The Vizard Foundation
Art Collection of the 1990s
Australian Art and Artists from the Decade

Ricky Swallow

Ricky Swallow

I don't want to know if you are lonely/Harry Feinberg's communicator (2001) is a very melancholic work of art. It is about longing for home, loneliness and the hope for reunion. If you use American punk band Hüsker Dü's song Don't want to know if you are lonely (1986) as your mental soundtrack for this work, then that should give you the feeling of sad resignation about a lost relationship, which is a good feeling to start with.

I don't want to know ... is a replica of the communicator cobbled together out of old garage junk in the hope of putting E.T. (the extra-terrestrial), star of the 1982 movie, back in touch with his alien family. And, like the Hüsker Dü song, the E.T.'s communicator was all the more touching because it symbolised such a crude and futile attempt at communication.

By making the communicator the subject of a work of art, Swallow appears to be imbuing it with qualities of transcendence and timelessness. This raises some familiar and controversial issues about art and its relationship to, and difference from, popular culture. Harry Feinberg was the prop designer who worked on E.T. The extra-terrestrial, producing the communicator that Swallow has reconstructed. By including his name in the title, Swallow acknowledges the prop designer at an art historical level. Removing the communicator from its place in cinema and popular culture, he transforms it into a work of fine art. Swallow has described this process as 'liberating the object through sculptural grace'.1

Swallow achieved this liberation by isolating a moment and an object in popular culture, remaking it in balsa wood and presenting it in an elaborate fine art context. Balsa wood is a substance Swallow has used to create many objects, including a BMX bike, many miniature dioramas on turntables and a gigantic head of Darth Vader. The material places his works into a common realm of contemplation. Chosen for its mute, timeless qualities, balsa wood evacuates temporality out of Swallow's subject matter and allows other meanings to enter. Many of these meanings take the form of alternative models for the artist's identity: hobbyist, backyard scientist, model-maker, film buff and cultural archaeologist.

Swallow's own form of selection is emotive and aesthetic as much as technical. He said of Feinberg's communicator, 'I was trying to think about an object that related to the Powerbook as a communicative tool that has the ability of long reach contact and ideally personal or designed for individual use ... a dream tool.'2

In Swallow's techniques, all objects and creatures are interrelated within a curious logic. He conflates human, cultural, technical and natural things into a logic of evolution (and devolution) which is determined more by aesthetic and poetic meanings than by science.

Alongside his ability to utilise so many fascinating techniques (be it model-making, resin casting, upholstery, salvage or rejigging old turntables), Swallow's greatest skill is his ability to look at normal objects and recreate them in a way that brings out their romance and greater meaning. He has taken sneakers, skeletons, skulls, movies, computers and sea life and reinvented them within a logic that creates a world of its own, but that also reflects something special about the one that we live in.

- Lara Travis

  1. R Swallow, interview with the author, Oct 2002.
  2. R Swallow, interview with the author, Oct 2002.

Ricky Swallow is represented in Australia by Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney.