06
Jul
10

Review: ‘Simryn Gill: Gathering’ at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 22 April – 18 July 2010

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Many thankx to Jade Enge and the Heide Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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“The work of Simryn Gill considers questions of place and history, and how they might intersect with personal and collection experience … Using objects, language and photographs, her work conveys a deep interest in material culture, and in the ways that meaning can transform and translate in different contexts. Through the reinterpretation or alteration of existing objects, the photographing of specific locations, and the forming of collections, Gill contemplates how ideas and meanings are communicated between people, objects and sites.”

Wall text from the exhibition

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Simryn Gill
‘Untitled’
1999
gouache on National Geographic magazine pages (1970s)
Courtesy of the artist, BREENSPACE, Sydney and Tracy Williams Ltd, New York

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Simryn Gill
‘Untitled’
1999
gouache on National Geographic magazine pages (1970s)
Courtesy of the artist, BREENSPACE, Sydney and Tracy Williams Ltd, New York

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Simryn Gill
‘Pearls’
1999
Private collection

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Simryn Gill
‘My own private Angkor’
2007
Courtesy of the artist, BREENSPACE, Sydney and Tracy Williams Ltd, New York

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This is a strong survey exhibition of the work of Simryn Gill at Heide Museum of Modern Art. Like most survey exhibitions it suffers from a slightly piecemeal approach, dipping in and out of various bodies of work to try to make up a holistic whole. Conceptually this is not a problem as the thematic development of Gill’s work, her narrative arc if you like, is evident throughout. Visually this causes some work to seem isolated and left me wanting more connection between pieces and rooms as you walk around.

Highlights for me included ‘May 2006’ (2006), ‘Pearls’ (1999 – ongoing), ‘Untitled (interiors)’ 2008 and ‘Throwback’ (2007).

In ‘May 2006’ (2006) 817 silver gelatin photographs are mounted in columns of images, each column making up one of 30 rolls of film, one shot every day of a month photographing the artist’s immediate neighbourhood in Marrickville, Sydney, in the month in which the film expiration date occurred. Each column has a different number of images and are mounted along the one of the largest walls in the Heide galleries, producing an effect almost like a DNA sequence. Abstract scenes of pathways, fences, cars in streets, broken gutters, planes flying houses, trees, people walking, abandoned telephone directories, Hills hoists, coffee shops, windows, rooftops and factories inhabit the frame of reference – the environment seeming to be abandoned both literally and metaphorically. Empty chairs move from picture to picture. No Parking here!

There are some great angles in these photographs a la Robert Frank ‘The Americans’ with excellent use of short depth of field shooting across tabletops for example. Above all there is a sense of abandonment, desolation and isolation in the intersection of spaces. Even in strong sunlight there is a strange, haunting melancholy present – an innate understanding of the subconsciously known archetype of space and place, that sense of belonging – and an absolute recognition in the viewer of that.

In ‘Pearls’ (1999 – ongoing, see photograph above) friends provide Gill with a book of personal value, which she then transforms into beads of paper and then strings them together as necklaces which she then returns to the owner as a gift. The colours, length and heaviness of the necklace depends on the book chosen – the reconstructed text lying like pearls of wisdom against the skin of the giver/receiver, the meaning of the book transformed through the process. What a beautiful gift to receive.

‘Untitled (interiors)’ (2008), my second favourite work of the day, features bronze sculptures cast from the empty spaces created by dry cracks in the ground found near Nyngan and Lake George, New South Wales. The sculptures present the cracks inverted so they become like miniature mountain ranges, the cracks in the earth filled and metamorphosing until they thrust into the air, the empty spaces of the earth uplifted, negative/positive spaces interchangeable. This is a simple but beautifully resolved work. Unfortunately I do not have any photographs to show you of these sculptures.

Other work includes ‘My own private Angkor’ (2007, see photograph above), photographs taken at a housing estate in Port Dickson that is becoming overgrown and returning to the surrounding landscape that Gill has made into her own Angkor Wat in reverse, featuring the detritus of a vanquished, constructed environment; four black and white photographs from ‘Forest’ (1996) featuring text on leaves; a glass case of curiosities like the Victorian cabinet of curiosities that includes a jar of plastic cowboys and indians, a bowl of Mindanao pearls, found and made spherical objects, cast tin and mango seeds (‘Some of my best friends suck mangoes’, 1998) and different noses of cast tin (‘Boquet’ 1994); ‘Untitled’ (1998 – ongoing), a glass case full of found and blunt objects arranged like a seismograph recording, small at the ends and big in the centre featuring scissors, clubs, spoons, knives, bottle top openers, tweezers, letter openers and salad servers!; and ‘Paper boats’ (2008, see photographs below), table and floor covered by paper boats made from the torn out pages of Encyclopedia Britannica 1968 with the invitation to “Please make boats” with no explanation as to how, exactly, to make them – human knowledge as text, detritus, object, place, manufacture and commission.

The absolute star of the exhibition is the installation ‘Throwback’ (2007, see photographs below). The installation features the interior parts of a Tata truck (the engine and axles) recast in termite mound soils, river clay, laterite, sea shells, fruit skins, coconut bark, resin, and fibre laid on a huge dissecting table (much like the body in Rembrandt’s painting ‘The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp’ (1632)) – the layout of the engine and axles evoking the spine and interior skeleton of the body. Unfortunately I do not have an overview photograph of the whole work but parts of the work can be seen in the photographs below. The Tata truck spent its working life plying the roads of the forests of Malaysia:

“With the rise of China and India, a voracious market for scrap metal has developed, hastening the disappearance of particular objects, Gill recovers the modern forms of the truck parts by casting them in natural materials found near her studio in Port Dickson.”

Wall text from the exhibition

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This is an outstanding work that left me stunned with it’s beauty and insightfulness. It literally took my breath away and for that reason alone a visit to this exhibition at Heide is well worth the journey.

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Simryn Gill
‘Throwback’ (detail)
2007
interior parts of Tata truck, termite mound soil, river clay, laterite, seashells, fruit skins, leaves, bark and fibre, flowers, glue, resin,
milk
Buxton Collection Melbourne
Courtesy of the artist

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Simryn Gill
‘Throwback’ (detail)
2007
interior parts of Tata truck, termite mound soil, river clay, laterite, seashells, fruit skins, leaves, bark and fibre, flowers, glue, resin,
milk
Buxton Collection Melbourne
Courtesy of the artist

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“This exhibition (22 April – 18 July) presents the work of leading Sydney-based Malaysian artist, Simryn Gill. Featuring objects, books, collections, photographs and text pieces from the last six years of Gill’s practice, it explores the artist’s pursuit of meaning through materials, forms and ways of working, such as collecting, reading, archiving, arranging, casting and photographing.

Described in 2009 in the New Yorker as ‘quietly dazzling’, Gill’s work is internationally recognised. She has been honoured with solo exhibitions at the Tate Modern, London and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, both in 2006. Born in Singapore in 1959, Gill lives and works in Sydney and Port Dickson, Malaysia, and has participated in significant exhibitions internationally, including documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany (2007), the Singapore Biennale (2006), the Biennale of Sydney (2002 and 2008), the São Paulo Biennial (2004) and the Venice Biennale (1999).

An MCA touring exhibition curated by Russell Storer, it has been expanded by Heide to include the Australian premiere of Gill’s major work Throwback, originally produced for the documenta 12 exhibition in Kassel, Germany, in 2007. Throwback reworks the inner machinery of a 1985 Tata truck that plied the roads of Malaysia. With the economic rise of China and India, a voracious market for scrap metal has developed, hastening the disappearance of particular objects. Gill recovers the modern forms of truck parts by casting them in natural materials – found near her studio in Malaysia – including river mud, coconut husks, reconstituted termite mounds and fruit skins.

Gill has also produced a new work, an artist’s book reflecting on the gardens at Heide.

Gill’s practice considers how we might experience place as an intersection of personal and collective histories and geographies. Through the reinterpretation or alteration of existing objects, the photographing of specific locations, and the forming of collections, Gill contemplates how ideas and meanings are communicated between people, objects, and sites.

Several works in the exhibition invite audience participation. Paper Boats invites visitors to add their own unique paper boat to the installation by tearing pages from a 1968 Encyclopaedia Britannica and using the sheet to make an origami boat. Another work, Garland (2006) encourages us to hold, touch and rearrange objects collected by Gill on the beaches of Port Dickson, Malaysia, and the islands off Singapore – fragments reshaped by sea and sand that take on almost organic form.

A selection of books, sketches, collections and experimental pieces from the early 1990s to the present, some produced for exhibitions and others never intended as artworks will also be presented as part of the exhibition. Together they offer an insight into Gill’s artistic processes and her interest in art-making as an active engagement with the world.”

Press release from the Heide Museum of Modern Art website

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Simryn Gill
‘Paper boats’
2008
Encyclopaedia Britannica (1968 edition)
Courtesy of the artist and BREENSPACE, Sydney

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Simryn Gill
‘Paper boats’ (detail)
2008
Encyclopaedia Britannica (1968 edition)
Courtesy of the artist and BREENSPACE, Sydney

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Addendum: A Pencil for Your Thoughts

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Heide pencil, the confounding pencil

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I love to visit Heide, the elegant buildings, the art, the cafe, a stroll in the gardens looking at the sculpture. What I don’t like is being accosted by gallery attendants on my last three visits, twice on the last visit alone to review the Simryn Gill exhibition – accost being not too harsh a word for some of the approaches. The request: to not write in the gallery with a pen but to use a pencil (rushed to the scene of the crime post haste!)

I don’t like writing with a pencil, they go blunt and I can’t read my notes. I like writing with a pen.
This is a ridiculous state of affairs, the only gallery in Melbourne that I know of that has such a ‘nanny state’ rule.

Do they think that I am going to:

a) spear the pen into the gallery wall
b) attack the attendant with the pen (after this last visit the thought did cross my mind!) or
c) scribble all over the art work like a child …

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The more we are treated like children the more child-like we become.

“Put the pen on the ground … Step away from the pen.”

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Heide Museum of Modern Art
7 Templestowe Road, Bulleen, Victoria 3105

Opening hours:
(Heide II & Heide III)
Tue–Fri 10.00am–5.00pm
Sat/Sun/Public Holidays 12.00noon–5.00pm
Closed Good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day

Heide Museum of Art website

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4 Responses to “Review: ‘Simryn Gill: Gathering’ at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne”


  1. 1 Am
    August 29, 2010 at 5:31 am

    She is amazing and talented when did she die or did she die


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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