I first viewed Glade at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in 1994. For me it’s difficult to reconcile my soft-focused teenager’s memory of the work with Glade’s critical interrogation of subjectivity, institutional power, its relation to the body and object of art.
Macdonald’s two-part work sits at the intersection of photographic discourse and the sexed body. In Glade’s first catalogue essay Juliana Engberg conflates these two frameworks, asking whether Macdonald is attempting to put the prick back into Roland Barthes’ notion of the punctum.1Engberg points to the “incisions” and the “entry holes” made in the pictorial genres Macdonald displays in the hermetic space of the gallery.2The prick in this discussion is used against itself as a strategic tool in the critique of both the photographic and patriarchal institutions it straddles. First, the authority of the black and white photograph is undermined by Macdonald’s reluctant regard for the finer details of the craft – a privileging of the photographic object over the fraught tenets of the image. The black polyurethane sheathes that cover the frames of both works are described by Craig Judd as “containing and capturing in the same way as the lens.”3Glade is reflexive of the photographic process via the masculinist tropes that pin down the medium. The military insignia embedded across the frame of Glade I is evidence of this, as it stamps itself on top of the landscape. Second, the expanse of land and sea in Glade I plays out as a compositional doubling within the pose performed by the objectified male lovers in Glade II. This intimate but limp moment is an assertion of a power dynamic that throws back representational modes of essentialised femininity via analogy to an uncontained landscape. Are these men all water and sea?
When I first encountered the work I naively thought that Glade I conformed to my youthful ideal that art should represent a mass of landscape. Glade’s landscape did not depict an everyday locale, instead it evoked the feelings associated with my walk across the cliff tops after a late afternoon swim in the bay. At that time ACCA’s home was a renovated gardener’s cottage near the botanical gardens. Macdonald had intervened in the building’s architecture in order to orientate how the audience would encounter Glade II. This spatial treatise of aesthetic equivalency and subversive refiguring of architectural white-cubed control was affective, but it was no match for the furtive desires that the representation of one naked man straddling another stirred in me. I read the work as a racier version of the tasteful black and white celebrity photographs in coffee table magazines that I browsed in newsagents. In its current display I’m siting Glade into the Victorian interior of Sarah Scout – not the gallery where polite subversions are expected but the stockroom and office where the ideological constitution of this particular white cube is disseminated and formed.
In 1994, I didn’t reflect on how the word glade navigated the meaning of these two works. The potential space and light created by a clearing in the landscape was a trap that I inadvertently walked into. The light that illuminates a glade is analogous to the material production of a photograph – a process that captures the hidden and the dark. On the other hand, felling trees to create a glade produces a violent regimentation of natural space. This produced space, this illuminated hole, creates clarity reminiscent of the corridors Macdonald constructed at ACCA. Macdonald’s corridors accentuated the expanse of white walls that framed the work and also loomed over the viewer, redolent with control and critique. This trap that Glade lays lures an audience via the sensual, the decorative and the romantic – familiar strategies – but they become a complex obstacle that resists interpretative closure. I now understand this as the enduring resonance of Macdonald’s project. Where Robert Schubert noted “everything is anticipated, nothing is concluded, evidence that this is the most intelligent kind of pornography,” I’m not sure that its fair to call it porn. Not fair to Macdonald who is more complex, or to porn, which is more fun.4
Why have I put Glade I and Glade II in a crate? The idea was to make the spatial condition of their display into an object. The crating of the work riffs off the obstructive spatial and conceptual strategies frequently employed by Macdonald. The content of the crates can be viewed by appointment only. By putting the work in a box I’m protecting it, but I am also creating an inverted plinth that is cognisant of the historical value that I am claiming for the work. I have invited Tamsin Green to write a personal creative response in relation to the current context it finds itself in. Suffocating the work, hiding it away, protecting it, and sharing it with select viewers that take the time to grapple with its critique, these managed risks are risks worth taking.