Adam Stone, The Original Sin, bronze, 42x11x10cm, 2017

Adam Stone: Metropolitan Allegories 

and Dystopian Fantasies

Adam Stone’s practice is a combination
of athletic culture, classical art references and critiques of consumerism. While his past work is distinguished by a sense of hyper masculinity – verging on what could be described as a post-car crash Shaun Gladwell, his most recent exhibition trades in a more reserved sensibility. Indeed, the sweat, blood and muscle of his past work is superseded by delicate bronze thorns that stand erect in the subterranean oors of Fort Delta. In this conversation, the artist discusses his most recent exhibition If You Ask Me Nicely, I’ll Tell You Everything (2017): touching on the shift in his practice and how our familiarity with religious sym- bolism in art has helped him shape enthrall- ing narratives in his work. As the artist explains, the bronze thorn motif is partly an allusion to classical art and a reference to an encounter with a neon miasma in Beijing. 

Having graduated with Honours from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2013, Stone has gone on to exhibit both locally and internationally, while completing res- idencies in both New York and Beijing. His work has been awarded some of Australia’s most prestigious art prizes, and is currently held in both public and private collections in Australia and Asia. In early 2016, Stone founded Melbourne-based LON Gallery with photographer Elle Ross. 

Adam Stone, If You Ask Me Nicely, I'll Tell You Everything, bronze, enamel, 120x90x4, 2017

*dumb brun(ette): We were thinking how well the show at Fort Delta worked spatially. It felt very cohesive but dynamic with the repeated icons. 

Adam Stone: That was something I felt a little critical of myself thinking: is there any point to repeating these symbols what’s coming out of the work?  

*d(b): Now that the show has taken place, how do you see the motif functioning? 

AS: Originally, what I was thinking, especially with the taller forms
is that there is something about height and being surrounded by those structures that created – not so much a spatial response because I am more interested in images than spatial experience – but points that anchor a conceptual narrative. I wanted every aspect to say something different: for example, I wanted the long forms in front
of that sunset gradient to have a kind of utopic quality, referencing the sunset as this sublime natural beauty, and then I wanted to pair that off with the purple room, which references this experience I had on a residency in Beijing. 

In Beijing, I saw a neon sign coming out of thick smog. The heaviness of the fog caused the neon to appear caught in a lilac aura – there was a halo around
the sign. And it was just one of the most beautiful things I had seen in my whole life. I felt that there was  this weird tension coming from this dystopic thing, which held an incredible beauty, the purple room is a reference to that. It ties into the ultimate ideas of the show, investigating a sequence of binaries. 

Adam Stone, If You Ask Me Nicely, I'll Tell You Everything, Install View, 2017

Adam Stone, If You Ask Me Nicely, I'll Tell You Everything, Install View, 2017

*d(b): I read the Fort Delta exhibition as an investigation into language
and iconography. There is something about the composition of the show that evokes the image of musical notations: the branch with thorns somewhat indicative of musical notes. Do you think there is something in the forms that suggests this synaesthetic dynamism? 

AS: With some of the longer thorned branches there is some kind of, almost poetic dancer-like quality – they’re fluid, even though they’re so brutal. And being bronze thorns capable of cutting skin whilst handling them, they suggest a binary, as they are equally both poetic and violent. 

*d(b): There seems to be this fun, ludicrous element, when a single length of thorned branch appears out of the rock – again there’s this classical reference to plinths – the branches seem both delicate and vicious, it’s perplexing for the viewer, there’s an odd humour at play, something that seems ostensibly silly, but you look closer and it becomes more cynical. The religious connotations of the thorn comes to mind. 

AS: Totally, it’s very loaded. There’s also some kind of – speaking in narrative terms – anchor point. Some particular decisions around the titling of the work that sits within my broader conceptual practice. Speaking of religion, the taller branches are called The Garden of Eden, which initially sounds silly but you think about it further and there’s these nice references to say, Adam and Eve, Adam in the Garden of Eden – the original sin, eating the apple, the ‘very first’ act of hubris – that’s set us on this path that’s inescapable. 

*d(b): The show certainly feels coded, I was thinking about classical art history – the notion of the cast bronze sculpture – and the plinth, in relation to rock and marble. I remember being in the Louvre and seeing these Bartolome Murillo paintings that used the exact shade of blue that you used on the wall. Thinking of the rose thorn, there’s a reference to the heavens. And I suppose that’s the ideal rhetorical framework for the work: classical art history. 

AS: Yeah for sure, I think that often my work contains those references – these images ground me. I also feel like when I was young in art school developing my practice, I was drawn to a lot of artists who did reference classical history. Coming back to the strongest images that reso- nated with me – there was this Bill Henson image where the figure is almost floating, it’s interesting, that was one of my very first entry points into contemporary art, and I even- tually went full circle and created the falling figures, there was this slumped body, where the arms had been extended and the figures are not physically correct, to accentuate that poetic quality. 

Adam Stone, The Garden of Eden I, bronze, 120x5x5cm, 2017

*d(b): And you can see with the falling figures, or the Lance Armstrong shows [Cane Toad-Fort Delta and Low Hanging Fruit-Bus Projects], that the exhibitions seem to physically operate within their own inherent realms of logic, the works themselves have discrete individual laws of physics unto themselves. The branches appearing as if they have ruptured out from the ground, the curved neon light or the falling figure have their own physical and temporal universe. I’m curious contrasting certain series, say the skater figures and the icon of thorns: visually one is falling, one is standing up. 

AS: Yeah, you’ve got this one falling from a poised moment. 

*d(b): We are in this interesting position where we can think about your entire practice together within the same context. 

AS: Yeah, it’s weird for me, this fantasy and anxiety about looking to my practice as a whole. 

*d(b): This mingling of classical references: the canon of art history, hubris, narrative and contemporary iconography. That’s where the narrative device is productive in your practice, I feel as an artist the way that you work with delegation facilitates a removed gaze. 

Your recent work is a departure point from the work that you were doing, do you feel like this is a new chapter for you? 

AS: I think quite possibly, though
I would like to revisit some other works and more character references, like with the bananas, but that might exist within its own tangent. I’m quite excited about entering this new phase. I feel like there’s a lot more to be explored with the symbol of the thorn, and then further layering other symbols. 

Adam Stone, A Fall From Grace (Self Portrait Crash), fibreglass, polyurethane, steel, automotive paint, 2015

*d(b): Thinking about the neon work, this is a new avenue for you. Could
you tell us more about how you see that work sitting within your broader practice? 

AS: I’ve always had some kind of fascination with neon, there’s been some sort of fraught connection.
It’s a hard medium to work with, as it’s become really over saturated – it had its moment as a more emerging technology. I sat with it for a long time, maybe I wanted to make something with neon for say five years. I was thinking about light, and going back to, when I was at art school and Sanja Pahoki showed
me this work by Miroslaw Balka. He had this work in the Tate Turbine Hall – so simple, but really profound. It’s this massive shipping container, however meters long, you walk into it, walk into the darkness and you’re completely blind: you can’t see anything until you turn around and see everyone walking in and trying to find their way. Going back to writing not coming so naturally to me, some advice my mum gave me from her friend who is an editor was that the best way you can write is saying what you want to say, succinctly, with the least amount of words, not trying to pad things up, here that is taking place in a visual form. That was the mindset I wanted to enter this show in. Light is one of the most elemental things, I wanted to deal with light and shape. 

*d(b): The actual line of the neon echoes the contour of the faux marble plinths that support the bronze. Because Fort Delta is a cellar, there’s something that feels contained, or subterranean. There was an interesting tension, between how light and airy the show was, in comparison to how vault-like the space is. There are these constant references to natural light, without there being natural light. 

AS: On a complete side note, one thing that I really wrestle with is speculating on what may happen to the environment, with global warming etc. One fantasy or speculation that I have is the idea that things will all come indoors, the growing of food, creating controlled interior environments like rainforests or something like in places such as Dubai, and somehow this informs the work: speculations constantly swirling around my head. There’s an anxiety that we’re so drawn to high risk / high reward behaviour, but on the other hand, we’re all going towards our deaths anyway. 

*d(b): There’s a death drive...That encounter that you had with the neon in Beijing, was that the genesis for the show? All the things we’re discussing are captured pretty well by a neon light in the midst of pollution. 

AS: Totally, not consciously but it was always something I really wanted to do. 

*d(b): I know the title of the show [Ask Me Nicely, I’ll Tell You Everything] was crucial to your practice. Can you tell us about how devising titles informs your work? 

AS: Again the titles have always had such an important role in my practice, it functions as a conceptual anchor because it encourages certain readings and subsequent understanding of the work. For example, the work with the knotted thorn is titled The Original Sin, tying in to the narrative of Adam and Eve even further. The next work is called 62 Kilometers with the Fuel Light On and it refers to when you’re out driving at night and the fuel light turns on, and you try to calculate: for how long can you push it? There’s
a hubris: you’re pushing things to the limit, in a mundane sort of way. The neon work is titled Between Two Beginnings. It’s funny with that work, originally I wanted it as one whole length, but I didn’t specify that with the fabricators, and they did it in two pieces, I think that this happy accident gave it more conceptual weight: is this a rupture or a fracture, what could that symbolise? 

*d(b): Yeah, it seemed quite deliberate. 

AS: Yes, I want to begin to embrace some of those slippages. Working with fabricators, my only limit is getting something realised, and it can be nice if the process then informs the work, because it gives you something more than what you were expecting. 

Adam Stone, Between Two Beginnings, neon, 85x200cm, 2017

*d(b): In most of your works there’s
a certain amount of delegation and external fabrication. However, in this show, even though the works are externally fabricated I felt like the hand of the artist was more present – I don’t know if it’s maybe the scale, the shape of the thorns, the painted walls or just the shape of the neon. With your other works the scale has been so colossal or detailed that one simply assumes it wasn’t you who made it. 

AS: I agree and think is partially letting go of control. There are high production values, of course, since the works are made of bronze. But
I think it all started with the plinth of the bananas and trying to be a
bit looser with my execution, I had originally hoped for this exhibition to include looser and messier works. But I think I was overly ambitious in trying to bring in a completely different process of work. 

*d(b): I believe that with the painted walls you gained a tableaux effect. Especially seeing the documentation after the show, it seemed like a painting or a drawing realized through object making – which I think was already present in your past Fort Delta show but even more so in this one.  

AS: Bouncing off that there’s two things I was thinking about. One goes back to my original interest
in photography and being in art school making a lot of still life. And in sculpture being drawn to the work of Katharina Fritsch who made these fantastic large scale sculptures with screen printed works behind them, and thinking about that figure ground relationship and many other people who have worked that way. This being something that I have wanted to do for a long time but was waiting for the right opportunity to do it. 

*d(b): Now that the show is coming to an end, are there any routes that you’re hoping to follow? 

AS: I still feel like I have more
to say with thorns and there are several works that weren’t realized enough to include them in the show so I’m excited to pull that out a bit further. And maybe bring a conversation together between the symbols of thorns and bananas. 

*d(b): That’s a great place to be because you’re not facing an abyss, you have new ideas to lash onto. 

AS: Which goes back to what you were saying regarding entering a new cycle in my practice. 

Adam Stone, Cane Toad, Installation view, 2016

*d(b): I have a story to share regarding neon lights. I was on the streets of Hong Kong – and that’s basically the basis for Blade Runner’s cityscape – and saw this huge pink and yellow sign and besides it there was a shopping mall playing I Want Candy, and I just stood there while listening to I Want Candy – boom boom boom, boom boom on repeat. It goes back to this idea of encountering bizarre expressions of capitalism on the streets and how neon lights can really capture that.  

AS: But when it gets to a point where it becomes sublime because it is so intense and people do talk of consumption as a form of religion when it is taken to that certain level. 

*d(b): Even thinking about the relationship between absurdity and
the sublime, that idea that some
things are so ridiculously fantastical that they become sublime. Speaking 
of neon lights, showing alongside Zan Wimberley in the next room was an interesting pairing, as there were so many aesthetic differences between the shows, despite you both using neon. 

AS: It was a very dramatic shift between shows. 

*d(b): It was like the Miroslaw Balkla work that we spoke of earlier, going from lightness to pitch darkness in a container. And one of the most interesting vantage points was at the back of Wimberley’s gallery where both her and your show could be seen. 

AS: Yeah, I really like how you can see from the darkness and catch a blue or pink hue in the background- from my exhibition. 

*d(b): In your gallery space, I felt it was so bright and airy then walking towards the other gallery it became so dark and hot. How did you install the thorns on the floor, since they appear to emerge from the ground? 

AS: They have a few inches rod coming out at the bottom and I just drilled onto the floor to screw them. But because they’re so large and heavy I had to hammer them to make them stand straight. 

*d(b): For some reason, I thought of the movie Fantasia, mainly the second early 2000s version, where there is a video with cherubs flying everywhere and all the background colours resemble your exhibition, but then there is the Mickey Mouse section with the brooms standing erect and defying gravity. Thinking about fantasy, I also believe there is something enigmatic about work that is delegated because even though the artist's hand is present there is so much from a technical perspective that one doesn’t quite know how it was done. Thus, there seems to be something that defies or holds a magical, mysterious quality. With that said, the placement of value on the artist's hand is contentious because even with classical art the masters weren’t necessarily touching their works. In relation to your work I mean it as an expression of style. 

AS: It’s like the artist’s brand rather than the hand: you know what you are going to get because that’s that person’s work and their tendencies. 

Adam Stone, If You Ask Me Nicely, I'll Tell You Everything, Install view, 2017

*d(b): Even as a delegation one can tell that the artist is overseeing every aspect of its production and installation in the same way that a painter might. Still, I’m waiting for that idea to go bankrupt because even if you use it to define a style we are still reading it through the lens of value – an added value embedded by the artist’s supposedly insightful personality. Which is why I’m skeptical of the artist’s hand, because I don’t think artists are inherently special. They don’t touch things and make magical objects, it’s a much more mundane process. Moving on, we’ve had conversations in the past about slippery practices where, 
for example, an artist incorporates someone else’s work under a curatorial or discursive rubric and creates a tension of authorship. Considering that you have a curatorial practice it seems appropriate to ask, have you thought about incorporating a curatorial component to your practice? 

AS: Certainly. One of my favourite artworks of all time is Elgreem and Dragset’s Death of a Collector (2009), where they turned a Venice pavilion into a collector’s house. They had a couple of their own works in there and they made a hyper realistic sculpture of a collector lying face down in a pool. And then they curated a collection in the faux house. 

*d(b): I didn’t want to ask this question because we are talking to you as
an artist and not as the director of LON Gallery, but I’m curious to know how do you negotiate your roles as an artist and gallery director of LON? 

AS: At this stage they complement each other, if it gets to a stage where they are not complementing something may have to change. However, as an unrepresented artist, I have to take on a lot of the management and PR of myself as an artist and those are transferable skills as a gallerist. So, I’m doubling up on my skillset and it has been very valuable. I also feel I’ve become more confident in speaking about my own practice and presenting it to curators and collectors in a succinct way. One of the reasons I felt comfortable starting LON Gallery was because I experienced some success as an artist so it gave me the confidence to do something similar for other people. So, it is complementary and as I said before if it gets to a stage where it is not complementary something may have to shift. 

You can find out more about his practice, here.

Credits: Images courtesy of the artist.

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