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Martinis Roe, Alex - 2010.27

Alex Martinis Roe

Megaphone, eco-brick, flag (produced by Victorian Trades Hall Council in 2006 for the 150th anniversary of the eight-hour working day campaign; supplied by Brian Boyd, Secretary Victorian Trades Hall Council)
30 x 40 x 80 cm (approx.)
Purchased 2010

To view Melbourne-born, Berlin-based artist Alex Martinis Roe’s Megaphone for anti-vertical demonstration, one must look down. There, on the gallery floor, appears her sculptural assemblage, a bright cherry-red and white flag and matching megaphone. There’s another object – a brick – but it’s been obscured, hidden by the draped flag. We know intuitively what class of objects these are: they are objects of protest – or, as the artist puts it, objects of resistance. The flag is intended to be carried in a demonstration, as is the megaphone. Both are tools to proclaim a slogan, a position, a politics, a demand, or a refusal – one via visual means, the other through verbal address. They go together, a comfortable and recognisable pair. The brick is a bit more sinister. It conjures the violence, or at least the destruction, of the riot. In the context of a demonstration, as it is placed here, its function is to be thrown. This may be why the artist chose to hide it, to place it within the symbolic realm of a latent threat. It signals the potential for social breakdown in the face of profound, often desperate injustice or extremism.

The sculpture is also the surrogate for a past performance, Anti-vertical demonstration expanded workshop 2009–10, which Martinis Roe describes as investigating ‘the potential for re-presentations of the figure of the horizon line to operate as feminist action’.[1] Playing off the dual meaning of demonstration (to demonstrate or model something, or to engage in public political action), during the workshop nine workers ripped pages from a book to make a poster, which they then tore into pieces to make into a book again. The megaphone was placed nearby as a potential object of use, but never picked up or mobilised. The poster showed an image of feminine thighs (which, in its degraded, abstracted state, instead resembled a horizontal landscape), and its continual process of emergence and disappearance as a representation became, instead, a demonstration of a collective feminist practice.

The demonstration took place at Trades Hall in Melbourne, and the intrepid viewer might recognise the triple ‘8’ on the flag in Martinis Roe’s sculpture as commemorating the eight-hour workday, which Victorian workers were the first in the world to win, and which prompted the building of Trades Hall (it established eight hours of labour, eight hours of recreation, and eight hours of rest.) When turned on its side or made horizontal, the number ‘8’ suddenly resembles another symbol: an infinity sign, or Möbius strip. In this reading, the specificity of the ‘8’ as a symbol of the eight-hour workday becomes a more philosophical proposition of the work’s inescapably circular logic, what we might call an infinite loop of action and stasis. Or, cast somewhat differently, these objects could be picked up and used, even radically used, but never will be precisely because of the status of artwork conferred on them by the artist. And so, an infinite loop, slyly hinted at by the ‘8’, of potential and deferral is set into motion.

Tara McDowell is Associate Professor Tara McDowell is Director, Curatorial Programme, Monash University, Faculty of Art Design and Architecture.

[1] Alex Martinis Roe, ‘Megaphone for Anti-Vertical Demonstration – Artist Notes’, 2010, Monash University Museum of Art archives, Melbourne.