Nostalgia for the Future

Fiona Amundsen, Stella Brennan, Julian Dashper, Mikala Dwyer, Guy Ngan, Ann Shelton, Jim Speers

Curated by Stella Brennan

5 – 27 November 1999, Artspace, Auckland

Stella Brennan interviews Mikala Dwyer, Sydney 1999

SB: Can you tell me about the origin of the title for your most recent show, Uniform?
MD: I was thinking about uniforms – I was actually wearing uniforms because I got sick of deciding what to wear in the morning.  I just went down and got some uniforms from the op-shop and suddenly my life was really easy, I could put these on in the morning and I didn’t have to worry and people wouldn’t quite know… you could accessorise and get away with it.  My life became a lot simpler.
So I was thinking about uniforms, the idea of universal form and the scaryness of that – how there are these formal concerns that everybody tends to agree are correct. Danish design in particular is something that everyone tends to agree is the thing to aspire to – is ergonomic, its tastefully quiet – if you live in Denmark. But if you live anywhere other than Denmark it’s painfully obvious furniture because it is so well designed.
SB: Does everyone in Denmark have modern furniture?
MD: No, but everything’s pretty nifty, which is an expression of their culture, which is fine, but I just have this really adolescent angst, I have to fuck it up somehow.
SB: The show did have a real Wallpaper magazine feel – if Wallpaper magazine was edited by malignant two-year-olds.
MD: I think the very thing I’m investigating is why we always agree on a few formal laws, and you can put them in any configuration and people will go, “Oh, I like it.  It works.” When you say Wallpaper magazine….?
SB: It’s that minimalist presentation of retro design that you know if you saw in a magazine twenty years ago would be with this really loud wallpaper and really loud carpet. These are  period interiors – but they’re not because only a few pieces are presented, and it’s done with a huge amount of cleanliness and restraint.
MD: Well, the cleanliness and restraint is the gallery space.  As soon as I brought it in here and dumped it on the floor I couldn’t believe the difference.  You isolate some emblematic objects or forms and in that way concentrate them.  I’d love to have everything in it – the wallpaper, the carpet, but for me its easier to not talk so specifically about interiors and design.  Because my mum is Danish and I have grown up with all this stuff, it’s not really a critique on an objective level, its very subjective.
SB: It ocurred to me when I was talking about the Courreges garments from the Sixties that were falling apart – the white vinyl skin peeling away – that there’s a kind of pathos to those materials because they were so modern. Materials that are so beautiful for about fifteen years, and suddenly the facelift falls and they go to hell. That’s the thing about that aesthetic, the surface –  that really hard reflective surface that’s seamless and clean.  There’s no absorbtion.
MD: Spray and wipe. It’s a really nice transgression to make that surface rot.  It’s a nice idea, kind of shocking, that the things that have been developed to last forever are subject to the same kind of entropy as everything else.  It’s like looking a plastic on the beach – it’s not that its like a sea shell – it is a seashell.  Why do we think it’s ugly?
SB: There was this period when people made things that could last, essentially, forever, but now we’re trying to make materials that emulate natural ones – plastics that rot in the sun…
MD: That simulate our idea of nature. My father was actually an industrial chemist and he invented this wear-resistant material – so wear-resistant it’s not funny.  They line uranium mining equipment with it.  I’m sure that’s why I love plastic too –  I’d always be going through his labs where he’d be working on these diabolical concoctions.

I think plastic is fantastic – maybe I’ve inherited it.