Rona Stern


Uneasy Architect

 The Haus of Vovo, New Norfolk, Tasmania, Australia - 2023

Curatur's: Sarah Jones & Tricky Walsh

Fountain - Text by: Sarah Jones

Being around Rona Stern, working with her, working with her works is easy. Writing about these works is less so. Uneasy Architect is, among other things,
an opportunity to consider my own uneasiness as an enthusiastic curator of the artist’s work. Rona’s work interrogates the monument and the monumental; “objects of scale for ideas of scale”, I half joke to myself as I carefully assemble the stacked plastic urns that make up her work Fountain. Fountain (2019) is 
made in the likeness of the public monument, decorative, commemorative, a marker of some commons. Fountain is comical, made from 10 plastic urns, two rolls of cellophane and a blue strip LED, all bulk bought from a dollar store equivalent. Materially, Fountain is almost an object of ridicule to its historical sculptural references, and to the permanence of the public monument. I take a step back from the stack that I have stuffed with the plastic “water” and I turn 
the light on— Fountain is majestic, ridiculous, and genuinely beautiful. I video call Rona to check that the work is assembled correctly.

Rona recounts, in ever so slightly twisted English, a story about standing in line 
at the bank and seeing a cardboard cut-out of an absurdly large candle. The candle is there to remind bank customers of an upcoming national holiday (the bank will be closed). It is a religious symbol, a marker of a political identity; of the practice of nation making, of colonisation, and of ongoing occupancy. A hand painted, sagging, cardboard capture of a series of irreconcilable ideologies and of continued violence it is a powerful cardboard candle. Rona repeatedly describes its material construction, as if I refuse to believe just how poorly constructed the candle is, “…It’s so badly made, you would not believe it…” She says it over and over, it takes me a long time to understand that this statement is political. We are talking about a sign, as the signifier and the signified collapse into rubble not far from the bank. Rona, rooted to the spot, cannot take her eyes off the handcrafted sculptural anomaly, burning against the oppressive architecture of the building that shivers from the blast.

Monuments to the historical fictions of the victorious have fallen in recent years as their ongoing violence on contemporary cultures is acknowledged by many, often through the hard work of a few. Activists around the world continue to fight for space for truth telling and for accountability to the ongoing atrocities of history, 1 atrocities which are marked with a monument, a statue, a fountain, a plaque, a ‘gift.’ Monuments, as described by Elsa Peralta, are “configuration[s] of conflictive narratives as part of a seemingly coherent and univocal discourse.” 2 The toppling of the monument is itself monumental in the making of the future as we find the monument at a cross

Carlos Garrido Castellano, in his discussion on the Padre
Antonio Vieira statue (Largo Trindade Coelho, Lisbon) writes, “on one hand, it makes evident the celebratory vision of colonialism proposed by official figures and its suitability for touristic and neoliberal privatization. On the other, it accounts for a process of occupation of the public space in which racialized subjects approac specific monuments or areas as places of contestation and decolonization.” 3 Rona hangs up. She has to go to work as a tour guide.

To reify the form of the monument while attempting to decouple its content from any specific narrative event is a complex task, one that Rona’s works repeatedly attempt, and fail. Rona’s monuments are comical and beautiful and unsettling because the signifier is the subject of inaccurate reproduction—pixelated, moulded in plastic, unmortared. The signified is hotwired as the monument captures its erection andtoppling as internalised features of its own design. It is the failing of these works to be something other than monuments that allows them to retain their power, and this power resides in their uneasiness as objects of study. Fountain reinvents itself every time it is installed; and it drags the landscape, the people, the place and their histories up around itself, centring itself in space. 

Another friend, artist Jan Adriaans, wrote to me recently about the insatiability of the grid… “grids ask for growth, once established they start generating themselves, reaching out like a living order." Is it possible to make a monument that recoups its power in its capture of theoretical space? A monument that marks all and no moments in an all-consuming weave, regenerating itself constantly in every conceivable direction without end? No. The referent, however poorly constructed, is too important, history is too powerful, violence is too real, and we still have to be here, seeing the thing; the undeniable elegance of 15 cinderblocks, a plastic moon, and a cheap strip of LED’s. Rona has not been able to take the monument and place it in theoretical space because the monument does not allow it, the grid does not ground/unground the sign, rather it marks its extension. The grid, like a net or perhaps a field emanates from the central figure to mark everything in its path, straight lines indefinitely surveying, until they hit a person in a gallery, or a person in line at the bank. Until they hit a body.

2 As quoted in Carlos Garrido Castellano, Art activism for an anticolonial future. Albany : State University of New York Press, [2021]. P252.
3 Carlos Garrido Castellano, Art activism for an anticolonial future. Albany : State University of New York Press, 2021]. P254.

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