Dispatch Review respectfully acknowledges the Whadjuk people as the traditional owners and custodians of the lands upon which we live, work and enjoy. We pay deep respect to Elders past and present. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.

Reviews:

  1. Death Metal Summer by Sam Beard.
  2. Players, Places: Reprised, Renewed, Reviewed by Aimee Dodds.
  3. Scholtz: Two Worlds Apart by  Corderoy, Fisher, Flaherty, Wilson, Fletcher,  Jorgensen, & Glover.
  4. Partial Sightings by Sam Beard.
  5. True! Crime. by Aimee Dodds.
  6. The Human Condition by Rex Butler.
  7. Light Event by Sam Beard.
  8. Rejoinder: Archival / Activism by Max Vickery.
  9. Access and Denial in The Purple Shall Govern by Jess van Heerden.
  10. 4Spells by Sam Beard.
  11. Abstract art, DMT capitalism and the ugliness of David Attwood’s paintings
    by Darren Jorgensen.
  12. Unearthing new epistemologies of extraction by Samuel Beilby.
  13. Seek Wisdom by Max Vickery.
  14. Something for Everyone by Sam Beard.
  15. Violent Sludge by Aimee Dodds.
  16. State of Abstraction by Francis Russell.
  17. Double Histories: Special Issue, with texts by Ian McLean, Terry Smith, and Darren Jorgensen & Sam Beard.
  18. Six Missing Shows by Sam Beard.
  19. What We Memorialise by Max Vickery.
  20. At the End of the Land by Amelia Birch.
  21. The beautiful is useful by Sam Beard.
  22. ām / ammā / mā maram by Zali Morgan.
  23. Making Ground, Breaking Ground by Maraya Takoniatis.
  24. Art as Asset by Sam Beard.
  25. Cactus Malpractice by Aimee Dodds.
  26. Sweet sweet pea by Sam Beard.
  27. COBRA by Francis Russell.
  28. PICA Barn by Sam Beard .
  29. Gallery Hotel Metro by Aimee Dodds.
  30. A Stroll Through the Sacred, Profane, and Bizarre by Samuel Beilby.
  31. Filling in the Gaps at Spacingout by Maraya Takoniatis.
  32. Disneyland Cosmoplitanism by Sam Beard.
  33. Discovering Revenue by Anonymous.
  34. Uncomfortable Borrowing by Jess van Heerden.
  35. It’s Not That Strange by Stirling Kain.
  36. Hatched Dispatched by Sam Beard & Aimee Dodds.
  37. Fuck the Class System by Jess van Heerden, Jacinta Posik, Darren Jorgensen, et al.
  38. Wild About Nothing by Sam Beard.
  39. Paranoiac, Peripatetic: Pet Projects by Aimee Dodds.
  40. An Odd Moment for Women’s Art by Maraya Takoniatis.
  41. Transmutations by Sam Beard.
  42. The Post-Vandal by Sam Beard.
  43. Art Thugs and Humbugs by Max Vickery.
  44. Disneyland, Paris, Ardross and the artworld by Darren Jorgensen.
  45. Bizarrely, A Biennale by Aimee Dodds.
  46. Venus in Tullamarine by Sam Beard.
  47. Weird Rituals by Sam Beard.
  48. Random Cube by Francis Russell.
  49. Yeah, Nah, Rockpool by Aimee Dodds.
  50. Towards a Blind Horizon by Kieron Broadhurst.
  51. Being Realistic by Sam Beard.




For years, commentators have attempted to decipher the reasons for our cultural obsession with true crime. Countless podcasts, articles, online streaming outputs, Reddit, documentaries—the “market for murder” proliferates through an endless variety of mass-media formats for public consumption and dissection. In both popular and specialist formats, entertainment programs, academics and armchair detectives alike have had a stab at explaining this enduring fascination. We have Edgar Allen Poe to thank in part. The late 19th century writer was among the first writers of the investigative true crime genre, and today we still haven’t escaped its stranglehold. Poe’s well-known macabre stories included the first recorded murder/detective plot—1841’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” which was in fact based on, well, fact.  Followed by Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1887 Sherlock Holmes series, between them these male writers elevated the literary figure of the investigator to the status of anti-hero. 
        Visual art practice, however, has featured far less among grisly true crime conversations. Be it the longstanding idea that art is supposed to be beautiful, or the view that art should not be regulated or monitored by governments and authorities (as criminal behaviour is)—the art/crime discussion, broadly, is usually confined to illegal activities like museum thefts; heists; stolen materials; transport of goods; frauds; or forgeries. Such topics (again, generally speaking) privilege economic impact alongside moral, ethical and cultural responsibilities. Often, their focus is deception or loss, but mostly these art-narratives capture the after-effects of being bamboozled by such untoward criminal acts. [This is excluding, of course, crimes of public nuisance or artists who utilise shock value to interrogate art and legality (e.g. performance artists, Situationists, “Outlaw” artists, etc.)] The number of contemporary artists who respond directly to the ideas, and more so the aesthetics of true crime in the above murderous senses, are fewer still.
        Enter Isabel Bereczky: a recent Curtin University fine art graduate with the exhibition UMS72 at CURRENT Gallery. In the artist’s words, UMS72 is a “series of drawings of an unidentified person whose skeletal remains were discovered on August 26, 1972, in Bandon, Oregon”. Bereczky describes herself as Perth/Boorloo’s “most prolific and least qualified forensic sketch artist”. Now, as an avid fan of the intersections between art, criminality, forensics, and conspiracy theories, naturally I jumped out of my skin when I saw the invitation to UMS72. I have long been interested in art/crime encounters, particularly through the marginal figure of the modern-day courtroom artist, and the re-discovery of artworks as a kind of evidence in coronial inquests. Like the weirdness of courtroom artists, forensic sketch artists exist amidst a space of overlapping and contradictory discourses.
        Whilst usually a precursor to “science”, forensic also means an “artistic technique used for identification, apprehension or conviction purposes”.[1] It is a studiable, qualified profession: The International Association for Identification offers a ‘Forensic Artist Certification.’ By her own admission, Bereczky is not a member.
        Much like the armchair detective, who receives information and creates narratives  secondhand or after-the-fact, forensic sketch artists and courtroom artists have a specific relationship to time and artmaking. One can become a certified forensic sketch artist after a period of study, to work before or during the criminal identification and apprehension processes; or, one can operate as a courtroom artist during and/or after the legal conviction process, without formal training. One artist draws the abstract and unknown, one draws “from life”. The etymology of forensic can be traced back to the Latin forensis, meaning “public, open forum”—thought to originate in 44 BC, when a Roman physician was summoned to examine the corpse of Julius Caesar.[2] “Public” and “open” — as in shared, as in identifiable without reasonable doubt, as in altruistic, as in morally good… The work of such artists today is always an accompaniment: to media reportage, journalism, or police communications. This type of artmaking does not stand alone in the same way that autonomous contemporary art does, or claims to do.
        In the dimly lit chamber of CURRENT Gallery stood a desk of unremarkable elegance. Atop it, a lamp cast pallid rays of ghastly yellow. The desk’s ashen countenance was obscured beneath a tapestry of madness. Scattered to and fro across its surface, spilling over to the floor, were dozens upon dozens of drawings. Charcoal and parchment, each depicting a hideous indistinctness: drawings of one man, or of many men? Verily! I struggled in vain against these half-seen shades. How could these languid charcoal strokes mock me so? Of whomst were these leering visions? Hark!
        The Poeish, theatrical quality of Bereczky’s installation is achieved through a “forensic aesthetic” which makes the viewer a confidant,  participant, or  detective. We are invited to touch, reconstruct, and decipher. In his 1997 book Scene of the Crime, art critic and curator Ralph Rugoff advocates for a “forensic aesthetic” as a classificatory way of looking that "aims to engage the viewer in a process of mental reconstruction".[3] This mode compels the viewer to adopt a “forensic gaze”: to sift through fragments of information, broken narratives, and debris.
        Bereczky’s work does exactly this. Although the installation’s display suggested it was to be resolved, in a sense, this desire for resolution was not aimed towards collecting information regarding the drawn figure’s identity. Rather, the thing to be solved or completed was the art installation itself, by the audience.
        To do so was to be in the room and rifle through pages, to pick up stacks of paper, examine lines, smudges and shadows, to match features, check proportions; to handle drawings; to ascertain if the various markings were indeed representative of the same person. Staged within this grimly interactive fantastical setting, housed in an experimental art space in a converted power substation, surrounded by other visitors—the uncertainty compounded. The constructed futility is clear. Any attempt to “identify” the hand drawn portraits (that were first created from a moulded reconstruction of unidentified human remains discovered decades ago) exacerbates and undermines potential cries of “Eureka!”. Such experiences are reserved for another curiously detestable modern phenomenon: escape rooms. In this regard, Bereczky’s adoption of a forensic aesthetic is “entirely self-conscious” and offers an interesting way for thinking through the affect and effect/s of the forensic “theatrical” mode with regards to contemporary visual practice. Can a portrait truly be a portrait if it is of an unknown, unseen person, drawn decades after their life and death?
        UMS72 was initially discovered in an unrecognisable state, as a “near or complete skeleton”. At the time of writing, the remains are still yet to be identified. UMS72’s bones were discovered in a wooded area, north Bandon, Oregon, off Highway 101. The man’s estimated birth date is between 1902–1912; he was  50–80 years old at time of death. He was white, and approximately 5’8 or 5’10.
        The cause of UMS72’s death was two gunshot wounds to the head. The bullet hole was located in the right temple area of his skeleton and two .22 calibre bullets were found lodged in his skull. Two unspent shells and three coins were also found nearby. No weapon was located. Near his body, a key ring with the initial "R" and an automobile key were found. His death occurred an unknown number of years prior to his unfortunate discovery. The tantalising clues in this case are both abstract/general and concrete/specific enough to inspire curiosity, consideration, and endless frustration.
        Perhaps  the most puzzling element: the man’s dental records were also available when his skeleton was found. UMS72 had a full set of dentures, which were engraved with "S1214/66." Authorities speculated that these were made in Seattle (S) by the US Public Health Service Hospital (USPHSH) in 1966 (/66), which has since closed. According to The Doe Network,  a site for identifying missing persons and found remains, “the hospital was established to care for service men and families, leading to further speculation that the man may have been in the military or Merchant Marines, probably between 1920 and 1930, and possibly serving during WWII.”[4]
        These dentures feature heavily in Bereczky’s drawings, peeking from a gaping mouth, almost comical under a blank and bespectacled stare. A pair of glasses appear prominently in both the reconstruction of UMS72’s Facial ID and the artist’s drawings of his visage. The Facial ID says “Glasses found near the scene”—though, a comparative Google tells me there was no mention of these glasses in the recovered property report pertaining to UMS72. [5]
        Even though Bereczky has selectively depicted the man’s unknown face, teeth, and glasses over and over again (i.e. not his skeleton or imagined body), the effect of this repetition is not to identify the individual—it is to identify his copies. In this respect, the copy/act of copying, and by extension our memory, threatens to erase itself through endless repetition and reiteration.[6]
        The crucial difference between the forensic aesthetic and other modern modes of forensic art-making is the forensic aesthetic’s “fractured relationship” to time and memory. As Rutger explains, the forensic aesthetic is “haunted by an indeterminate past… Through its play on seemingly insignificant detail, clues and traces… [it] suggests that meaning is dispersed, fragmentary and uncertain.”
          The desire to resolve, investigate, re-assemble is part of human evolutionary problem-solving capabilities and survival strategies: memory helps us learn and avoid threats. So do stories. But another more troubling idea emerges when such narrative practices are intertwined with aesthetic creations. The plumbline between curiosity and satisfaction is ego. As actual art detective Arthur Brand, the so-called “Indiana Jones of the artworld” reminds us to ask, “but, then again, if the FBI cannot crack a case, who am I?” Key to this idea is, as Rutger has noted, that “on one level the crime scene functions as a hub of pleasure”. Here, ethical challenges for artists as well as for law enforcement multiply exponentially. Undeniably, the forensic mode is implicitly loaded with connections between violence and representation. In the act of looking at or participating in a work like Bereczky’s, a viewer is made a voyeur and is therefore complicit, to a variable degree between bystander, culpable witness, and irredeemably guilty. 
        The appeal to resolve the “vague, variable, indefinite, unsteady” as Poe would call it, is ultimately irresistible. Our endless macabre fascinations confute attributions of definitive motivation/s. To do so would be pure egotism, worse than making or participating in an artwork that invokes a real crime scene. Part of this reasoning is why Bereczky’s work is successful. Adjacent is how the ensuing frustration of the “unsolvable” mimics contemporary art’s contingent or “cluelike” status.
        The morbid curiosity to know more spurred by the subject and content of Bereczky’s work can be somewhat alleviated via Google, at least. The artist has previously engaged with similar themes by including historical discoveries of unknown identities/remains/bodies as subjects. This is an already-fraught debate: how can we name the unknown person or thing, when naming is ultimately an act of knowing? Rather than succumbing to a binary logic, ricocheting between the endlessly futile and conveniently solvable), Bereczky’s mode of forensic making exposes the ultimate contingency  of contemporary art itself (dependant on markets, identities, histories, relationships, values, narrative sensationalism, and so forth.) 
        All of us are capable of Googling, which of course results in more and more tantalising information and red herrings: did you know one or both hands of UMS72 were not recovered with his body?[7] The most common criticism of armchair detectives is that they receive information second-hand, and do not witness the source event or scene. Perhaps this distance after-the-fact enables access to rational objectivity over material or interpretive ignorance. Let’s hope so: I wrote this review after receiving some photos of Bereczky’s installation, and did not deign myself to put down my pipe nor rise from my armchair to visit the scene. True!



Footnotes:

1. For how to become a Forensic artist see -  https://www.crimesceneinvestigatoredu.org/forensic-artist/ 

2. Wilkinson C. A review of forensic art. Research and Reports in Forensic Medical Science. 2015;5:17-24 https://doi.org/10.2147/RRFMS.S60767

3. Rugoff, R. 1997. Scene of the Crime. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

4. https://www.doenetwork.org/cases/425umor.html

5. https://rebelcherokee.labdiva.com/bndn7213.html

6. As art historian Charles Merewether has noted elsewhere, see his chapter “A Lasting Impression” in Trace, 1999, ed. A Bond.

7. https://www.namus.gov/UnidentifiedPersons/Case#/12289/details



Artwork by Isabel Bereczky, photography by Sharon Baker.