13
Feb
13

Review: ‘Vestige II’ Melissa Powell and ‘Darkness by Day’ Shannon McGrath at Anita Traverso Gallery, Richmond, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 5th February – 23rd February 2013

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ves·tige  
/ˈvestij/

Noun
1. A trace of something that is disappearing or no longer exists.
2. The smallest amount (used to emphasize the absence of something): “without a vestige of sympathy”.
3. Biology an organ or part of an organism that is a small nonfunctioning remnant of a functional organ in an ancestor
a trace suggesting that something was once present or felt or otherwise important; “the footprints of an earlier civilization”

via French from Latin ves·tigium footprint, track

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Two solid exhibitions of photography are on display at Anita Traverso in Richmond, a gallery that is showing more photography these days, to excellent affect.

Natimuk based photographer Melissa Powell documents the seasonal changes of the Wimmera environment through the use of aerial photography. She brings her skills as a forensic photographer to bear when capturing our mark on the landscape. Her photographs (full frame and never cropped), are as sharp as a tack, like the crystallisation of a thought – the surgical gaze of the artist balanced by a lyrical, abstract poetry. Powell renders (and that is the appropriate word) natural phenomena in their direct relation to humanity, pointing her camera at patterns of cropping, the patchiness of the earth and its sandy, infertile soil. She sees the world clearly and tells the story in a plain, almost scientific way… but this utopian vision of the world is balanced by a feeling in the viewer, a feeling of drifting and floating above the earth, inhabiting a liminal space, as in a daydream.

Powell’s is an expression of the land, presented in a particular way as she remembers experiencing it. For example, look at Painterly Divide No.1, (2012, below) and notice the perfect confluence of yin and yang broken by the single mutation of the furrow midway up in the centre of the image (enlarge the image to see it better!). Disorder plays off order in the mind of the viewer in an absolutely sublime way. Sure, a few things need work in the exhibition, like the framing and naming of the works, but this all comes with time and experience. What Powell evidences in her photographs is a wonderfully strong aesthetic producing some of the best aerial photography I have ever seen. Her traces, footprints and tracks are vestigial structures that links us back to our ancestors, photographs as passionate representation of the land, done with strength and depth of soul.

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In the back gallery Shannon McGrath, an established architecture photographer, images stacks of wood that “are considered for both their aesthetic values and formal compositional qualities such as patterning and seriality.” The suite of five very large, unmounted black photographs printed on matt Silver Rag paper are stunning, much darker and of more luminance than seen in reproduction here (there are also two other photographs using an electric blue colour that simply did not work for me). Using a minimal composition of the thing itself (and what it can become), the photographer imbues a romantic, visual sensibility into her subject matter. The matt blacks are like velvet and the spaces that open up within the image magical. These things “breathe” like a black Rothko painting, or the plastic black of a Rembrandt.

McGrath’s photographs are “impressionistic inventories of landscapes and entropic architectural structures that connote psychologically, emotionally, and viscerally.” (Anon. “Cyprien Gaillard: The Crystal World,” at MOMA PS1). The object of her attention – the planks of wood – have a temporality that is characterised by repetition and predictability. The viewer tries to articulate difference through looking but that looking reduces differences to similarities unless we look very closely, are very attentive to the condition of looking. Enlarge any of the dark images below and really look at the cut ends of the wood, their inflection. What is hidden within (or beneath, for the photograph is also a physical object) the flat surface of the image are the nuances of language – the physicality of the print, the punctum of white, the band saw cuts that inhabit the end of days. There is a slippage between language and referent which makes McGrath’s photographs a beautiful deviation and productive possibility of language, one that encourages the vital movement of the subversive sign.

My only concern is “where to next?” What other surfaces which are hidden, which slowly reveal aspects and possibilities, subtleties and complexities will the photographer engage with? Excitingly, I want to see more from both photographers as they combine the ordinary and the poetic in a field of revolutionary possibilities.

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Many thankx to Anita Traverso Gallery 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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Melissa Powell. 'Painterly Divide No.1' 2012

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Melissa Powell
Painterly Divide No.1
2012
Pigment ink on cotton rag
50.5 x 70.6 cm
edn. 1/9

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Melissa Powell. 'Traces of Time' 2012

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Melissa Powell
Traces of Time
2012
Pigment ink on cotton rag
50.5 x 76 cm
edn. 1/9

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“Centered on documentation of the Wimmera region, Melissa Powell’s images are depicted from an aerial perspective that allows her to capture the theatre and sublimity of a landscape that is consistently eroded and replenished by both the cycles of nature, the progression of time and the argicultural impace of man.”

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Anna Briers, independent art curator and writer

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Melissa Powell. 'Camouflage No.2' 2012

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Melissa Powell
Camouflage No.2
2012
Pigment ink on cotton rag
50.5 x 70.6 cm
edn. 1/9

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Melissa Powell
Droughtbreaker
2011
Pigment ink on cotton rag
50.5 x 70.6 cm
edn. 8/12

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Melissa Powell
Salt Lake No.1
2011
Pigment ink on cotton rag
50.5 x 70.6 cm
edn. 8/9

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“A forensic photographer in her former life, Melissa Powell’s new direction as an aerial photographer was endorsed by her winning first prize for aerial photography at the 2012 International Photography Awards, New York, USA. Vestige II, Powell’s debut exhibition at Anita Traverso Gallery, surveys an amalgam of three photographic series drawn from the artist’s oeuvre – Grounded, Flooded and Dry.

Centered on documentation of the Wimmera region, Powell’s images are depicted from an aerial perspective that allows her to capture the theatre and sublimity of a landscape that is consistently eroded and replenished by the cycles of nature, the progression of time and the agricultural impact of man. Shaped by droughts and bushfires, vast desertous landscapes extend into the horizon. Serpentine rivers and floodplains alternately nourish and fertilise, lacerate and scar. Fecund pastures are contained and demarcated by the rigid geometries of manmade fences and irrigation systems. These vestiges award us a sense of the indelible link between the microcosm and the macrocosm, while enabling us to perceive the constantly shifting narratives of this great southern land.

By contrast Shannon McGrath, an established architecture photographer, aspires to capture the unique spatial dynamics of a building whilst transposing a distillation of the architect’s intention into a two dimensional image. In this photographic series McGrath examines the raw building material of wood in the same way she would approach the documentation of architecture. Photographed on site at the Britton Timber sawmill, the stacks of wood are considered for both their aesthetic values and formal compositional qualities such as patterning and seriality. Simultaneously though, they are envisaged as a core resource imbued with potentiality; their future incarnation, that of the architect’s vision, lying dormant and yet to manifest.”

Press release from the Anita Traverso Gallery website

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Shannon McGrath. 'Mark 01' 2012

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Shannon McGrath
Mark 01
2012
From the series Darkness by Day
Pigment print to cotton rag paper
100 x 128 cm

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Shannon McGrath. 'Mark 02' 2012

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Shannon McGrath
Mark 02
2012
From the series Darkness by Day
Pigment print to cotton rag paper
100 x 128 cm

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“These stacks of saw-mill timber were shot in broad daylight without any artificial lighting, in situ and without any intervention in their arrangement. I was drawn to the dark element in them that survives this ‘glare’ yet reveals it in other ways – how the light naturally hits the objects and remains in an interplay with the darkness and shadows of the grain, the individual and beautiful markings the blade has left on the natural material, and the extrusions and hollows of the layering of the wood. This gave the show its title. Even in the jewel-like, cobalt image, there is this dynamic. This is a theme that runs through my creative photography: surfaces which are hidden, which slowly reveal aspects and possibilities, subtleties and complexities. I considered wood as an essential building material so I approached the stacks of timber and photographed it with the same sensitivitiy as architecture.”

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Artist statement

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Shannon McGrath. 'Mark 07' 2012

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Shannon McGrath
Mark 07
2012
From the series Darkness by Day
Pigment print to cotton rag paper
100 x 128 cm

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Shannon McGrath. 'Mark 08' 2012

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Shannon McGrath
Mark 08
2012
From the series Darkness by Day
Pigment print to cotton rag paper
100 x 128 cm

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Anita Traverso Gallery
7, Albert Street
Richmond, Vic 3121

Opening hours:
Wed – Sat 11 – 5

Anita Traverso Gallery website

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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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