Before it entered Monash University Collection, Stuart Ringholt’s Signpost was installed in a public park in New York’s lower east side. In Manhattan, which is bursting with signs and with sins (if you believe), Signpost was decidedly out of place. While it mimics conventional street signage, Signpost does not point towards geographic locations. Instead, the sculpture directs its viewers towards deadly sins of biblical proportion, such as envy, lust and greed. Love and sleep, more virtuous human conditions (depending upon your viewpoint), lie along other routes.
Signpost is presently located at the intersection of two paths in the science precinct on Monash University’s Clayton campus. As in New York, an encounter with the sculpture may be unexpected, but Signpost is not entirely incongruous with its surroundings. The words on the sculpture – ‘fear’, ‘lust’ and ‘sleep’ – attach readily to new associations in the emotional jumble of everyday life, particularly for university students. Meanwhile, in the sculpture’s former life in Manhattan’s First Park, ‘greed’, ‘anger’, ‘depression’ and ‘love’ are easily connected to nearby places such as Wall Street, Trump Tower or the 9/11 Memorial.
The strangeness of experiencing Signpost is felt in encounters with Ringholt’s other artworks. In collage, sculpture, video, artist’s books, participatory events, workshops and performances, the artist induces, in his audiences, challenging and frequently disconcerting physical sensations and psychological states. Drawing widely from conceptual art and participatory theatre, Ringholt’s works demonstrate affection for and curiosity about states of feeling: joy, anguish and otherwise. For example, in the artist’s enormous, custom-made clock (Untitled (Clock) 2014), time beats unnervingly quickly. An hour takes only 45 minutes, while a day lasts a mere 18 hours. In the surrounds of this sculptural timepiece, with its steady yet uncanny rhythm, the world seems to rotate on an alternative axis.
Ringholt’s clock and his earlier Signpost create unexpected or surreal encounters that, in an art historical context, are linked with the Freudian unconscious of dreams and repressed emotions. But the artist asserts that his interests lie less in Western psychoanalytic theories and more in the spiritual practices and beliefs associated with Indian theosophy. In his series of public Anger Workshops 2008– Ringholt adopts the ‘Aum’ meditations created by the controversial Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Participants in the Anger Workshops are asked to face their feelings; to bring their consciousness to multiple coexistent and transient emotions, such as love, anger and sadness.
There is a broad social, even utopian, quality to this art, however unsettling or absurd. Indeed, Ringholt has long affirmed that art helped him confront his own fearful emotions and ‘improved [his] life’, and he hopes that it can also be useful for others in this way. Clearly, Signpost is not useful in any functional sense. But it does encourage passers-by, students, staff and visitors to locate and even to satisfy their innermost desires and demons. And not only that – it does so in a most public way, as if this externalisation of feelings en masse may actually help to heal the world, if it doesn’t corrupt it first.
Holly Arden is associate director at the University of Queensland Art Museum. She holds a PhD in art history and theory from Monash University, for which her research examined works by Stuart Ringholt.
 Stuart Ringholt, interview with the author, 26 May 2014; Ringholt, quoted in Tali Wertheimer, ‘Stuart Ringholt: anger workshops,’ Performa, 7 Aug. 2012, accessed 4 Dec. 2015, performa-arts.org/magazine/entry/stuart-ringholt-anger-workshops1.
 Stuart Ringholt, Hashish Psychosis: What It’s Like to Be Mentally Ill and Recover, the artist, Preston West, Vic., 2006, p.109. Indeed, Ringholt has stated that his participatory works stem from a question posed to him by a curator: ‘how is your work useful for others?’ Ringholt, public lecture, Monash University, Melbourne, 9 Apr. 2014.