Review: ‘Disintegration’ by Robbie Rowlands at Place Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 22nd October – 15th November 2008



“The philosopher Martin Heidegger argued that objects are often invisible to us gathered up as they are within a context of functionality and use. It is only when things break down that we become aware of them, seeing them with fresh eyes. In many ways Heidegger’s observation could form the basis of an approach to Robbie Rowlands’ work. Rowlands takes objects that are often forgotten, invisible or transparent to us, objects that exist on the verge of disappearance, and stages a kind of ‘breakdown’, inviting us to rediscover the object, poised somewhere between what it was and what it might become.”

Simon Cooper. Catalogue essay



Robbie Rowlands. 'Scored' 2008


Robbie Rowlands (Australian, b. 1968)
Goal post, steel
160cm x 130cm x 50cm
Photograph: Christian Capurro



Sitting in pools of light in the elegant modern space of Place Gallery in Richmond, six theatrically lit sculptures are presented by artist Robbie Rowlands. Made of everyday objects (a boom gate, desk, chair, single bed, electricity pole, desk and footy goalpost) they have been de/constructed by the artist and reformed into curved objects. With ironic titles such as Down for the felled electricity pole and Collapse for the dismembered chair Rowland’s work hovers between one fixed state and an’other’ transformative state of being.

While the catalogue essay by Simon Cooper suggests that all of these objects are abandoned or nearly forgotten sharing a context of quasi-obsolescence, this is not the case. These were objects of purpose and form, the acts of ritualised production of a consumer society that contained signs that symbolised their status. In his creativity Rowland has used these technologies of production, which permit us to produce, transform or manipulate things to create new sensual forms of life. Some of the sculptures such as Boom (the boom gate; 2008, below) and Scored (the goal post; 2008, above) remind me of creatures emerging from the recesses of the unconscious, curling and rearing up like monsters from the deep. One of the most beautiful forms is the constructed white chair where the function of the object has collapsed into the essence of the form, like the surreal spatiality of a poetic Miro. As Gaston Bachelard reminds use in The Poetics of Space:

“The grace of a curve is an invitation to remain. We cannot break away from it without hoping to return. For the beloved curve has nest-like powers; it incites us to possession, it is a curved corner, inhabited geometry.”1

Cooper suggests that the curved forms that Rowland creates were “already there in the original object, even as it was sat on, written on, or passed by on the way to work.” He rightly notes that the process used contains a certain violence, but that we remember and reconstruct the old form even as we respond to the new construction. For these sculptures are a construction not, I believe, inherent in the original form. This can be seen in the sculpture Boom (2008, below) for example, where Rowland has used additional pieces of metal to hold the curve of the boom gate in place. Without this skilfully added, hidden sub-structure the transformative shape would collapse onto the floor. Rowland inhabits and possesses his new geometry with as much technology as the original but not in such an obvious form.

At their best these sculptures are both poetic palimpsest and heterotopic objects of otherness that are neither here nor there. The work would have been stronger if only four pieces were presented in the gallery space – the sculptures needed more room to breathe (understanding the dictum that less is more). The sculptures themselves also needed greater thematic cohesiveness perhaps using the colour white as the unifying theme. But they are sensual and beautiful gestures and deserve the attention of your visit.

Dr Marcus Bunyan


  1. Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon, 1969 [originally 1958] p. 146



Robbie Rowlands. 'Boom' 2008


Robbie Rowlands (Australian, b. 1968)
Rail boom gate, wooden
160cm x 160cm x 130cm
Photograph: Wren



Place Gallery
120 Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone: (03) 9527 6378

Opening hours:
Daily: 9.30am – 6.00pm
Sunday & Holidays: Closed

Robbie Rowlands website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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