"The urgency of failure and all the projects that never came off."

*CV Deborah Ostrow

The current iteration of deborahostrow.blogspot is part of a proposal recently submitted to the Australia Council for the Arts for funding of a publication/book that arises conceptually from my art practice and Jan Bryant's writing, which will present a conceptual synthesis between artist and writer that avoids conventional, interpretive models titled, The urgency of failure and all the projects that never came off.

The project is a humorous look at the various reasons for many of my projects remaining speculative: sometimes the reason will be political, sometimes timing, sometimes the project's energy dissipates, but other projects have been sabotaged (by myself and others). Regardless of these "failures", there is still a process of development that includes works that were actualised as well as projects that were never produced. 

Ostrow transcends the Beuysean (avante-gardist) conceit of bringing art and life together, to become not a self-conscious act, but an intuitive and constant re-conceptualising of the world cast through art-making methods. JB

March 2018 essay excerpt from The Shape Of Things To Come written by J. Bryant for the inauguration of the Buxton Contemporary Gallery. 

I have been asked to write on Art [+] Alchemy. And so, I begin with the assumption that this will involve sorting out analogous properties. There is guiding inference that a set of related traits will enhance an understanding of contemporary art, but what seems immediately pressing is that metaphor be carefully controlled, if not wholly eschewed, lest we sink under the weight of arcane clichés about what constitutes these differing arts. At the very barest, it is about the transformation of materials, and so, I approach alchemy at its most prosaic, workaday-ness, at the level of its toiling and travails, to focus instead on its grubby labours, where work brings failures and disappointments, but also the will to push towards what may (in the end) be a utopia (unrealisable desires). It means separating the work of art (l’œuvre) from artmaking as work (travailles) and to retrieve labour from the conceit of the artwork as a finished object, where labour has been reified under the myth of effortless creativity. Rarely does experimentation move in a progressive and fulsome trajectory and thus I recall the Melbourne artist whose whole practice is grounded “on the importance of failing”.1  I leap back to the seventeenth century, which is a pushing forward by many centuries from alchemy’s unknown and mysterious beginnings... JB

History of the collaborative project The urgency of failure and all the projects that never came off

J.bryant and I came together as supervisor/supervised towards the end of my un-supervised PhD via my newly self-appointed supervisor C. Morton HOD, Monash Uni Art Design & Architecture. During that year a short film was made followed by a screenplay which I had transcribed in-part from the film and submitted as my PhD. 

Museum of Contemporary Art

Rachel Kent

Chief Curator
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
140 George Street
Sydney NSW 2000

Australian Research Council

GPO Box 2702
Canberra ACT 2601

To whom it may concern,

Re: Letter of support for Jan Bryant's Australian Research Council grant application

I am writing in support of Dr Jan Bryant's project, The urgency of Failure and All the Projects that Never Happened, which I understand is a collaboration with the artist, Deborah Ostrow, and forms the basis of her ARC application.

The proposal is to work with a mid-career woman artist who has a rich but under-examined practice. This approach has been a focus of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in recent years, and its timeliness and popularity is attested by the success of major MCA exhibitions including Jenny Watson: The Fabric of Fantasy (2017) and War is Over! (if you want it): Yoko Ono (2013).

Dr Bryant's proposal is to produce a book as a new artwork that can be distributed internationally. Deborah Ostrow has an interesting and inventive history of making and I have known her practice for over 20 years now. I believe she would make an interesting collaborator for Bryant, who also aims to explore new ways of writing about art in the project.

I have commissioned writing from Bryant for the 2016 MCA exhibition Telling Tales: Excursions in Narrative Form, and found that she worked well in respect to deadlines, and produced an interesting perspective on the artist Emily Floyd.

I would be happy to provide further information if required or speak further in person on +61430-508-521 in support of this application. 

Thank you and best wishes,

Rachel Kent

Chief Curator
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

Street 140 George Street, The  Rocks  NSW 2000 Postal PO Box R128b, Sydney  NSW 1223 Australia T 61 2 9245 2400 F 61 2 9252 4361 mca.com.au

A PhD is a PhD is a PhD 

Note: Most of the PhD was intentionally plagiarised and explained in Screenplay Introduction on Academia.edu link below.

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Deborah Ostrow

Regardless of these "failures", there is still a process of development that includes works that were actualised as well as projects that were never produced. 

Example 1: The urgency of failure and all the projects that never came off 

In Bagdad Dreaming of Cairo, In Cairo Dreaming of Bagdad may best illustrate the historical failure of work(s) and practice for the purpose of this blog project/proposal because it was the most visible failure (and set in Manhattan), it was well documented,(many projects proof of existence vanished), and it was politically timely.

And so the work unfurled in a series of events that saw me (the Australian representative at PS1/MoMA invited by the Australian High Commission to attend the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall its small post-performance apartment party.

After a few too many anxiety-driven drinks I approached Richard Butler then Head of the United Nations Special Committee [UNSCOM] inspecting Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destructionmistaking him for an Australia Council for the Arts representative, an easy enough mistake given he was Australian and he was from a Commission.  

With his UN card in hand, I inappropriately telephoned the United Nations the following day and spoke with the gracious-with-his-time Butler. Against the background of Iraq/USA brinkmanship over continuing disarmament, I asked Butler if he would read aloud poems by Rumi on the main entrance steps of PS1/MoMA, to symbolically recombine East and West, linking a functionary of rational government with the east.

I followed up with letters and secured his informal participation.

Dear Richard,  

Here is a selection of Rumi poems (a poet revered by Butler) we spoke of from The Essential Rumi translations by Coleman Barks. I want poems that touch on the mystical without being elusive, that speaks of ecstatic love without only referencing Shams and Muhammad, that mentioned the East without being too apparent. My performance is titled In Baghdad, Dreaming of Cairo: In Cairo Dreaming of Baghdad 

PS1 Contemporary Art Centre. 22-25 Jackson Ave at 46th Ave. Long Island City New York 11101

 Stuart Koop The Importance of Failing 
Broadsheet 32 No 2. 

Between Butler's agreement to read and the actual recitation, a series of calamitous events unfolded. Part-way through delivering his final report to the UN in New York on 14 December 1999, detailing Iraq's non-compliance with UN resolutions, American planes commenced their attack in Operation Desert Fox. At that same session, Butler was accused by Russian Ambassador, Sergey Lavrov, of lying and spying for the USA Government; Butler's critical report on Iraq seemed to support USA military aggression. Furthermore, one of Butler's chief inspectors, Scott Ritter, had been alleging CIA infiltration of UNSCOM and that Butler was working for the USA Government. By other accounts, Monica Lewinsky had more to do with the attack on Iraq than Richard  Butler [the US President was about to be impeached]. But irrespective of the truth of these and other claims, Butler was discredited and UNSCOM severely undermined. 

And so Butler rang Ostrow the day before the PS1/MoMA opening, 6 February, and withdrew from the event. Sure enough, he cited his impending resignation from UNSCOM as the reason [made public only later in the year]; he wished no further confusion surrounding his role and allegiances. His particular concern, I guess characteristic of all diplomats, was how he would appear.

As I noted earlier, art is about how things appear [if they appear at all], it brings things to light, it flushes significance from the shadows, drawing profundity from the chiaroscuro of the every day, as I think Henri Lefebvre once put it. So in this confabulation of political and cultural contexts, Ostrow's proposal did indeed bring things to a brink, precipitating an extraordinary possibility, held in store at this key moment in the recent past, which still resounds, and still amazes me.

Using a poem, she held apart the massive pincers of history, for just a few seconds more, before they closed; no mean feat. Though Butler never read the poem, he was going to, and he did refuse. Ostrow's failure, Butler's knockback, is then, contra posito, a subtle indictment of international diplomacy and national interests, just as the actual reading would have measured some degree of resolution. 

Ostrow, of course, was devastated. She made a work soon after called Flygirl, in which she staged her own rescue by helicopter from the roof of PS1; a dramatic exit from the scene of her disgrace and so-called failure. But she has shown nothing since. However, when we consider the whole story, indeed, when we retell it like this, we can appreciate the real work [or effort] of art; the object, the outcome, even the artist, are subordinate to the surrounding web of social relations which register their impact. These ripples in the real world are the best measure of efficacy in art, since it’s only at the moment we relinquish the notion of art that we see its consequence in the world beyond. And which is why, in failing as artists, we sometimes succeed. Butler could as well have agreed to read – and then not read – from another of Rumi’s poems, this one called ‘Desire and the Importance of Failing’:

Failure is the key
to the kingdom within. Your prayer should be, “Break the legs of what I want to happen. Humiliate my desire. Eat me like candy. It’s spring, and finally I have no will.

The Age Pre-show publicity

Richard Butler is a man often linked with initials or acronyms. He’s executive chairman of UNSCOM which until recently was on the tail of Saddam Hussein’s efforts to build up a secret cache of WMDs (Weapons of Mass destruction). But Butler is really a SNAG (Sensitive New Age Guy). He will read a selection of poetry by the 13th-Century mystic Persian poet Jalaluddin Rumi this weekend at Ps.1 Contemporary Art Centre’s International Studio Exhibition in a performance designed by compatriot artist Deborah Ostrow. “Potentially charged with political meaning.” The press release says, “Ostrow’s performance combines Butler's role as a public figure representative of the West and the rational world with the writing of Rumi connected to the great Eastern religions.

Example 2: The urgency of failure and all the projects that never came off 

Search & Rescue Mission (Fly Girl 1) was an attempt to stage a dramatic exit from the scene of my so-called failure and stage 2 of Ps1's Studio Program Exhibition at the Clocktower Gallery in Manhattan. 

The action:helicopter beams a light onto the rooftop and throws down some sort a rope ladder or harness down & winches to artist into the night sky. The Police Department Aviation Unit rejected my "invitation" due to "personnel, budgetary and equipment considerations" and so the search was on for an affordable chopper and pilot. What chance to find an artist/pilot/chopper for hire guy living in a derelict Synagogue. 

The doorless 60's chopper circled dangerously and unauthorised above Manhattan with me/camerawoman hanging out over the Clocktower's roof. A fellow studio artist hid and filmed my frantically waving stand-in. The chopper attempts unsuccessfully to land becoming a furtive failure looped video ad nauseum screened at the Clocktower NY and Agency/ Perspecta, Australian Center for Photography Sydney. It was also screened at Perfect Strangers, Centre for Contemporary Photography Melb and Canberra Contemporary Art Space. 

Police Department letter

Perfect Strangers Curated by Blair French 

Film Stills 

Perspecta 99 Living Here Now Art & Politics ACP 
Perfect Strangers CCP & CCASA 

Video screening filled the entire room CCP

S & R Postcard sent to NY Galleries etc. 
as an introduction 

Example 3: The urgency of failure and all the projects that never came off 

Fly Girl 2 (Gallery-run) was an anonymously printed and distributed by stealth invitation to Deborah Ostrow Fly Girls at Marianne Boesky Gallery, 51 Green Street New York 10013 

The printed invitation below was sent by an anonymous saboteur (while I was at Ps.1), ushering in a barrage of telephone calls to find out about my impending exhibition at Marianne Boesky Gallery. Funnily enough, the Gallery had no such show booked, nor knew of any such artist.

Action: A new work presented itself titled Fly Girl. This became a series of one-hour photo lab productions that saw me run frantically through Manhattan galleries in a Russian constructivist/communist type uniform of a dull brown skirt and blazer.A fight or flight escape drama.

Pre-Photoshop hand cut collages were made from the cheap one-hour photographs and shown at Ps1 and William Mora. 

6 large photographic collages 
from S & R video

Fly Girl 2. 
1 hr photo collage selection 4 of 26

Example 4: The urgency of failure and all the projects that never came off 

Waiting for BDU (Bomb Disposal Unit) Operation MUMA after American Operation Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom, Viking Hammer, Together Forward, Phantom Thunder, Lightning Hammer I & II, Operation Neptune Spear etc. seized upon the climate of fear post 9/11 and successful bombings in USA, London, Israel, Indonesia, Madrid, London, Glasgow, Norway, Russia, Pakistan, India, Iraq, China, Nigeria, France, Turkey, Afghanistan, Kenya, Turkey, Germany, Spain, Australia etc., and my failed missions.

Action 1: 

Meeting with then Director of MUMA, Max Delaney. Great interest in the proposal shown from behind an imposing desk in a well-appointed/booked filled white office. 

The Proposal: 

An anonymous call is made to the Police to investigate
(a strategically) positioned, unattended briefcase (the doctoral candidate's) that's leaning against the architecturally reconstructed all-glass-fronted Monash Museum of Modern Art (MUMA).

Bomb Disposal Robot (BDR) is dispatched to MUMA courtyard. The area is cordoned off while the robot maneuvers towards the briefcase. Information gathering by the BDR warrants detonation.

The briefcase is blown-up. The thesis explodes reams of paper around the courtyard and through the blast hole in the museum's glass facade. The University loudspeaker announces Another doctoral candidate’s artwork realised.

Delaney suggests, after some intelligence intelligent maneuvering, (much like a BDR), that he'll be in touch. 

Translation: The project is dumped think Sophie Calle, France's best-known living conceptual artist’s work Take care of yourself, a response to her boyfriend electronically dumping her. She distributed the missive to 107 women professionals, invited them to analyse it according to their job. Grammar and syntax were torn apart by a copy editor, lines pored over by Talmudic scholars and re-ordered by a crossword-setter, evaluated by a judge, shot up by a markswoman, second-guessed by a chess player and performed by actress Jeanne Moreau etc. A forensic psychiatrist decided he was a "twisted manipulator". Shown at the French pavilion Venice Biennale etc. 

In retrospect, I presume it might have been in-part the unavoidable legalities, considerable costs, probable curatorial presentiment, lack of art world suitability, and more likely art world disinterest.

Excerpt from PhD screenplay


An abandonded briefcase - full of plans, unmade projects. Special bomb-disposal-unit contacted - check - bring in the Robot - check - get the bomb disposal robot to Blow up the briefcase - Blow it sky high - Explode the plans - Explode the past  

CAMERA REVEALS screenwriter playing the roll of psycho-serial suicide-bomber, self-immolationist, Baldessarian - Kafkaesque burner of art. Book-burning Nazi. Thinking about the New York Times review by Bosley Crowther on Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up (1966).

This is a fascinating picture, which has something real to say about the matter of personal involvement and emotional commitment in a jazzed-up, media-hooked-in world so cluttered with synthetic stimulations that natural feelings are overwhelmed.

Bomb Disposal Robot


Example 5: The urgency of failure and all the projects that never came off 

Monash Girl Suicide Bomber Interrupted (Fly Girl 3). Titled in-part on the American psychological drama Girl Interrupted, based on Susanna Kaysen's memoir and Vermeer's Girl Interrupted at her music

Action 1: The performance would see a Suicide Bomber/Doctoral Candidate, strapped with explosives, interrupted, and arrested

Darkgovernment news: Iraqi Girl 
suicide Bomber Interrupted

Daily Telegraph Terrorism Loose Wire Saved...

Anchor Women/Political Correspondent
Bomb/War/Army refs. 

War…what is it good for…absolutely…nothing, say it again...Juliana Engberg(Senior Director ACCA - Australian Centre for Contemporary Art)

There is something grotesque about Ostrow’s sampling and collage of images from the war in Iraq. But then there is something grotesque about the war in Iraq, full stop. In fact war is grotesque, fracturing and dismembering, and sadly, perpetual…it seems.

... It is a complicated strategy that Ostrow pursues. It combines reality with fantasy, nostalgia for the better days of political activism with the worst of current times. It is a strategy that might potentially detonate in the artist’s own hand and collapse like the stuff on the rubble pile she uses as an exhibition prop. Or it may just be the necessary, tasteless rupture needed to break through the media rhetoric and fashion hype to activate the image as ‘something’ to grapple with.

Concrete army helicopter helmets suspended sculptures
Anchor Women/Political Correspondent

     Anchor Women/Political Correspondent (2004) 

Rorscharch Test (Psychodiagnostics Plates/Psychodiagnostik Tafeln)

Spacement, 14-30 October 2004

Ostrow’s recent exhibition Anchor Women/Political Correspondent (2004) Rorscharch Test (Psychodiagnostics Plates/Psychodiagnostik Tafeln), held at Spacement in October 2004, was a further shift towards the production of objects d’art and away from her known identity as a performance-based or installation artist, though elements of both remain intrinsic to the work.   

Her previous exhibition, Search and Rescue Mission + Gallery Run, at William Mora Galleries in 2003, could be seen as a rudimentary step in this direction. Comprising a series of works that documented Flygirl – an ‘event’ staging her helicopter ‘rescue’ from the roof of the PS1 building in New York – and another documenting her fleeing through various exhibitions in New York, both were raw cut-&-paste photographic collages exploring states of creative anxiety as a response to her ‘failed’ collaboration at PS1 in 1999 with then UN Chief Weapons Inspector for Iraq, Richard Butler, who horrendously cancelled reading an ode to Bahgdad by Sufi poet Rumi at the last minute, when it was too late to do anything.  

Installed on specially made shelves, the works in Anchor Women/Political Correspondent (2004) have become highly-finished 3-dimensional objects-in-themselves; a dynamic series of colourful photoshop collages – using material from a variety of sources – are displayed vertically behind glass ‘screens’ resting in stands that are molded coloured ‘rocks’ (war rubble, stones thrown in war, the stoning of women as cultural practice…). Think Duchamp’s glass works, The Bride Stripped Bare of her Bachelors, Even (the Large Glass) 1915-23, or, in terms of scale, his Nine Malic Molds 1914-15, but Ostrow’s is an updated version incorporating new methods, subject matter and materials in reference to commercial display stands and television screens emitting multiple, mediated images of world events.

It is with these works that Ostrow immerses herself and audience in the visible and “invisible dramas of experience”, particularly in relation to the ‘War on Iraq’. Placed centrally, she wears a helicopter-pilot’s helmet – a reference to the aforementioned Flygirl which also doubles as sign, with army fatigues, of anchorwoman and political correspondent in the midst of a war zone. Rather than fleeing, this time she leads us through depictions of destruction, brutality, torment and sexual humiliation, and we are witness to the triumvirate – (ir)rational, (in)humanity and (ir)religious – auspices of war, like a Nietzschean exploration of ‘commonsense’ and the ‘will to power’.

At the same time, the collages are like flashing images of a televised news broadcast or a music video clip – Ben Harper’s Excuse Me Mr comes to mind. Combined with text, notes, tape, and other material, the fragmented media and/or internet images of terror, inhumanity and debasement are – like The Atlas Group/Walid Raad’s part fiction and part history, or documentation, of Lebanon – at once historical documentation and critique of the media’s exploitation (or entertainment?) of the ‘War on Iraq’ and the ensuing process of desensitisation.

Throughout, Ostrow adds layers of meaning to her work through a form of play with philosophical, art historical and psychological terms and methods eg. 'Double Aspect Theory' (Spinoza’s mind-body theory) and eg. pop art-like dots, or holes, that appear on top of certain images – a reference to Warhol, censorship and "war hole". But the Rorscharch method dominates: an analytical device used to uncover and resolve problems via a series of ink-blot patterns which are regarded as ambiguous stimuli (like elements in her work), a person can project their personality through select features or interpretations. Hence it is called a projective test, and with no right or wrong answers, responses are used as clues to unconscious or difficult-to-voice concerns, which are then explored (psycho-diagnostic).  

Ostrow deploys the Rorscharch method to highlight several things. As form, the doubling/mirroring constructs each collage so that the subject/image simultaneously looks inwards and outwards, suggesting that those involved in war should observe and question not only the world but, through internal analysis, one’s own actions and responsibilities – does the end justify the means, or the means justify the end? Then, by foregrounding the subjective nature of interpretation, the media and audience are implicated; they are invited to analyse the dissemination of information that the imagery/text/artworks appropriate, their responses to this information, and hence to the world at large, particularly in times of war.

Here a strong link to Dada seems prevalent, as some ‘found’ text on one of her works suggests: "Dada... was a reaction against the brutality of war, the expediency of art + literature + the dangerous inadequacy of rational thought… it spat out contempt for the spiritual + moral decadence of a whole intellectual, cultural and social system... disgust with a morally culpable bourgeoisie + a spiritually nerveless art which had no objective beyond a simplistic social photography, a faith in its own function as anodyne + a reprehensible dedication to self-fulfilment..." 

While evoking a map of her thought processes, the selection and compilation of images, text, etc. also explores the role of the artist, and the effectiveness of art, in a political context. Though a Duchampian aesthetic in art is old, Ostrow renews it in several ways: Dada’s feminist lineage in collage (Hannah Hoch) is extended by including herself as model/subject; her persona as anchorwoman/correspondent (cf. Duchamp’s Rrose Selavy) is politically, morally and socially ‘active’; and the technique of visual dissociation attributed to Dada (fracturing and juxtaposing appropriated media imagery and style, text, etc) is extended by layering and changing the presentation and context of the work as three-dimensional psycho-diagnostic tests. This is an astute paradigm critical to and of the issues and events outlined, and of other forms of art dealing with such material, as the audience is required to do the work.  

©  Kirsten Rann  December 2004

Kirsten Rann is an independent curator and writer based in Melbourne -----------------------------------------------------------------------

Example 6: The urgency of failure and all the projects that never came off 


Action: Break-in to my studio/office Bld. B 6th fl. from the outside-in, (to be filmed from a window platform). Contact made with high access window cleaning companies. Rejected. The performance was not given approval by University Health, Safety (& Security).

Similar to Bld. B on campus 


Example 7: The urgency of failure and all the projects that never came off 

Bulldozer series 

Action: Hire mini-bulldozer that sees artist/myself as once driver/perpetrator and pushed/transported person the length of the corridor into my studio/office eg. before or after break-in (see above). Ref Holocaust (see Final Cut Pro screen grab below).

University Health & Safety (& Security) would not grant permission.

Final Cut Pro edit video of emaciated bodies being shoveled into pits
collaged with a wide variety of doco footage from YouTube 

Secretly taken photograph of Beckett choreographing alone onstage 
Ostrow driving bulldozer (in real-life) & crawling (along Uni corridor)

Ostrow driving Around the World News 

Newspaper image of the bulldozer that ran over a young 
woman protestor collaged with Jurgen Teller's photo of a 
supermodel naked on fur coat & autumn leaves

Excerpt from PhD screenplay

I find your work at Stommeln Synagogue Project in the City of Pulheim '06, as both artist and Jew, an extremely disturbing intervention even though I've been inundated with visuals and facts about the Holocaust all my life. Can you talk about the work, outcomes, reactions.
I used six ordinary vehicles and parked them in the surrounding streets of the Synagogue with engines running. Long black hoses up to 100 metres in length funneled the fumes from the exhaust pipes into the Synagogue’s interior. The carbon monoxide generated by the internal combustion engines was to collect in the Synagogue’s interior in a density sufficient to put a person to death within half an hour, like the Nazis’ first improvised attempts at mass killings which saw Jewish women and children packed into the cargo space of trucks to be asphyxiated with carbon monoxide generated by the exhaust fumes of running engines.  
Were you doubtful whether anyone would actually enter the room? 
Well, I think death, as experienced by the individual, is always the death of others until the possibility and proximity of one’s own death becomes evident, so in that respect, yes. 
Did you want this artwork to be a remembrance
Only in direct relation to the global injustice, bigotry, and exploitation of our day and age. You know, I don’t see the Holocaust as a specifically German or an isolated historical phenomenon, I believe that by reducing it to a concluded historic event underlines the very real danger that such horrors might repeat themselves.

Santiago Sierra Stommeln 2006

Santiago Sierra Stommeln 2006


Example 7: The urgency of failure and all the projects that never came off 

Art Auction Video 2003 CCP

Action: Artists began delivering work to CCP a few days before the auction. I was contacted and asked as to where my work was. There was no work to sell. A contract transgressed. A commodification failure. I said the work was being made on the day. 

The exhibition opened to the public before Southeby's top auctioneer began his show. Each name was read out with an artist blurb. Danielle Palmer wrote that I was an unconventional artist and provocateur. From the list of somewhat famous, well-selling names, this appered to be true. The auctioneer said there was no work to auction off except that of a video being made of the auction as it happened, and that the auctioneer, Director Naomi Cass in eye-catching red stilletos, the audience, and the artist were all conspirators, artmakers, and the art itself. A collective laugh involuntarily let-out. A vigorous bidding upped from $2 mark to $250. The last shot of the video saw the final bid in action as it sold straight off the block. 

Pathology Appropriated: An ongoing series of performative video projects
and postcard series

Contemporary art as a site characterised by generalized anxiety disorders, depression, melancholia, maladaptive behaviors, transference and "the appropriation of ideas already floating around" (Enwezor 2008)

1. Pathology Appropriated: A drama about a young American woman crushed by an Israeli bulldozer is sure too cause local controversy, writes Sian Powell.
2. Pathology Appropriated: Assia Wevill was young, beautiful and after meeting and falling in love with Ted Hughes, doomed, write Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negeve in a new book on the poet and the woman for whom he left Sylvia Plath
3. Pathology Appropriated: I'm sorry if I depressed you. The critics are cheering his witty new film, but a super-serious Woody Allan assure Suzi Hansen that he is through being funny
4. Pathology Appropriated: Dancers meteoric rise tragically cut short in Sydney Road accident

Limited Edition Postcards
A4 Art November 2009 West Space


Example 8: The urgency of failure and all the projects that never came off 

Proposal Nazi Gas Van 

1. Reconstruct a modle of a gas truck from blueprints using a 
3D printer or fit out an old truck. Publish catalogue of letters and doco's eg, "Thousands of people waited there for two days stacked like wood"

Letter 1

II D 3 a (9) NI. 214/42 G.RS.

Berlin, 5 June 1942 
Only copy.

Top Secret!

I. Note :

Conc.: Technical adjustments to special vans 

Service and to those who are in production

Since December 1941, ninety-seven thousand has been processed, using three vans, without any defects. The explosion that we know took place at Kulmhof. The cause can be attributed to improper operation. In order to avoid such incidents, special instructions have been addressed to the services concerned. Safety has been a very important factor.

Previous experience has shown that the following adjustments would be useful:

1.) In order to facilitate the rapid distribution of CO, as well as to avoid a buildup of pressure, two slots, ten by one centimeters, will be bored at the top of the rear wall.

2.) The normal capacity of the vans is 10 to 10 sq. Ft.] . Saurer vans is Not so great. The problem is not one of overloading but of off-road maneuverability on all terrains, which is severely diminished in this van. It seems to me that this is the case. This can be done by shortening the compartment by about one meter. The problem can not be solved by merely reducing the number of subjects, as has been done so far. For this reason it is necessary to use the COD. On the contrary, were the cargo area was smaller, but fully occupied, the operation would take less time, because there would be no empty space.

3.) The pipe that connects the exhaust to the van tends to rust because it is eaten away from the inside by liquids that flow into it. To avoid this. The liquid will thus be prevented from flowing into [the pipe].

4.) To facilitate the cleaning of the vehicle. It will be closed by a watertight cover of about twenty centimeters in diameter, fitted with an elbow siphon that will allow for the drainage of thin liquids. The upper part of the elbow pipe will be fitted with a sieve to avoid obstruction. Thicker dirt can be through the drainage hole. The floor of the vehicle can be tipped slightly. In this way all the liquids can be made to flow.

5.) The observation windows that have been installed. Considerable time will be saved in the production of the new vans by avoiding the difficult fitting of the window and its airtight lock.

6.) Greater protection is needed for the lighting system. The grille should cover the lamps high enough to make it impossible to break the bulb. It has been a long time since we have had a lot of trouble. Experience shows, however, when the back door is closed and it gets dark inside, the load Pushes hard against the door. The reason for this is when it becomes dark inside the load. This hampers the locking of the door. It has been a long time since the end of the year. It is therefore expedient to keep the lights on. Lighting is also useful in the interior of the interior.

7.) To facilitate the rapid unloading of the vehicles, a removable grid is placed on the floor. It will slide on rollers on a U-shaped rail. It will be removed and put in position by means of a small winch placed under the vehicle. The firm charged with the alterations has stated that it is not possible for the moment, due to a lack of staff and materials. Another firm will have to be found.

The technical changes planned for the vehicles already in operation. The alterations in the ten Saurer vehicles already ordered as far as possible. The manufacturer made it clear in a meeting that structural alterations, with the exception of minor ones. An attempt is made on the other hand. One of these ten vehicles, the alterations and adjustments. I suggest that the firm of Hohenmaut be charged with the execution.

Due to the circumstances, we have a long-term relationship. It does not matter if it is not. Once it has been tested, the other vans will be withdrawn from service and will undergo the same alterations.

II. To Group Leader II D 

SS Obersturmbannführer Rauff 
for examination and decision.

Thousands of people

waited there for two days

Stacked like wood.


Example 9: The urgency of failure and all the projects that never came off 

— a female artist’s frustrated career arc

Key plot points recur: an artist who considers herself a failed experimental filmmaker is married to an older cultural theorist, a professor at Columbia; they move between country houses that they rent out for extra money (“It was a profitable scheme, but consequently, the pair are homeless”); the husband has a daughter from his first marriage, but the couple never has children together (they have abortions instead); at a certain point, the female character leaves, moves across the country to Los Angeles, gets involved in the art scene, gets obsessed with Dick, gets involved in S & M, has a lot of anonymous sex: “Giving blowjobs in the parking lot behind the House of Pies, finger-fucking on a stranger’s couch, she is amazed by how completely sex annihilates the need for context.”
Kraus’s entire body of work betrays an abiding obsession with context; one can easily imagine the desire to escape it. Her books return to the same dynamics over and over—romantic abjection, ambiguous and often frustrating intimacies, artistic devotion and ambition, social communion and alienation—in order to explore them in multiple and overlapping contexts: artistic, spiritual, domestic, private, public, historical, political, economic. They are versions of one central drama: a female consciousness struggling to live a meaningful life

you know my career was so stalled and I 

instead of looking at it as the 
failure of my art or

of myself, I could look at the social 
conditions surrounding everything

might be better to look at the 
conditions of the art world

consider what makes a success what makes 
a failure 

what's inside what's up how is 
the game played really

This Female Consciousness: On Chris Kraus

By Leslie Jamison  April 9, 2015



Example 10: The urgency of failure and all the projects that never came off 

Venice Biennial paralysis Chris Krause Sophie Calle 


Example 11: The urgency of failure and all the projects that never came off

... No, no, you don't travel light'. (Tindersticks self-titled album '95)

Curated by Deborah Ostrow

‘I’m travellin’ light’ ... ‘No, no, you don’t travel light’

I’m familiar with few of the fifty or so artworks in this exhibition. Artist/curator Deborah Ostrow has asked me to write something here because I’ve known her and her practice for more than a decade, since we were both ‘emerging’, and because at different times there has been a sort of ‘intensity’ in our friendship. The participants in the exhibition have this in common: their link to Ostrow and, along with that, an intensity of feeling (on Ostrow’s part at least) that occurred once upon a time or more than once.

Deborah Ostrow has asked me to mention something about each artist’s work ‘because artists always want that’, but as I said, I haven’t seen most of the artists’ work. I can see though that Ostrow’s motivation for putting the show together fits with the way her own practice has developed over the last ten years, especially her exhibitions of the 1990s. For Ostrow, making art has always been about activating identities and ideas about interrelationships between people. The aesthetics of her art and her domestic environment are unusually inseparable; her aura and her analyst, her attitudes to love and war, all have been reconstructed indirectly or metaphorically in her work. Ostrow displaces these personal ‘treasures’ and substitutes the sensations and feelings she associates with others—including other things—around her, those that have affected her deeply.

With ‘I’m travellin’ light’ ... ‘No, no, you don’t travel light’, Deborah Ostrow constructs a personalised historical account of art through the last decade and a half. Quite simply, she has brought together the artworks that she remembers most clearly over that time. She describes the various figurative and other works in the exhibition as being about ‘self-portraiture, using yourself because there’s no one else’. But she means this in a very particular way—she is co-opting the work of these artists for her own self-examination; the exhibition becomes like a self-portrait. Ostrow gives us the beautiful ruse that is the über-curator. Nonetheless she remains the artist behind the mask of the curatorial role-play. We’ll be better able to experience what this means for the art once the exhibition opens; I imagine it will affect what we see. 

There are sixteen artists in ‘I’m travellin’ light’ ... ‘No, no, you don’t travel light’. I’ve met about half, some fleetingly (Natalie Davey at a dinner in Fitzroy a decade or more ago, Domenico DeClario, David M Thomas), some I know a little better (Hany Armanious, Deej Fabyc, Nicola Loder), some I know better still (Deborah Ostrow herself, Gareth Sansom), and one is my husband (Jonathan Nichols). How disconcerting it is to attempt to compartmentalise people into these groups, ‘grading’ the relationships, not for quality but for ‘depth’. This question of what it means to even briefly ‘know’ a person, to allow yourself to be influenced by that experience, and to recall that experience differently over years, is central to Ostrow’s interest in undertaking this project. Can we say that art is a reasonable form through which to do this? Because, like music, experience of art for artists and viewers can be associated with specific times, moods and events, holding distinctive feelings? 

This exhibition is an ambitious undertaking. Works dated from 1976 to 2005 have been transported to Melbourne from seven different cities: Berlin, Brisbane, Düsseldorf, London, New York, Perth and Sydney. It’s appropriate that the exhibition is being presented at Spacement, a basement gallery so low down in the ground it’s without mobile phone coverage—artists are ‘bottom feeders’ I’m always being told.

Bala Starr

... ‘No, no, you don’t travel light’

Spacement Gallery Flinders Lane Melb 
Space 1

Spacement Gallery Flinders Lane Melb 
Space 2

Spacement Gallery Flinders Lane Melb 
Space 1

Spacement Gallery Flinders Lane Melb 
Space 3


1 Jonathon Nichols
kissing (1998) oil on linen41 x 51cm Courtesy the artist and Karen Woodbury Gallery

2 Deej Fabyc
catch / snatch (1999) video tape transferred to DVD 9 minutes Courtesy of the artist

3 - 6 Sanne Mestrom
nineteen eighty four series (French/German/Hindi/English) acrylic on paper 75 x 50cm Courtesy of the artist

7 Deborah Ostrow
search and rescue mission (1999) DVD 5 minutes Courtesy of the artist and Spacement

8 Gareth Sansom
Siccolam (1976) mixed media and collage on cardboard 83 x 104cm Courtesy of the artist and John Buckley

9 - 12 Jeremy Yoder
lilikoi dimensions collage on paper Courtesy of the artist

the central realm of the deeply packed dimensions collage on paper Courtesy of the artist

the spilt milk ceremony dimensions collage on paper Courtesy of the artist

Riding on the Horse of Breath 2005 Dimensions collage on paper Courtesy of the artist

13 - 15 Tracy Nakayama
measure (2002) 33 x 25cm Ink and graphite on paper Courtesy the artist and Tony Wight Bodybuilder & Sportsman Gallery, Chicago 

middle agers 25 x 33cm Ink and graphite on paper Courtesy the artist and Tony Wight Bodybuilder & Sportsman Gallery, Chicago 
untitled 33 x 25cm Ink and graphite on paper Courtesy the artist and Tony Wight Bodybuilder & Sportsman Gallery, Chicago

16 Gareth Sansom
self portrait with camera 92 x 122cm Type C photograph

17 Deborah Ostrow
After Araki’s ‘Tokyo Lucky Hole & Dramatic Shooting & Fake Reportage’ 2005 printed matter, paint, glue, jewellery, pine, glass, das clay Dimensions variable Courtesy the artist and Spacement Gallery

18 Thomas Bernstein
strand (1999) 24 X 17cm lithograph Courtesy the artist

19 Nicola Loder
i am not a black man 4 lambda digital prints dimensions variable Courtesy the artist and Crossley & Scott

20 – 22 Jonathan Nichols
things in you (watch your business), no. 1 (1995) edition 2/5, type C photograph 110 x 75cm Courtesy the artist and Karen Woodbury 
things in you (watch your business), no. 2 (1995) edition 2/5, type C photograph 110 x 75cm Courtesy the artist and Karen Woodbury  
things in you (watch your business), no. 3 (1995) edition 2/5, type C photograph 110 x 75cm Courtesy the artist and Karen Woodbury  
23 - 24 Rob McHaffie
park bench 28 x 30cm oil on canvas Courtesy the artist and Darren Knight Gallery

studio sculptures dimensions variable wax/das/wood/found objects/paint Courtesy the artist and Darren Knight Gallery

25 Natalie Davey
"Bad Photography" series (1990) In the pub Watercolour on paper 14.5 X 10cm Courtesy the artist   
"Bad Photography" series (1990)  Amber Watercolour on paper 14.5 X 10 cm Courtesy the artist
"Bad Photography" series man/market Watercolour on paper 14.5 X 10 cm Courtesy the artist 
"Bad Photography" series str Watercolour on paper 14.5 X 10cm Courtesy the artist 
"Park" series Horse/p (1990) oil on canvas 24 X 17.5cm Courtesy the artist 
"Park" series Sightseeing (1990)oil on canvas 24 X 17.5cm Courtesy the artist 
"Park" series Buildings Oil on canvas24 X 17.5cm Courtesy the artist
"Park" series Industriegebiet Oil on canvas24 X 17.5cm Courtesy the artist
"Park" series Talisman Oil on canvas25x20 cm.Courtesy the artist
36 - 37  Tere Recarens
Miss-Work 2005C Type print 165 x 200 Courtesy the artist and Toni Tapies, Barcelona

Tere Watere 1999 video set of 3 shorts: tere spain/champion/watere Long version videotape transferred to DVD Colour, no sound, 3 minute Courtesy the artist and Toni Tapies, Barcelona

38 Thomas Bernstein
Gender 199924 X 17cm (set of 2)watercolour on paper Courtesy the artist

39 David M Thomas
Everyday I am a Day Older (Dave) 1994) Digital Print, 1200 x 800cm
Everyday I am a Day Older (Muppet Christmas)(1994)Digital Print, 1200 x 800cm

Peter Robertson
‘Untitled’ Beyond Xanado 1994 C Type print 30 x 50 Courtesy the artist
‘Untitled’ Beyond Xanado 1994 C Type print 30 x 50 Courtesy the artist
‘Untitled’ Beyond Xanado 1994 C Type print 30 x 50 Courtesy the artist
‘Untitled’ Beyond Xanado 1994 C Type print 30 x 50 Courtesy the artist
‘Untitled’ Beyond Xanado 1994 C Type print 30 x 50 Courtesy the artist

Domenico DeClario
Quiet in the land: 28 monochrome paintings/28 performances at Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, Maine, United States, 230 June 1996 2005 type C photograph 59.4 x 42 cm Courtesy the artist

Project (Te Awatea) New Zealand: 7 installation/performances at the Govett Brewster Gallery and various sites around New Plymouth, New Zealand, using found materials, September December 1998 2005 type C photographs 7 parts: 10cm x 15cm edition of 6 Courtesy the artist

Hany Armanious
Effigy of Mr Karma as Shiva with four manifestations [all photographers are cunts] 1992. Found Objects, dimensions variable. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley 9 Gallery, Michael Lett Gallery.  

Example 11: 
The urgency of failure and all the projects that never came off 

The Nothing Curated by Kelly Fliedner 

The Nothing invitation

Deborah Ostrow 2009 
Deviations of Nothing: reworked and improved 
1. Office dredge (Neurosis excavated) Color print, office-man with cut-out face, taped over Tv set screening Dredge DVD 60x40x30
2. Head shot (Maladaptive behavior) Color print, office-man with cut-out face, taped over Tv set screening Cement-pour DVD 40x30x25
3. Working girl (Unbearable awareness of banality) Color print, office girl with cut-out face, taped over Tv set screening Cement-pour DVD 50x30x30
4. Office haul: (Immoral appropriation) Color print, office artist cut-out + taped over Tv set screening Helicopter DVD 40x30x20 5. Office angst (Self-propelled) Color print, office girl with cut-out face, taped over Tv set screening Colored spiral DVD 50x30x30 

Everything in art is ugly which is false, which smiles without motive, everything that is senseless affectation… everything that lies. 


When I was asked to write something for a show entitled ‘The Nothing’ my apprehension and anxiety were palpable — how does one create, or write, on that which exists beyond the parameters of material presence, on that indeterminate something that can’t be seen and consequently exists in an almost transcendent sphere? It was a similar anxiety that accompanied me on my first visit to the Melbourne based artist Deborah Ostrow (and one, I was told, that preceded my arrival). Yet despite this, I don’t think I really understood the thematic of the show until encountering Ostrow’s aesthetic. Her work over the last two decades has both engaged with the intangible — the anxiety, fear and madness that silently informs her artistic practice — and has simultaneously deconstructed the categorical as the means of revealing that other, more obscure, and less easily defined reality beyond the absolutes and artificiality of media imagery, art institutions and social exteriors.
Likewise the video collages in this show, which depict two hollowed out faces of an office man with a fatally pointed gun to his head and an image of the artist-as-Office-Girl superimposed over videos that display a continuous rumble and pouring fourth of cement, underscore the artifice of the public — office — self. The voluptuous grey plumes of cement function as a sign of the suppressed interior that is conventionally, forcefully, hidden by a refined exterior. At the same time the inherent mechanicalness of the cement mixer seems to evocate the de-humanised and systematic construction of our public masks. Like ‘The Neverending Story’ in which lies told by humans, their greed and lack of imagination produces emptiness (The Nothing) in the land of Fantascia, Ostrow’s work suggests a similar vacuity in relation to the modern condition. Her faces are translated into vacant shells that highlight how the rhetoric of absolute conformity erases traces of difference, possible imaginations and simmering madness. 
Ostrow’s collages and videos form a theatre of the absurd — an environment of visual anarchy — where green cartoon aliens straight out of a children’s cartoon provide a ridiculous juxtaposition to a clean-cut businessman or the grimacing face of suicide; where an image of the artist-as-Office-Girl fills the empty mind of a businessman. She does not imitate the external appearance of reality nor does she seek to construct parallel worlds of consciousness, but rather she peels away the false layers of normalcy and leaves us with images of lunacy and hysteria that seem somehow more real than the realities depicted in SBS news coverage or by the use of trompe-l’œil. Ostrow manifests the degrees of uncertainty – the black pistol pictured against the animated laser gun is both hilarious and distressing – that characterise the unseen elements of the human condition.  
Ostrow’s artistic strategy, her fragmentary imagery and fractured surfaces, bear witness to the works construction. Her procedures are not hidden behind highly finished exteriors or beautiful façades revealing not only the artist’s touch, but also a human presence. This, in itself, is nothing new of course, from the neo-Dadaist approach of Robert Rauschenberg to the hierarchical deconstructions of Arte Povera, since the twentieth century art has consistently striven to destabilise the myth of illusionist fantasy. However, in the context of this piece Ostrow’s artistic language re-evocates her thematic of uncovering the concealed and suppressed interior of the individual. 
The concept of truth and how one defines it is as nebulous as the term The Nothing, yet there is something truthful about Ostrow’s works and I am reminded here, not only of Rodin, but also one of his younger contemporaries, Maurice Denis, who stated that ‘the truth of art consists in the conformity of the work with its means and ends’.1 Rodin, Entretiens réunis par Paul Gsell, Paris, Grasset, 1911.  

May 17, 2010
The Nothing was a recent show at West Space curated by Kelly Fliedner ... the vast majority of the work was really good ... But the standout for me was Deborah Ostrow's television sets playing videos of work sites roughly framed with faceless cardboard office workers. It was as much everything as it was nothing, a meditative acknowledgement of the binary nature of a term like 'the nothing'. Although a sense of despair pervaded the work, it wasn't an abject one; it's use of honest materials (rather than an honest use of materials) and its humour saved it from desperation. A great show.

Posted by www.adamcruickshank.com 

The Nothing Program