Joke Gestures (Make a Mess, Clean it Up)

Gordon, Melissa. 2018. Joke Gestures (Make a Mess, Clean it Up). Journal of Contemporary Painting, 4(2), pp. 239-247. ISSN 2052-6695 [Article]

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Melissa Gordon’s paintings and silkscreens deal with the relation of a body to paint. Her paintings often use as subject matter the material processes of a studio practice. In an ongoing series titled ‘Material Evidence’ she paints reproductions of details of studio surfaces: walls where brushes are wiped, floors with paint spills and tables where colours are mixed. These are painted in pairs and groups with photographic relations to each other such as zooms, crops and pans with repeats and overlaps.

In this visual essay Gordon presents a new body of work made specifically for the Journal of Contemporary Painting entitled Joke Gestures (Make a Mess, Clean it Up). Each piece is made by cleaning a specific surface – a table, a floor of a room, a kitchen counter, etc. These shapes retain their architectural details, showing the edges and gaps created by the negative space of furniture, sinks, toilets, etc. Paint is poured on plastic sheets covering the surface and then the gestures are made by ‘cleaning up’ the mess with sponges, brooms and mops. The plastic remnant is then exposed directly to light onto a silkscreen, which in printing produces a painterly ‘image’ of the act of cleaning. Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ Maintenance Art Manifesto 1969! is re-printed to draw attention to the dichotomy that Ukeles sets out between the act of maintenance and production in art and exhibition. Ukeles’ text’s poignancy and humour in a contemporary discourse around the ‘invisibility’ of labour also sets a stage for Gordon’s practice, which is engaged in a feminist discourse: to make abstraction through the bodily acts of maintenance (and through the emergence of the ‘invisible’ image in a photographic medium such as silkscreen) as a humorous take on contemporary painting discourse on authorship, abstraction and vitality.

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Mierle Laderman Ukeles; architecture; feminism; invisible labour; maintenance; painting; silkscreen

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1 October 2018Published

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Date Deposited:

02 Oct 2017 11:50

Last Modified:

23 Dec 2020 10:27

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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