you can read short descriptions of Peter Tyndall’s key symbols or listen to audio recorded with the artist about the exhibition.
Two years into his architecture studies, Tyndall took a year of leave to determine whether he might instead become an artist. Lacking any formal training, he sought to provide himself a holistic art education by reading as many art history books as possible, painting and drawing, and regularly attending exhibitions. In an early exchange with Melbourne art critic and historian Patrick McCaughey, Tyndall was advised that by the time he saw his one millionth painting, he would recognise that he had seen it by a hundred artists already. By the same insight, once he had become visually ‘literate’, he would understand the influence of others in his own practice.
Diligently following McCaughey’s advice to the ‘extreme’, Tyndall removed everything he recognised as belonging to other artists from his work. Many artists of the 1960s and 70s had followed a similar trajectory through the movements of conceptualism and minimalism, critiquing representation and removing style, figure, and ultimately image from their work until they were left with a blank canvas. In November 1974, Tyndall painted this breakthrough work representing a canvas framed with two hanging wires, physically suspended on the wall by two visible hanging wires. This meta device, or ‘ideogram’, continues to form the basis of Tyndall’s visual language today.
A PERSON LOOKS AT A WORK OF ART
Since the introduction of his ideogram in 1974, Tyndall has used a repeating title and label structure for all his work. Partly a critique of the social context of the art museum and its labelling conventions, the practice also considers how works of art are titled, and who has the right to describe an artist’s work. Today, each of his works carries the following three-line working title:
A Person Looks At A Work Of Art/
someone looks at something …
The first line indicates that the work you are looking at is only a detail, or smaller part of something larger, embracing both the image and the world within which it exists. In the subsequent lines, the Person, or viewer, becomes implicated as the subject to the object of the Work of Art – or the ‘something’ being looked at. This working title is then followed by a meta-title LOGOS/HA HA that references the first three lines, and a subtitle with information specific to the work in question.
In the ‘medium’ line, where a museumgoer might expect to find the materials of production (e.g., ‘oil on canvas’), Tyndall includes the viewer again, this time by logical necessity. An en dash (–) on either side of the date subtly acknowledges that Tyndall is subject to influences of the artists who have come before him, and that the viewer continues this work as they live on and pass on their own understanding of the cultural production.
The concepts of ‘logos’ and ‘HA HA’ are integral to Tyndall’s practice and recur both implicitly and explicitly across his art and artwork labels. As the artist explains:
[Logos is] a word we all use every day; we reference it in all the studies and divisions that have the suffix -ology at the end: biology, zoology, theology all refer to this word logos. It comes from the ancient Greek philosophers. And my definition of it, one that I heard once, is the speaking into being of the universe … it’s how the word becomes flesh, the word being the sound that’s in the air emitted by us by some intention and result within, and from, the body. If I make the sound ‘chair’ and I call that a word, we’ve all somehow in our mind visualised a chair, but probably no two of those chairs are anything like the same. So this is the logos, it’s the speaking into being of the world. And that speaking comes from our mouth and it comes from our mind … we are trained in order, and that order is that there is a subject who makes an action which relates to an object, or causes an object to come into being. So if I say I look at a work of art, we have the subject: ‘I’, and the ‘looking at’ is the speaking into being of the work of art.
If the logos is an attempt at perfect speaking into being, then the HA HA is disruptive. Laughter can represent both joy and anger and confusion. So it’s another word representation of something which agitates the logos.
The matrix is another key element within Tyndall’s practice and developed from the simplified version of the frame. He describes the frame’s interior as a ‘projection space’ where traditionally an image would exist and subsequently be interpreted, or projected upon, by the viewer. By the same logic, the wall on which the frame hangs is also a projection space, as is the building that contains the wall, and so on. Within this philosophical framework, the matrix offers a diagrammatic representation of the infinite interconnectedness of everything. This motif also appears throughout this exhibition in the form of nets.
Independent gallery Art Projects was founded in 1979 by the late artist John Nixon. Based in a now demolished CBD building at 566 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, the experimental artist-led space exhibited work by friends and members of the local art community including Jenny Watson, Howard Arkley, Elizabeth Gower, Imants Tillers, Mike Parr, Tony Clark, and Peter Tyndall.
Tyndall produced this perfect-scale model for an Art Projects exhibition in 1980, where it was installed in the centre of the room it represents. Inside this meta-room, or gallery, is a separate exhibition featuring Tyndall’s ideogram turning through four revolutions, or right-angle turns, on each of the four walls. The model’s exterior references Tyndall’s Slave Guitar, a device that evolved from the artist’s concept of the Puppet Culture Framing System. Though Art Projects closed in 1985, the permanent meta-exhibition inside this model continues in perpetuity.
In the late 1970s, Tyndall formed SLAVE GUITARS (formerly SLAVE GUITARS OF THE ART CULT). Released as a small-run cassette in 1981, SLAVE GUITARS was sonically influenced by the experimental music scene emerging from New York and avant-garde composers like Steve Reich and Glenn Branca. Advances in music technology during the 1970s were enabling musicians to perform outside of traditional performance venues and explore new ways of making sound beyond the musical instrument.
Constructing his own guitar-like instruments from materials sourced from his local hardware store, Tyndall created a non-audible performance display including this amplifier and speaker box made from heavily black-painted canvas. His non-audible performances captured a joyful image, striking a pose reminiscent of one of his guitar heroes while creating a projection space for the viewer to imagine their own performance. Tyndall’s audible performances made use of materials at hand and were accompanied by the live ambiance of the performance, e.g., an audience cough or a truck driving past. More than 50 years on, SLAVE GUITARS remains an important body of Australian avant-garde music.
Every Friday evening from 5.00 – 5.30pm, Tyndall joins a protest in the main street of his local town in Central Victoria, carrying handmade banners in support of current issues like refugee rights, climate change, and the Tibetan independence movement. For Tyndall, protest and artmaking are collective endeavours, and he remains deeply engaged with and connected to his community. Works in this room demonstrate his participation – and often orchestrating role – in protests across more than four decades of artistic practice.
In 1978, Tyndall became centrally involved in the response to a censoring and book burning by the Mildura Shire Council following the seventh Mildura Sculpture Triennial. Processional banner Let the Rivers flow was used by the Hepburn Springs and Daylesford communities in 1982 to protest the proposed Franklin Dam. The Free Pencil Movement at the NGV in 2004 and 2012 united the local arts community in response to the banning of sketching and note-taking inside the gallery spaces.
Since the 1970s, Tyndall has maintained regular written correspondence with a broad range of individuals including artists, writers, curators, and gallery directors. One of his longest and most sustained correspondences was with celebrated Australian artist Robert ‘Bob’ McPherson, whom he exchanged mail with daily for 35 years. Tyndall’s ‘mail art’ takes a variety of forms: drawings, inscribed postcards, collages, newspaper articles, and found items of shared interest – like a football scarf or music score. Each conversation is deeply personal and many of the observations reveal an encyclopaedic knowledge of topics and a fascination with the connections between people, ideas, and art. Like his painting practice and ongoing blogging project bLogos/HA HA, Tyndall’s correspondence practice is about dialogue and exchange – teasing out an idea and expanding an endless web of connections.
In 2014, Tyndall donated his archive of correspondence with academic and art historian Chris McAuliffe to the University of Melbourne. This remarkable collection reveals their shared interests in art, politics and football, and the way their exchanges and discussions have sometimes informed the development of Tyndall’s art.