Posts Tagged ‘Australian installation art

09
Feb
18

Review: ‘Rosemary Laing’ at TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville, Victoria

Exhibition dates: 2nd December 2017 – 11th February 2018

Curator: Victoria Lynn

 

Rosemary Laing. 'weather (Eden) #1' 2006

 

Rosemary Laing
weather (Eden) #1
2006
From the series weather
C Type photograph
110 x 221.5 cm
Private Collection
© Rosemary Laing, Courtesy Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

 

Disjunction and displacement in the Australian landscape

On a suitably apocalyptic day – in terms of our relationship to landscape, environment, elements and shelter – I drove up the Yarra Valley to the beautiful TarraWarra Museum of Art to see an exhibition of the works of Rosemary Laing. Through teeming rain, headlights gleaming, windshield wipers at full bore listening to Beethoven symphonies, I undertook an epic drive up to that most beautiful part of Victoria. The slightly surreal, disembodied experience of the drive continued once I stepped inside the gallery to view Laing’s work.

Laing’s work has always been a favourite, whether it be the floating brides, the carpet laid through the forest, or the melting newsprint after rain. I have always thought of her sensitive conceptual, performative work as evidenced through large, panoramic photographs as strong and focused, effective in challenging contemporary cultural cliché relating to the land, specifically the possession and inhabitation of it. As such, perhaps I was expecting too much of this exhibition but to put it bluntly, the presentation was a great disappointment.

There are various contributing factors that do not make this exhibition a good one.

Firstly, as the curator Victoria Lynn observes, “Laing’s photographs are conceived in series, so that each photograph is part of a larger cluster of images that are often arrange in specific sequences.” This exhibition, “includes 28 large-scale works selected from ten series over a thirty-year period” that focus on the themes of land and landscape in Laing’s oeuvre. The problem with this approach to Laing’s work is that the photographs from the different series sit uncomfortably together. The transitions between the photographs and different bodies of work as evidenced in this exhibition, simply do not work. Minor White’s ice/fire – that frisson of intensity between two disparate images that makes both images relevant to each other – is non-existent here. What might have more successful in displaying Laing’s work would have been a larger selection from a more limited number of series. It would have given the viewer a more holistic sense of belonging and investment in the work. This is the problem working in series and specific sequences… once the work leaves that cluster of energy, that magical place of nurture, nature and conceptualisation, how does it reintegrate itself into other states of being and display?

Secondly, the light levels in the gallery were so low the photographs seemed drained of all their energy. I understand that the “lux levels are quite particular according to museum requirements considering many works are lent from various institutions around Australia,” having done a conservation subject during my Master of Art Curatorship, but this is where the surreal experience from the drive continued: upon entering the gallery it was like navigating a stygian gloom, as can be seen in the installation photographs of the exhibition below. This is a museum of art situated in the most beautiful landscape and these are photographs, captured with light! that need light to bring them alive. I remember seeing Laing’s work leak at Tolarno galleries in Melbourne, and being amazed by their presence, their energy. Not here. Here the blues of the sky and the reds of the carpet seemed drained of energy, the vibrations of being of the forest and land victim to overzealous preservation.

Thirdly, and this relates to the first point, there was one work How we lost poor Flossie (fires) (1988, below) from Laing’s early series Natural Disasters. The work appeared out of nowhere at the end of the exhibition, had nothing that it related to around it, and had no explanation as to why it was there. I really would have liked to have known more about how Laing got from this work to the later series in the exhibition. What was her process of discovery, of change and experimentation. How did Laing go from Flossie – slicing together the spectacle and graphic imagery from media coverage of the Ash Wednesday fires – to the embeddedness [definition: the dependence of a phenomenon on its environment, which may be defined alternatively in institutional, social, cognitive, or cultural terms] of performances within the landscape of the later work? This would have been a more cogent, pungent and relevant investigation into the rigours of Laing’s art practice.

I emerged into the world and it was still pouring with rain. I rejoiced. It was as though I was alive again. Laing’s work is always strong and interesting. It was just such a pity that this iteration of it, specifically its closeted choreography, was not as restless as the landscape the works imagine.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the TarraWarra Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photograph for a larger version of the image. All installation images © Dr Marcus Bunyan and TarraWarra Museum of Art.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Rosemary Laing at the TarraWarra Museum of Art featuring the works welcome to Australia (2004, C Type photograph, Collection of the University of Queensland) from the series to walk on a sea of salt

 

 

“… the detention centre images, so that you’ve got the Heysen, you know, trees that you want to belong to, and then you’ve got this endless vista – though it be a difficult journey across a horizon that never ends – and then you have the raised wire fence, completely closing off access to that land, and that place, and those images of belonging and heritage.”

Art Talk with Rosemary Laing

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Rosemary Laing at the TarraWarra Museum of Art featuring the works after Heysen (2004) at left, and to walk on a sea of salt (2004) at right, from the series to walk on a sea of salt

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view Rosemary Laing’s after Heysen (2004, C Type photograph, Collection of Carey Lyon and Jo Crosby) from the series to walk on a sea of salt

 

 

The question of how to belong in Australia permeates Laing’s work. Australia has one of the highest immigrant populations in the world so that the question of arrival, and of making oneself at home, continues to be part of the everyday reality. We also have one of the world’s harshest policies for asylum seekers so that – in the political imaginary of contemporary Australia – land is conceived as a border that has to be protected.

The artist’s most potent response to the contested issue of being at home in Australia is the 2004 series to walk on a sea of salt, where images of Woomera detention ventre, combined with photographs inspired by quintessential Australian imagery and stories, remind us that home does not travel with the asylum seeker. In after Heysen, Laing photographs the trees that Hans Heysen transformed into an Arcadian image of the Australian bush, but bleaches the image to invoke a sense of nationalistic nostalgia. By contrast, the spatial potential and magnitude of the Australian landscape is invoked by the image to walk on a sea of salt. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Rosemary Laing at the TarraWarra Museum of Art featuring works from the series The Paper (2013)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work The Paper, Tuesday (2013, C Type photograph, Monash University Collection) from the series The Paper (2013)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work The Paper, Thursday (2013, C Type photograph, Monash University Collection) from the series The Paper (2013)

 

 

Laing choreographs situations in the landscape, invoking a unique set of circumstances that reflect upon historic, social, environmental, economic and material conditions. Incongruous items are carefully positioned to flow with the compositional logic of a place.

On a hillside in Bundanon, New South Wales is a Casuarina forest sprinkled with Burrawang (cycads), an ancient plant that dates back to the Palaeozoic. The series The Paper was created on this hillside. The forest floor is covered in newspaper and photographed after the rains. The paper has literally been pressed into the forest floor by the torrent. It has been weathered. The sensationalism, headlines, imagery and opinion of the newspaper merge into a feathery ground cover of soft white, cream and beige hues. It is as if the area has flooded, not with water, but with paper. Words, colour and dates are dissolved into a tonal carpet. There is no light and shadow. This misalignment suggests the death of the daily paper, and here it inevitably returns to its natural habitat, its original ‘home’. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation views of the exhibition Rosemary Laing at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work weather (Eden) #1 (2006, C Type photograph, Collection of Peter and Anna Thomas) from the series weather

 

 

The idea of a natural disaster in the Australian landscape occupies the same intensity for Laing as the human or ‘unnatural’ disasters. The each speak of the endless transformation of the landscape, its unfolding stories and its capacity to conjure anxiety and fear.

the series weather, located on the south coast of New South Wales, was inspired by the impact of natural phenomena – coastal storms – on the area. The flash of red fish netting snagged unawares by the battered grey melaleucas in weather (Eden) #1 also signals the historic Indigenous and colonial whaling in the area and the more recent slow demise of the fishing industry. These images seem haunted. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s works The Flowering of the Strange Orchid (2017) left, from the series Buddens, and at right weather (Eden) #2 from the series weather

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Detail of Rosemary Laing’s work The Flowering of the Strange Orchid (2017)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work still life with teapot and daisies (2017, archival pigment print, Courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne) from the series Buddens

 

 

In the most recent series Buddens, Laing turns again to the ‘unnatural disasters’ that impact ‘country’. The stream is covered in rolls of discarded clothing. It leads down to Wreck Bay, on the south coast of New South Wales, and is the site of multiple ship disasters. Historically these waters were used to transport convicts, goods, troops and settlers up and down the coast and they are littered with relics from shipwrecks including those of the vessels ‘Rose of Australia’ and ‘Walter Hood’.

The roof truss is like a piece of wreckage in amongst the trees, as if torn by the winds from an urban development on the outskirts of a city. Recalling the upside down house in the series leak (2010), it meets a natural A-frame in the foliage, yet the two don’t make a safe house.

The clothes seem to push through the landscape, like the rush of a river, perhaps in search of a safe haven. There is a mixture of metaphors in Buddens, highlighting the delicate balance between nature and culture required for survival.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work brumby mound #5 (2003, C Type photograph, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne) from the series one dozen unnatural disasters in the Australian landscape

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work brumby mound #6 (2003, C Type photograph, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne) from the series one dozen unnatural disasters in the Australian landscape

 

 

Landscape has a past, present an future; it is never the same as it used to be. In the face of wars, wrecks, and both natural and ‘unnatural’ destruction, we build shelters. We fence and furnish these landscape as we try to impose order on the precariousness and relative insignificance of life.  As can be seen in a number of Laing’s series, the introduction of elements from our ‘settled’ environment including carpet, clothing , architectural structures, newspapers and the like – creates a disjunction. Some thing is literally awry.

In the one dozen unnatural disasters in the Australian landscape series, red interior furniture occupies and unsuccessfully domesticates this landscape. Painted in red earth and glue, these items almost disappear in the desert landscape. they are both like relics of a lost civilisation, but also seem to have become attuned to the terrain.

In the series leak, Laing continues her poetic and political engagement with the Australian landscape whereby powerful and dynamic tensions are elicited through the construction and insertion of foreign objects in the natural environment. Although the land depicted has already been altered through years of cleating and grazing practices, these works metaphorically signal that the continued ‘leak’ of residential development into both remnant bushland and farmland owned by generations of families is an unwelcome accident or breach that threatens to overturn the ecological balance between nature and culture. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work Aristide (2010, C Type photograph, Collection of the University of Queensland) from the series leak

 

 

“Landscape changes; its restless. It moves with the wind and rhymes with the seasons. It burns and floods. It is spatial, offering the visitor several perspectives that can be contradictory, paradoxical and durational. Landscape is also a ‘situation’, a complex interplay of historical and environmental conditions. Landscape has a past, present and future; it is never the same as it used to be. When we gaze out over a bay, or ponder and Indigenous site, we can’t help but wonder what it used to look like, how it used to be occupied, what tragedies and serendipities happened there. Landscape can be both a place of belonging and a destination, and depending on one’s perspective, it can embody the familiarity of home and the promise of adventure; the discomfort of displacement or the tragedy of invasion. Landscape is formed as much by natural forces as it is by human knowledge. …

Rosemary Laing introduces us to these histories by creating projects in the Australian landscape. These projects are sustained by her continuing search for understanding the multiple attitudes to belonging in the landscape. Miwon Kwon has argued that today ‘feeling out of place is the cultural symptom of late capitalism’s political and social reality’, so much so, that to be ‘situated’ is to be ‘displaced’. In Australia, the notion of displacement has a history that goes back to colonisation. Questions of who owns the land, how we inhabit it, and who feels displaced, are an intrinsic part of the Australian consciousness. Laing’s work also asks how we encounter the landscape; who or what is out of  place; who or what does not belong; are ‘we’ the alien? …

Laing choreographs situations in the landscape, invoking a unique set of circumstances that reflect upon historic, social, environmental and material conditions…

Doherty argues that rather than being site specific, art has shifted from a fixed location, to one that, in the words of Kwon, is ‘constituted through social, economic, cultural and economic processes’. Such artworks are not located in a single place, but rather take the form of interactive activities, collective actions, and spatial experiences. They are constitutive rather than absolute; propositional rather than conclusive. Rosemary Laing’s mise-en-scènes are not public, events or performances, but they forge a compositional dialogue with the natural environment that provokes a social, economic and environmental conscience.

Laing’s photographs are conceived in series, so that each photograph is part of a larger cluster of images that are often arrange in specific sequences. Moreover, the spatial tableaux and the photographic outcome have an intrinsic connection. The installations cannot be seen without the photographic apparatus and yet each mise-en-scène is presented from a variety of perspectives and angles, so that we cannot necessarily rely on the photographic outcome to be ‘truthful’. The photograph is not simply documentation. It is an activator. In many respects Laing places us in the landscape, so that we fell part of the image. She does this through both the size and relative height of the image, along with the point of view and our relation with the horizon line. Laing tests the limits of the photograph, and also provokes the viewer to rearticulate their connection to landscape, and re-energise it. She comes to be the interlocutor between the histories and meanings embedded in landscape, the installation, the photograph and the viewer.”

Victoria Lynn. “Rosemary Laing – Co-belonging with the Landscape,” in Rosemary Laing exhibition catalogue, TarraWarra Art Museum, 2017, pp. 7-9.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work effort and rush #9 (swanfires) (2013-15, C Type photograph, Collection of Alex Cleary) from the series effort and rush

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Detail of Rosemary Laing’s work effort and rush #9 (swanfires) (2013-15)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work burning Ayer #12 (2003, C Type photograph, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney) from the series one dozen unnatural disasters in the Australian landscape

 

 

The fire in burning Ayer #12 gives us some clues to the relationship between fire and the artist’s quest to reimagine belonging in the Australian landscape. The earth-encrusted items of mass-produced domestic wooden furniture – a reference, once more, to the idea of ‘housing’, home and belonging. Their ashes fold back into the earth. The strength of the red desert plain holds its ground, as it were, as the stage for this enactment of both sacrifice and return. Fire comes to be a metaphor for the ways in which the Indigenous landscape refuses our presence and escapes from our control.

In effort and rush #9 (swanfires), the blur of movement across tall thin tree trunks, captured in a smoky black hue, considers both the rush of the fire, and the rush of escape. It is as if the camera has become a paintbrush. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work swanfires, Chris’s shed (2002-04, C Type photograph, Monash Gallery of Art) from the series swanfires

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Detail of Rosemary Laing’s work swanfires, Chris’s shed (2002-04)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work How we lost poor Flossie (fires) (1988, Gelatin silver photograph, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide) from the series Natural Disasters

 

 

When Laing first tackled disasters in her 1988 Natural Disasters series, it was from the point of view of the media phenomenon. Slicing together imagery from media coverage of the Ash Wednesday fires, the series, including works such as How we lost poor Flossie (fires) was more to do with the slipstream of spectacle in the wake of the bicentennial of Australia. At the time, competing propositions about our cultural identity jostled for attention: 200 years of settlement, Aboriginal calls for recognition, the tourist panorama, and the sensationalism of fire in the landscape.

After every significant fire near her house in Swanhaven, on the south cost of New South Wales, Laing takes photographs in the aftermath of the blaze, like a marker of the irreconcilable yet continuing presence of natural and unnatural disasters.

In the series swanfires there is an overwhelming sense of loss. These two images speak of the abject disaster of fire, before the clean up.  They depict situations that exceed our comprehension. In swanfires, John and Kathy’s auto services, the intersecting forms of corrugated iron – the quintessential material of rural Australia – are unexpectedly bathed in the softest of pink, their forms reflecting the tree line behind. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work swanfires, John and Kathy’s auto services (2002-04, C Type photograph,Courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne) from the series swanfires

 

 

TarraWarra Museum of Art will stage an exhibition of the works of Rosemary Laing, one of Australia’s most significant and internationally-renowned photo-based artists, 2 December 2017 – 11 February 2018.

Focusing on the theme of land and landscape in Laing’s oeuvre, the Rosemary Laing exhibition includes 28 large scale works selected from 10 series over a thirty-year period. The exhibition, which is the first large-scale showing of Laing’s work in Victoria, will be accompanied by an exhibition of works by Fred Williams focusing on a single year of the artist’s oeuvre, Fred Williams – 1974. Curated by Anthony Fitzpatrick, the Williams exhibition reveals the ways in which colour and human intervention in the landscape became a focus for the artist.

Born in Brisbane and based in Sydney, Laing has worked with the photographic medium since the mid-1980s. Her projects have engaged with culturally and historically resonant sites in the Australian landscape, as well as choreographed performances. TarraWarra director, Victoria Lynn, curator of the exhibition, says Laing’s work is highly representative of the Museum’s central interest in the exchange between art, place and ideas.

“This exhibition reveals Laing’s compositional and technical ingenuity. It shows that Laing can create images of dazzling luminosity as well as solemnly subdued light. Flickers of bright red catch our eye, while passages of verdant greens create an all-over intensity. Her images take us to open and infinite plains as well as the depths of entangled forest trails.

“The artist builds structures and installations in coastal, farming, forest and desert landscapes from which she then creates photographic images. Whether it is papering the floor of a forest in the 2013 series The Paper, or creating a river of clothes displacing the water of a flowing creek in the new series Buddens 2017, Laing’s images reflect upon the historical and contemporary stories of human engagement with our continent. More specifically, the artist draws on colonisation and the impact of waves of asylum seekers, suggesting that the landscape is forever transformed both physically and metaphorically. The exhibition also includes works depicting the aftermath of fire, and the ways it too transforms what we thought we knew of the landscape,” Ms Lynn said.

Rosemary Laing comments: “The arrival of people, throughout history, shifts what happens in land, challenging those who have left their elsewhere, and disrupting the continuum of their destination-place. A disruption causes a reconfiguration. It elaborates both the beforehand and the afterward. The works are somewhere between – a narrative for the movement of people, the condition of landforms with a changing peopled condition, expectations of home and haven, flow and flooding, and the effect and affect of these passages.” The exhibition is supported by major exhibition partner the Balnaves Foundation, and will be accompanied by a catalogue authored by Judy Annear, funded by the Gordon Darling Foundation.

Annear, writes: “How to make sense of what humanity does in and to their environment regardless of whether that environment appears to be natural or made? What is the spectrum, the temperature of that activity? Laing is an artist who grapples with these questions and how to reflect and interpret the times in which she lives.”

Neil Balnaves AO, Founder The Balnaves Foundation said, “The exhibitions Rosemary Laing and Fred Williams – 1974 will be the third year that The Balnaves Foundation have supported the TarraWarra Museum of Art to deliver exhibitions of note by Australian artists. The Foundation is proud to partner in these major endeavours, providing vital opportunities for important Australian artists to be showcased, whilst providing art lovers – including inner-regional audiences – access to outstanding arts experiences.”

Laing has exhibited in Australia and abroad since the late 1980s. She has participated in various international biennials, including the Biennale of Sydney (2008), Venice Biennale (2007), Busan Biennale (2004), and Istanbul Biennial (1995). Her work is present in museums Australia-wide and international museums including: the Museo Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, USA; 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan; Kunstmuseum Luzern, Lucerne, Switzerland; Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, USA.

Laing has presented solo exhibitions at several museums, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; Kunsthallen Brandts Klædefabrik, Odense; Domus Artium 2002, Salamanca; Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville; and National Museum of Art, Osaka. A monograph, written by Abigail Solomon-Godeau has been published by Prestel, New York (2012).

Press release from the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Rosemary Laing. 'brumby mound #6' 2003

 

Rosemary Laing
brumby mound #6
2003
From the series one dozen unnatural disasters in the Australian landscape
C Type photograph
109.9 x 225 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds from the Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2004
© Rosemary Laing, Courtesy Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Rosemary Laing. 'swanfires, John and Kathy's auto services' 2002-04

 

Rosemary Laing
swanfires, John and Kathy’s auto services
2002-04
From the series swanfires
C Type photograph
85 x 151 cm
Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne
© Rosemary Laing, Courtesy Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Rosemary Laing. 'The Paper, Tuesday' 2013

 

Rosemary Laing
The Paper, Tuesday
2013
From the series The Paper
C Type photograph
90 x 189 cm
Monash University Collection
Purchased by the Faculty of Science, 2015
Courtesy of Monash University Museum of Art
© Rosemary Laing, Courtesy Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Rosemary Laing. 'Aristide' 2010

 

Rosemary Laing
Aristide
2010
From the series leak
C Type photograph
110 x 223 cm
The University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane
Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2011
© Rosemary Laing, Courtesy Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Rosemary Laing. 'Walter Hood' 2017

 

Rosemary Laing
Walter Hood
2017
From the series Buddens
Archival pigment print
100 x 200.6 cm
Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne
© Rosemary Laing, Courtesy Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Rosemary Laing. 'The Flowering of the Strange Orchid' 2017

 

Rosemary Laing
The Flowering of the Strange Orchid
2017
From the series Buddens
Archival pigment print
100 x 200 cm
Ten Cubed Collection, Melbourne
© Rosemary Laing, Courtesy Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Rosemary Laing. 'Drapery and wattle' 2017

 

Rosemary Laing
Drapery and wattle
2017
From the series Buddens
Archival pigment print
100 x 152.6 cm
Collection of Sally Dan-Cuthbert Art Consultant
© Rosemary Laing, Courtesy Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

 

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07
Jun
15

Exhibition: ‘Nature/Revelation’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 31st March 2015 – 5th July 2015

Curator: Joanna Bosse

 

 

Ansel Adams. 'Clearing winter storm, Yosemite National Park, California' 1935 

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Clearing winter storm, Yosemite National Park, California 
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
56 x 71cm framed
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Purchased 1980
© 2015 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

 

This is a fascinating exhibition at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, one of the best exhibitions I have seen this year in Melbourne. Unlike the disappointing exhibition Earth Matters: contemporary photographers in the landscape at the Monash Gallery of Art this exhibition, which addresses roughly the same subject matter (climate change and its devastating impact on the earth’s many ecosystems; contemporary notions of nature and the sublime) is nuanced and fresh, celebrating “the unique capacity art has to cut through prevailing rhetoric to stimulate individuals both intellectually and emotionally in the face of current environmental issues.”

Every piece of art in this exhibition is emotionally, intellectually and aesthetically challenging. There is no “dead wood” here. As the press release states, “Nature/Revelation features international and Australian artists who are engaged with poetic and philosophical concerns, and whose work offers potentially enlightening experiences that energise our relationship to the natural world.” And it is true!

I spent over two hours on a couple of visits to this exhibition and came away feeling en/lightened in mind and body. From the formal beauty of Ansel Adams classical black and white photographs to the mesmerising, eternal video Boulder Hand (2012) by Gabriel Orozco; from the delightful misdirection of Mel O’Callaghan’s Moons to the liminal habitats of Jamie North; and from the constructed clouds of Berndnaut Smilde to the best piece in the exhibition, Jonathan Delafield Cook’s Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) (2013, below) – every piece deserved its place in this exhibition. I would go as far as to say that Delafield Cook’s Sperm whale is the best piece of art that I have seen since Mark Hilton’s dontworry (2013) which featured in the Melbourne Now exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. The sheer scale and beauty of the work (with its graphite on canvas attention to detail) and that doleful eye staring out at the viewer, is both empowering and unnerving. It deserves to be in an important collection.

While nature and the world we live in offers moments of revelation, so did the art in this exhibition. The art possesses moment of wonder for the viewer. Kudos to curator Joanna Bosse and The Ian Potter Museum of Art for putting on a top notch show.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the The Ian Potter Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Nature/Revelation at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing work by Ansel Adams

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Nature/Revelation at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing work by Ansel Adams (right) and detail of Jonathan Delafield Cook’s Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) (left)

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Nature/Revelation at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing work Jonathan Delafield Cook’s Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), 2013

 

Jonathan Delafield Cook. 'Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)' (detail) 2013

 

Jonathan Delafield Cook (British, b. 1965)
Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) (detail)
2013
Graphite on canvas
6 panels: 245 x 1200 cm overall
Courtesy the artist and Olsen/Irwin Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Jonathan Delafield Cook’s life size drawing of a Sperm Whale specimen possesses a haunting melancholy… [He] creates an encounter that recalls those between Ahab and Moby Dick immortalised in Hermann Melville’s famous novel. Being face-to-face, eye-to-eye with this majestic sentient being – distinguished for having the largest brain of any creature known to have lived on the Earth – is an awe-inspiring experience. The overwhelming enormity of scale and the panorama-like expanse of the whale’s skin rouse an acute awareness of our own small presence in the room (in the world).

Delafield Cook’s work belongs to the naturalist tradition, and his detailed charcoal drawing intensifies the physical qualities of the subject in a way that renders it both a forensic study and an otherworldly fantasy. The personal history of this sleek leviathan is writ large, like graffiti, on its skin: the abrasions, the exfoliations, scars and its ragged tail tell of unknown adventures in an environment that lies beyond our own experience, but one not exempt from degradation or environmental change.

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Nature/Revelation at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing work by Ansel Adams (right)

 

 

Gabriel Orozco (Mexican, b. 1962)
Boulder Hand
2012
Video 54 seconds
Courtesy of the artist

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Nature/Revelation at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing Mel O’Callaghan’s Moons (left) and the video Boulder Hand (2012) by Gabriel Orozco (right)

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Nature/Revelation at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing Mel O’Callaghan’s Moons

 

Mel O'Callaghan. 'Moons (II)' 2014

 

Mel O’Callaghan (Australian, b. 1975)
Moons (II)
2014
pigmented inkjet print
100 x 100 cm
Courtesy the artist and Galerie Allen, Paris, and Galeria Belo Galsterer, Lisbon

 

 

Climate change and its devastating impact on the earth’s many ecosystems is arguably today’s most critical global issue. Nature/Revelation celebrates the unique capacity art has to cut through prevailing rhetoric to stimulate individuals both intellectually and emotionally in the face of current environmental issues. Focusing on contemporary notions of nature and the sublime, the exhibition affirms that the world we live in offers moments of revelation, and that nature can provoke a range of associations – both fantastical and grounded – that profoundly affect us.

Nature/Revelation features international and Australian artists who are engaged with poetic and philosophical concerns, and whose work offers potentially enlightening experiences that energise our relationship to the natural world. Artists include Ansel Adams, Jonathan Delafield Cook, David Haines, Andrew Hazewinkel and Susan Jacobs, Jamie North, Mel O’Callaghan, Gabriel Orozco and Berndnaut Smilde. The exhibition also raises questions about concepts of nature and culture following the arguments of philosopher Timothy Morton.

This exhibition forms a key component of the ‘Art+climate=change’ festival presented by Climarte: arts for a safer climate. This festival of climate change related arts and ideas includes curated exhibitions at a number of museums and galleries alongside a series of keynote lectures and forums featuring local and international speakers.

The University of Melbourne, with the Potter as project leader, is the Principal Knowledge Partner of the Climarte program.

Text from The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Nature/Revelation at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing David Haines’ Day & Night (right) and Jamie North’s Portal II and Slag bowl I & II (left)

 

 

David Haines (Australian born England, 1966)
Day & Night
2005-2015
Two channel video projection
Courtesy of the artist and Sarah Cotter Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Throughout his practice – which comprises investigations into the elemental in carious media – David Haines explores sensation in both seen and unseen forms. He has a particular interest in latent energies, such as aromas, sound waves and electromagnetic currents.

Haines revisits the classic language of the sublime in his 2004 two-channel video installation Day & night. He presents dual images of the sublime: one an immense cliff face with a sea surging against its rocky base; the other a brooding cloudscape, its form gradually unfolding with a mesmeric momentum. The work is simultaneously serene and disturbing, and awakens that range of complex emotions that Kant named the ‘supersensible’ – beyond the range of what is normally perceptible by the senses. The over-riding emotional rush – the presentiment of danger – associated with this experience is a trademark of the sublime.

The abstract sense of danger shifts however when we notice the tiny figure clinging to the cliff face. The scene is abruptly divested of its fantastical quality (its symbolic power is suddenly made real), as we can’t help but identify with the solitary figure. No longer merely observers, we become participants in the scene before us. The perilous figure in Haines’ work provides a touchstone in terms of the overwhelming grandeur of nature. In the context of the exhibition, s/he could represent each of us as we confront the seemingly insurmountable environmental and humanitarian challenges resulting from the increasingly catastrophic effects of global warming.

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Jamie North (Australian, b. 1971)
Portal II
2014
Cement, marble waste, limestone, steel slag, coal ash, plastic fibre, tree fern slab, various Australian native plants and Spanish moss
2 components: 107.0 x 26.0 x 26.0cm each
Courtesy the artist and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney

.
Jamie North (Australian, b. 1971)
Slag bowl I & II
2013
Concrete, coal ash, steel slag, Australian native plants and moss
15 x 37 x 37cm each
Courtesy the artist and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Viewers often mistake Jamie North’s sculptures for actual relics. The sculptures are in fact carefully crafted to emulate liminal habitats where hardy plant species grow in inhospitable conditions. More than mere simulation, each work is itself a miniature ecosystem and has to be tended accordingly.

The sculptures are cast from materials that are commonly found in industrial settings (steel slag, coal ash, marble dust, and concrete) and include local native flora. The specifics of locality are important to North, and his work is a subtle investigation of local environmental systems and the character of place as well as the adaptability of nature in urban settings…

North has an interest in terraforming – the theoretical process of deliberately modifying the atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology of a planet to be similar to the biosphere of Earth. Here, he creates his own terraforms as a reflection on the environmental manipulations that taking place in the everyday.

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Nature/Revelation at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing Berndnaut Smilde’s Nimbus – Probe  and Nimbus D’Aspremont (left) and Jamie North’s Portal II and Slag bowl I & II (right)

 

Berndnaut Smilde. 'Nimbus D'Aspremont' 2012

 

Berndnaut Smilde (Dutch, b. 1978)
Nimbus D’Aspremont
2012
Digital C-type print mounted on diabond
75 x 110cm
Courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery, London

 

Berndnaut Smilde. 'Nimbus - Probe' 2010

 

Berndnaut Smilde (Dutch, b. 1978)
Nimbus – Probe
2010
Digital C-type print mounted on diabond
75 x 112cm
Courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery, London

 

 

The Ian Potter Museum of Art
The University of Melbourne,
Swanston Street (between Elgin and Faraday Streets)
Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria
Phone: +61 3 8344 5148

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10am – 5pm
Saturday and Sunday 12 – 5pm

The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

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13
May
14

Review: ‘Standing Stone’ by Catherine Evans at BLINDSIDE, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 30th April – 17th May 2014

 

Catherine Evans. 'Standing Stone' 2014

 

Catherine Evans
Standing Stone
2014
Aluminium, steel, volcanic rocks, sticky tape
7 x 3m
© Catherine Evans
Photo: Matthew Stanton, 2014

 

 

I like this exhibition, I like it a lot.

The premise, spelt out in the intelligent and articulate catalogue essay by Laura Skerlj (below), is the holistic connection between an Aboriginal stone circle of the Western Victorian Volcanic Plains used for astronomy > the moles on the artists back as lexias or nodal points of energy > and the energy of celestial bodies in the cosmic sky, arranged by humans into pictures.

Evans precariously suspends pieces of rock (taken from near the site of the Aboriginal stone circle) in the air on the end of long poles in the position of the moles on her back – and then maps out the energy lines between them, connecting them with translucent Sellotape on the gallery wall. These lines become a trans/figured form of ley line, those lines of energy that exist within the earth that link spiritual places together. The lines could also be linked to reflexology, chakras, the positioning of stones on the body in reiki healing and Kundalini: a form of feminine shakti or “corporeal energy”, an unconscious, instinctive or libidinal force. As the press release notes, “Standing Stone encompasses both the geographic and the corporeal time scales in order to examine the latent histories of these materials – that traverse the mineral to organic, the human and geologic, the infinite to the micro. At once personal and universal, Standing Stone opens up compelling new dialogues about the body and materiality.” The work traverses both time and space, macro and micro. It undermines dichotomies and makes liminal connections which allows the viewer to embrace a quality of ambiguity or disorientation. Ultimately this lets them see the world and the cosmos from different, multiple perspectives via new associations and energies.

There are a couple of missed steps. The colour pink (associated with the flesh of the body) on the poles did not really work for me. It was too didactic. Better some translucent perspex rods that would have continued the theme of the Sellotape and would have made the rocks seem to float in the air more, made the balancing more ambiguous. Both the press release (“the raw materials of photography, such as unprocessed photographic paper exposed to ambient light”) and the catalogue essay (“Flesh-pink geometric shapes, made from unprocessed (and still-processing) photographic paper, provide platforms for rock-relics: two materials accumulating time at vastly different rates”) make reference to elements that were not in the exhibition. Flesh pink geometric shapes were to be placed under rocks on the ground and this would have made the flesh pink rods seem more logical and tied the exhibition together… but they were not necessary. While the installation of such a work is always going to be a fluid process, and the pared down version is ultimately a lot better, it is unfortunate that the catalogue had been printed and the press release not amended to reflect the changes. Such is energy and life.

The other element that envisioned a jarring note was the image of the bruise on the thigh of the artist (which I initially thought was an elbow). A beautifully ambiguous image in its own right I can see why Catherine included it in the exhibition (as it links specifically to the energy of the moles on her back), but it brought to my mind issues of domestic violence, control and power, and I don’t know whether these additional thoughts needed to be placed in the mind of the viewer. I loved the image, I liked some of its energies but others, not so much.

Having said all  that, this is a fascinating, intelligent, thoughtful and beautiful installation. Like the artist herself, it has great energy and presence. I really enjoyed spending time with both.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Catherine Evans for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting and to Laura Skerlj for allowing me to publish the catalogue essay. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All artworks courtesy of the artist, installation documentation by Matthew Stanton, 2014

 

 

Catherine Evans. 'Constellation II' 2014

 

Catherine Evans
Constellation II
2014
Ballpoint pen on photographic paper
21 x 30cm
© Catherine Evans

 

 

Standing Stone is an exhibition of photographs and sculpture that transposes the marks on our own bodies into a large-scale map using basalt boulders, sticky tape and the raw materials of photography, such as unprocessed photographic paper exposed to ambient light.

In this exhibition the artist will create a large-scale constellation where precariously suspended volcanic rocks collected from the Western Victorian Volcanic Plains mark the positions of moles on the artist’s own back. With reference to the Indigenous stone arrangement, Wurdi Youang,* that is situated on these plains, Standing Stone encompasses both the geographic and the corporeal time scales in order to examine the latent histories of these materials – that traverse the mineral to organic, the human and geologic, the infinite to the micro. At once personal and universal, Standing Stone opens up compelling new dialogues about the body and materiality.

This exhibition is the outcome of a mentorship with artist Susan Jacobs, supported by the Victorian College of the Arts and Arts Victoria through its Graduate Mentorship program. Accompanying the exhibition will be an essay by Laura Skerlj.

 

About the artist

Catherine Evans is a Melbourne-based artist who incorporates photography, video and sculpture to explore the latent history of materials. Often working with volcanic rocks and the raw materials of photography, she juxtaposes and isolates them against images of the body, testing the limits of scale and gravity.

Since completing first class Honours at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2011, Catherine has participated in many group and solo exhibitions. She is a current recipient of the inaugural VCA Graduate Mentorship (2013-14) and was selected as a finalist in the Substation Contemporary Art Prize (2013 and 2011). Grants include an Australia Council ArtStart grant (2012) and a National Gallery of Victoria Trustee Award (2010).

Press release from the Blindside

 

This exhibition and research took place on the lands of both the Wurundjeri and Wathaurong people who have been the traditional custodians of these lands for thousands of years, and whose sovereignty was never ceded. This exhibition is supported by the Victorian College of the Arts and Arts Victoria through its Graduate Mentorship program.

*The Wurdi Youang stone arrangement in Victoria was built by the Wathaurung people before European settlement, but all records of its use have now disappeared. This egg-shaped ring of stones, about 50m in diameter, has its major axis almost exactly East-West. In a paper published in May 2013 in Rock Art Research, Ray Norris and his colleagues confirm a suggestion (originally made by John Morieson) that some outlying stones seem to indicate the setting positions of the Sun at the equinoxes and solstices, and have shown that these same astronomically significant directions are built into the shape of the main ring. They also show, using a Monte Carlo statistical test, that this is unlikely to have occurred by chance, but instead the builders of this stone ring intentionally aligned it on the setting Sun on these astronomically significant dates. More information…

 

Installation view of 'Standing Stone' by Catherine Evans at BLINDSIDE, Melbourne 2014

 

Installation view of Standing Stone by Catherine Evans at BLINDSIDE, Melbourne
2014
© Catherine Evans
Photo: Matthew Stanton, 2014

 

Installation view of 'Standing Stone' by Catherine Evans at BLINDSIDE, Melbourne (detail) 2014

 

Installation view of Standing Stone by Catherine Evans at BLINDSIDE, Melbourne (detail)
2014
© Catherine Evans
Photo: Matthew Stanton, 2014

 

 

WITH THE UNIVERSE AT OUR BACKS

We have long looked skyward, consumed by a desire to arrange celestial bodies into pictures. Sometimes these formations are difficult to see amid the city’s night-haze of light and pollution. Yet, on a drive out of town, these cosmic arrangements come into view. Constellations describe a visual relationship between groups of stars, which, over time, become culturally recognisable. To make a constellation, a dreamer must draw a line from one bright body to the next: the stars implicated in this formation need not be close to one another in reality, but merely form a visual engagement when viewed from an Earthly vantage point. For millennia, ancient cultures have made these connections, constructing apparitions in the ether that recall existential stories. However, these cosmic sketches have also served as insightful gauges of time.

In the volcanic plains of Western Victoria – the third largest of its kind in the world – lies a geological constellation. It is an Indigenous ‘map’ made of ancient stones, named by the Wathaurong people as Wurdi Youang. This egg-shaped arrangement is relatively humble in size, and up until recently was thought to be an initiation site. However, Wurdi Youang is now being considered a geological record of equinoxes and solstices, with each stone set at a considered angle, marking the movements of the sun over time.1 For artist Catherine Evans, this cosmic calendar held within it a latent agency that was both intimate and expansive. Through its very construction, the Indigenous peoples of the area had used a prehistoric material to articulate a schema that connected themselves, and their activities, with the unreachable workings of the universe: “I find the contrast in time scales at this site fascinating – that on the one hand we have an ancient time scale of the land (geologic), and on the other the human time scale, which in comparison is only a blip.”2

In Evans’ current exhibition, Standing Stone, the artist has used rocks from the plains nearby Wurdi Youang to recreate a constellation of markings found on her own body. The layout for these marks was initially realised on an inverted black and white photograph Evans took of her back: in this image, her usually pale skin appears darker than its illuminated blemishes. Using a biro and ruler, moles and freckles were connected with diagrammatic lines, just as planets, stars and dark nebula are drawn to one another in astronomical illustrations. In the exhibition, this exact configuration of blemishes is re-presented using volcanic rocks in a sculptural installation. Across the walls and floor, each point is connected with a gleaming line of transparent cello-tape.

Here, two seemingly opposing containers of time – the body and the universe – are depicted as insulated, yet reflexive, systems. Just as skin imperfections are reminders of age, trauma, exposure and adaptation, the individual rocks at Wurdi Youang are conscious notations of the sun’s movements in the sky. Each rock or blemish represents a passed event that, in conjunction, forms the schema for a cosmos. Although more commonly understood as the extraterrestrial zone outside the Earth’s atmosphere (and therefore, outside of ourselves), the etymology of ‘cosmos’ is derived from the less-boastful ‘ornament’: a sphere seen as ultimately expansive is reined into a handheld trinket. This oscillation becomes an underlying consideration in Evans’ new work, as temporality swings between what is known, even embodied, and what is all encompassing.

In understanding these holistic systems, we can draw on biosemiotician Jakob von Uexküll’s concept of ‘umwelt’. Umwelt describes the ‘phenomenal world’ or ‘self world’ of an animal, as shaped by a series of functions necessary for survival. These sets of functions are programmed to suit each specific organism, creating a harmonious motion, or pattern, for existence. In consequence, all animals, from the simplest to the most complex, are fitted into their unique worlds with equal completeness: “A simple world corresponds to a simple animal, a well-articulated world to a complex one.”3 From this theory, both the humble body and the celestial sphere could be seen to exist within an umwelt, or environment, tuned to its innate processes.

In Evans’ work, it is the configuration of a constellation that represents these sets of motions as markers on a temporal scale. For example, the blemishes found on our bodies, or the rocks moved by Indigenous people at Wurdi Youang thousands of years ago, exist in perfect accord with each organism, or system’s, relative lifespan. That could be a sunspot the artist developed one summer, 17 years into her life, or the fusion of gases that combined to form a star 13 billion years ago in the Milky Way’s galactic halo. As Uexküll explains, the animal or subject creates time through its own set of harmonious processes, no matter how simple or complex: “Instead of saying… that without time, there can be no living subject, we shall now have to say that without a living subject, there can be no time.”4

The visualisation of these essential movements is euphonious. Feminist and cultural theorist Elizabeth Grosz articulated Uexküll’s umwelt as nature set to counterpoint.5 In her interpretation, the environment works in a similar way to a musical melody, following a set of instructions that can be syncopated with another. She recalls one of Uexküll’s most examined specimens, the tick, describing the way in which it “lives in a simplified world, a harmonic world of its own rhythms and melody.”6 This melody, according to Grosz, is composed of the animal’s umwelt, as the conjunction of its three most vital processes: moving up a twig following the warmth of the sun; smelling the butyric acid expelled from the sweat of an animal; dropping onto the animal to suck its blood. In turn, the tick becomes what she describes as “a connective, an instrument.”7

This musicality is innate within Evans’ new work. Here, rocks intonate the room, propped at varied heights like notes on musical score, while reflective tape connects the specimens to one another in directional locomotion. Flesh-pink geometric shapes, made from unprocessed (and still-processing) photographic paper, provide platforms for rock-relics: two materials accumulating time at vastly different rates. Just as the vision of celestial space seen at night expands our image of the natural world, the constellation found on the artist’s back is magnified out into the gallery as an assemblage that connects ancient time with personal time. It is within this singular temporal frame that the intimate (that nebula-birthmark on your wrist) is a reflection of the processes that, even now, evade us (tangible stars imagined into dream shapes).

Consequently, Standing Stone envisions landscape as a phenomenological site, where the body and the universe share the same harmonic processes. As British archaeologist Chris Tilley explains, to perceive landscape as phenomenological resists any precise topographical boundary: as we have seen, landscape in its holistic form – as a cosmos – can transcend terrestrial limitations. Instead, he perceives landscape as “embodied sets of relationships between places, a structure of human feeling, emotion, dwelling, movement and practical activity.”8 In this way, Evans presents a landscape that is both intimate and expansive. Just as the celestial exterior looks down upon us, it shifts into us, reflecting back the documents we make. These documents are many, printed on our bodies and arranged in sophisticated groupings in the environment. The constellation, therefore, flips and folds, not just across a horizontal plane, but vertically, between what is cast in the night sky and its earthen recollection.”

Laura Skerlj is a Melbourne-based artist and writer

Laura Skerlj website

 

Installation view of 'Standing Stone' by Catherine Evans at BLINDSIDE, Melbourne (detail) 2014

Installation view of 'Standing Stone' by Catherine Evans at BLINDSIDE, Melbourne (detail) 2014

 

Installation views of Standing Stone by Catherine Evans at BLINDSIDE, Melbourne (detail)
2014
© Catherine Evans
Photos: Matthew Stanton, 2014

 

Catherine Evans. 'Bruise II' 2014

 

Catherine Evans
Bruise II
2014
Framed photograph
51 x 76cm
© Catherine Evans
Photo: Matthew Stanton, 2014

 

 

BLINDSIDE
Level 7, Room 14,
Nicholas Building,
37 Swanston Street,
Melbourne VIC 3000

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday, 12 – 6pm

BLINDSIDE website

Laura Skerlj website

Catherine Evans website

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28
Jun
12

Exhibition: ‘Light in Space’ by Veronica Caven Aldous at Stephen McLaughlan Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 13th June – 30th June 2012

 

Veronica Caven Aldous. 'Light in space 1' 2010-11

 

Veronica Caven Aldous (Australian, b. 1956)
Light in space 1
2010-11
A Blue field, 2010, Computerised LED light boxes and Perspex, 22 x 30 x 3cm
B Magenta field, 2011, Computerised LED light boxes and Perspex, 43 x 59 x 3cm
C Yellow field, 2011, Computerised LED light boxes and Perspex, 43 x 30 x 3cm
D Green field, 2011, Computerised LED light boxes and Perspex, 22 x 59 x 3cm
E Orange field, 2010, Computerised LED light boxes and Perspex, 22 x 30 x 3cm
F Purple field, Computerised LED light boxes and Perspex, 22 x 30 x 3cm

 

 

Apologies for the late posting but I only saw this exhibition recently. I met the artist, the delightful Veronica Caven Aldous and her work is stunning.

The works are emotive; like Brancusi’s Bird in Space they soar. Here is not the reductive coldness of a Dan Flavin but a truly hypnotic, meditative experience. The light is like visible music. I said to Veronica in my mind I have associations to the work of Josef Albers and his experiments with colour in the Homage to the Square series. But these works are uniquely her own, with their links to mysticism, India and the East.

The first series, Light in space 1, is truly beautiful as you sit watching in the darkened gallery. Still images can’t really do these vivid, liquid, mesmerising colour field sculptures justice. The second series, Light in space 2, is also intensely beautiful in a different way, the computerised light boxes contained within aluminium cases. Depending at which angle you look the depth of field of the illusion changes leading to spaces of infinite r/egress (in computer networking, egress filtering is the monitoring and/or restricting the flow of outbound information). The light is both contained and extrapolated within the grids leading to an almost Escher-like enigma of light and energy.

These are splendid works. Whenever I want to have one on my wall at home I know I have struck gold. Go see them while you still can in the last two days of the exhibition. Magic.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to Veronica Caven Aldous and Stephen McLaughlan Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting.

 

Veronica Caven Aldous. 'Light in space 1' 2010-11

Veronica Caven Aldous. 'Light in space 1' 2010-11

 

Veronica Caven Aldous (Australian, b. 1956)
Light in space 1
2010-11
A Blue field, 2010, Computerised LED light boxes and Perspex, 22 x 30 x 3cm
B Magenta field, 2011, Computerised LED light boxes and Perspex, 43 x 59 x 3cm
C Yellow field, 2011, Computerised LED light boxes and Perspex, 43 x 30 x 3cm
D Green field, 2011, Computerised LED light boxes and Perspex, 22 x 59 x 3cm
E Orange field, 2010, Computerised LED light boxes and Perspex, 22 x 30 x 3cm
F Purple field, Computerised LED light boxes and Perspex, 22 x 30 x 3cm

 

 

Light from these computerised LED light boxes on the wall and floor act as intervention in space. It is not so much about the colour but the changing light in space that sets up a sense of flux. It is about change and that we see nothing without light. “The wonder of light: the universe consists mainly of invisible matter… only four to five percent of the universe is visible. 23 percent is dark matter, and 73 percent is dark energy.”

Artist statement

 

Veronica Caven Aldous. 'Light in space 2' 2011

Veronica Caven Aldous. 'Light in space 2' 2011

Veronica Caven Aldous. 'Light in space 2' 2011

 

Veronica Caven Aldous (Australian, b. 1956)
Light in space 2
2011
A 2 x 2, 2011, Computerised LED light boxes in metal frame, 52 x 52 x 10cm
B 3 x 3, 2011, Computerised LED light boxes in metal frame, 75 x 75 x 10cm
C 3 x 3, 2011, Computerised LED light boxes in metal frame, 75 x 75 x 10cm

 

 

Stephen McLaughlan Gallery
Level 8, Room 16, Nicholas Building
37 Swanston Street, Melbourne 3000
On the corner of Flinders Lane
Phone: 0407 317 323

Opening hours:
Wednesday to Friday 1pm – 5pm
Saturday 11am – 5pm
and by appointment

Stephen McLaughlan Gallery website

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11
Mar
12

Opening: ‘Traverse’ by Kim Percy at Stockroom, Kyneton

Exhibition dates: 10th March – 8th April 2012

 

Installation of 'Traverse' by Kim Percy at Stockroom, Kyneton

 

Installation of Traverse by Kim Percy at Stockroom, Kyneton
Installation photograph by Marcus Bunyan © Kim Percy

 

 

Many thanx to Jason, Magali and Kent for inviting me to the gallery, and Kim for asking me to open the exhibition – it was fun!

I have known Kim since the early 1990s when we both did our Bachelor of Arts in photography at RMIT University so it was wonderful to have opened her show yesterday. Reprinted below is the speech I gave at the opening with its musings on the (in)visibility of asylum seekers arriving by boat in Australia. I hope you enjoy reading the text. Marcus.

 

Opening speech by Dr Marcus Bunyan, 10th March 2012

Out of Sight, Out of Mind _______________

“What I am about to say, my musings if you like, are inspired by Kim’s wonderful installation. The work before you is the basis of my inquiry. The issues involved are difficult and not to be dealt with lightly but I hope you will follow my drift, my traverse if you like.

I would like to take you on a journey – physical, metaphorical and maybe even philosophical. I want to ask questions of the world, questions about the journey we all take as human beings. These questions are prompted by my personal response to two elements of Kim’s work – water and the journey, specifically the image of asylum seekers arriving here in Australia. Imagine being an asylum seeker making that journey.

Imagine living in an (in)between space, living in a refugee camp over there. Marc Augé coined the phrase “non-place” to refer to places of transience that do not hold enough significance to be regarded as “places.”1 These camps are such places. Put yourself in that predicament, seeking a better life, seeking to escape persecution, war (of which we as a nation are often part), prejudice and death, deliberately placing yourself and your family in a fragile boat, like a seed pod floating upon the waters, taking the dangerous journey to reach Australia. Imagine the emotional and intellectual turmoil that must surround such a decision, the decision to place your life in the hands of the ocean. Important decisions affecting the entire course of one’s life are rarely made without some form of mental distress.

Nurtured in water, some baptised in it, water is the life-blood of the world and the asylum seeker must trust to its benevolence. Marc Augé “argues that we are in transit through non-place for more and more of our time, as if between immense parentheses.”2 This is the journey that the asylum seeker takes over water, a journey through an interstitial space that has no beginning and no end caught between a set of parentheses [insert life here / or not].

Now let us move our line of sight. What about a visual parentheses?

.
Asylum seekers are almost invisible from Australia living over there. They are over the horizon, out of sight and out of mind. When they journey across the sea – an open ended journey passing through a liminal space, a forgotten space – they suddenly appear as if by magic washed up on the shore, unseen despite surveillance planes, ships and other forms of tracking and reconnaissance. Think, for example, of the sudden and surprising arrival of the boat SIEV-221 when it was washed onto the rocks of Christmas Island in December 2010. The invisible made visible caught in a non-place.

This (in)visibility can be evidenced in other ways. The specks of humanity waving from the deck of the Tampa, the asylum seekers being escorted from arriving boats, seen for a few brief seconds on the evening news and then disappearing from view, almost like being sucked into the depths of the sea. Here and not here; here and there. Halfway between nothingness and being: they walk between one state and another, forward and backward, backward and forward.

.
Displacement
Diaspora
Disruption

.
The spectacle of the asylum seekers is despectacularised by and for the viewer. We remove ourselves from the emotion of these people, the presence of these images. They become ordinary as if seen from far away – glimpsed every so often as though viewing the world of another. They become Other.

The movement of the ship, the movement of the sky, the movement of vision is a constant decentering through a push / pull with something else – some other order of the world. Their journey into the unknown is a journey to submit to the ordering of another: the socially constructed system of classification: “refugee,” “asylum seeker.” The axis of visibility3 that operates in relation to subject, object, and space is not interrogated as to the representations that are constructed. This is what I am interested in here. These vital, alive human beings come from one taxonomic system (of ordered death, persecution, injustice), become visible from a brief instance, and are then fed into another taxonomic system of order – that of the detention centre.

Taking the metaphor of the horizon line further, I would argue that detention centres are like an inverted Panopticon. The Panopticon “is a type of institutional building, a prison, designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late eighteenth century. The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe all inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being watched.”4 The guard sits in a central tower and can observe and inspect all prisoners on the outer 360 degree circle, while the prisoners cannot see the guard and can only presume he is there (an omnipresent God) and hence they behave.

Let us invert this concept.

Now the asylum seekers sit in the tower looking outwards, seeing the promised land but unable to touch it and the guards (prison officers, government, the Australian people) are all around but most are blind. They look inwards but cannot see / they look outwards and most go about their daily business. The perimeter fence of the detention centre becomes the horizon line of the sea. As in Kim’s red lined horizons, over the horizon is out of sight, out of mind _________________

.
What Kim’s eloquent, minimal, brooding installation does is hold our attention and ask certain questions of us as human beings. If photography is a mode of visually addressing a certain order in the world – be it horror, war, peace, human tragedy, public, private – and then destabilising it, then Kim destabilises the binary sea / sky through fragmentation and isolation. She redlines our experience and asks us to inhabit the non-space, the non-place of the gallery, allowing us to hover between boat and image, between sea and sky, between seeing and feeling. Through her work she asks us to become more aware. She asks us to see things more clearly. Above all she asks us to have faith in the compassion of human beings.

The asylum seekers have faith: faith to get into a fragile boat to venture upon the sea in search of a better life. If we had more faith in ourselves then we would have less need to rely on the images of the past, a white colonial past.

I will finish with a quote from Jeff Brown.

“Sometimes we have to surrender to the not knowing. At other times, it is helpful to adventure outward and explore new possibilities. Like swashbucklers of the spirit, we bravely seek out any experience that might inform our path. When we are afraid of something, we live it fully and see what floats to the surface in the doing. We participate in our own revealing. We have faith in the shaping of what we cannot see.”5

.
The seekers surrender to the not knowing and have faith in the shaping of what they cannot see. These risk takers are the strong ones that are going to make a difference in a new society by the very fact of their strength and determination to survive and live in a free society, for the very fact of the risks undertaken. This exhibition informs their path as it informs our path. Be aware of the doing, be bold and forthright in the being. Enjoy.

Thank you

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. Augé, Marc (trans. John Howe). Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. London: Verso, 1995
  2. Ibid.,
  3. Hooper-Grenhill, Eilean. Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge. London: Routledge, 2000, p. 7
  4. Anon. “Panopticon,” on Wikipedia [Online] Cited 09/03/2012
  5. Brown, Jeff. Soulshaping. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2009, np quoted on Stroud, Jeff. The reluctant blogger website. [Online] Cited 09/03/2012

 

 

Installation of 'Traverse' by Kim Percy at Stockroom, Kyneton

 

Installation of 'Traverse' by Kim Percy at Stockroom, Kyneton

 

Installation of Traverse by Kim Percy at Stockroom, Kyneton
Installation photographs by Marcus Bunyan © Kim Percy

 

Kim Percy. 'Pale Sea' 2012

 

Kim Percy
Pale Sea
2012
Digital photograph

 

Kim Percy. 'Where' 2012

 

Kim Percy
Where
2012
Digital photograph

 

Kim Percy. 'Rough Water' 2012

 

Kim Percy
Rough Water
2012
Digital photograph

 

Kim Percy. 'Traverse' 2012

 

Kim Percy
Traverse
2012
Digital photograph

 

Kim Percy. 'Red Horizon No.1' 2012

 

Kim Percy
Red Horizon No.1
2012
Digital photograph

 

Kim Percy. 'Red Horizon No.2' 2012

 

Kim Percy
Red Horizon No.2
2012
Digital photograph

 

 

Stockroom
98 Piper street, Kyneton
Phone: 03 5422 3215

Opening hours:
Monday, Thursday, Friday 10.30am – 5pm
Saturday 11am – 6pm
Sunday 11am – 5pm

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31
May
11

Review: ‘Penelope Davis: Smack’ at Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 12th May – 11th June 2011

 

Penelope Davis. 'Smack' installation 2011

 

Penelope Davis (Australian, b. 1963)
Smack installation
2011
Silicone
Dimensions variable

 

 

A beautiful, hypnotic installation; one outstanding photograph (out of four); and a distance between elements, installation and photographs that, in the gallery space, seemed almost insurmountable.

The installation is intoxicating, taking the viewer into a world outside of reality – inverted, convoluted creatures “after the things of nature” (me ta physika) – in this case mobile phones, camera lenses and electrical plugs and leads, the skin of these objects flayed, extruded and made in silicone. These filamentary ‘jellies’ are wondrous. As Susan Fereday observes they are like detached skin, which “can become a kind of negative, a reversed memory, a perverse relic of its previously animated form … Detached, distraught, dangling. But there is also something slippery in these forms, something visceral, uterine, umbilical …”. The installation reminded me of the chthonian nature of the womb, our birth and that first gasp of breath – do you remember? was it all that you ever needed?

Water, blood, the detritus of birth and the emergence of life into light. Floating, gliding to the surface.

Only one photograph, Fluther (2011, below), approaches this detachment. A beauty it is too. The other three photographs felt more like addendum than adding anything further to the work and failed to achieve a ‘presence’ when compared to the installation. I suspect one of the problems was the scale of the three photographs and the fact that they are so tightly framed. Evidence of this can be seen in the installation shot below, the photograph of the blue ‘jellie’ so tightly prescribed and enclosed so as to not allow any interaction between installation and photograph. Perhaps making the photographs slightly larger and face mounting them behind PlexiGlass would have softened the edges of the photographs allowing a malleable (meta)physical air to breathe across the gallery space.

The highlight is the installation. Go and see, it is well worth the visit.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Nellie Castan Gallery for allowing me to publish the text and the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs courtesy and © the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery.

 

Penelope Davis. 'Smack' installation 2011

 

Penelope Davis (Australian, b. 1963)
Smack installation
2011
Silicone
Dimensions variable

 

 

Stretched Skin

“Where my inside meets the outside, where my body’s surfaces curve or stretch, dimple or fold, they create sensory cavities that are designed to respond to the outside world, at least to some degree. More difficult to resolve is the place that’s made when my inside turns out and there and no pickets to hide the private things – things I don’t want to look at myself, things too fleshy for the world to see, too soft, raw and pink to be exposed. Bringing the inside out, I am turned outside in and where does that leave me? In the edgeless space of the everyday saturated by grief.

Penelope Davis’ ‘jellies’ make me think about how a person’s skin can record their body’s history through marks – scars, distentions, swellings, bruises and wrinkles – just as a photograph can record a body’s outward appearance through light. We could say that skin is an index to its experiences, but it is not iconic. Skin does not reproduce the body’s image the way a photograph does, unless the skin is lifted to make a new shape. Then, just as hot wind can suck the life out of a fallen leaf and turn its veins into a street map, or sun and sea can batter a plastic bottle into a miraculous Marian figurine, detached skin can become a kind of negative, a reversed memory, a perverse relic of its previously animated form.

That’s what the ‘jellies’ look like: skin, turned inside out, photographic skin turned outside in. Detached, distraught, dangling. But there is also something slippery in these forms, something visceral, uterine, umbilical …”

Except from pamphlet text by artist and writer Susan Fereday, March 2011

 

Penelope Davis. 'Fluther' 2011

 

Penelope Davis (Australian, b. 1963)
Fluther
2011
Type C photograph
120 x 100 cm

 

 

In Smack, Penelope Davis’ latest body of work, jellyfish-like forms have been assembled from a collage of components. These elements include the detritus of contemporary technologies. Among these are cameras, computer parts, mobile phones, wiring and electrical parts. Organic source materials such as leaves and seaweed (many sourced from the community garden plots surrounding Davis’ studio) are cast and intermixed with these forms. After being cast in silicone, the works are sewn together to create forms that resemble jellyfish. The resulting swarm – or smack, as the collective noun is properly known – is displayed as an installation of semi transparent, suspended forms.

A selection of these ‘jellies’ have also been placed in the digital scanner and ‘photographed’. Some digital post-production work is also employed to create large scale photographic images.

The materials and techniques used allow Penelope Davis to play with some of the procedures and assumptions central to photographic practice. The central motif of the jellyfish is a vehicle to examine critical contemporary issues of consumption and environmental degradation.

Text from the Nellie Castan website [Online] Cited 28/05/2011 no longer available online

 

 

Nellie Castan Gallery

This gallery has now closed

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20
May
10

Review: ‘A Shrine for Orpheus’ by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 11th May  – 5th June 2010

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition A Shrine for Orpheus by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

 

Bees, books, bones… and biding (one’s) time, attaining the receptive state of being needed to contemplate this work.
This is a strong, beautiful installation by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs that rewards such a process.

What is memorable about the work is the physicality, the textures: the sound of the bees; the Beuy-esque yellowness and presence of the beeswax blocks; the liquidness of the honey in the bowl atop the beehives; the incinerated bones, books and personal photographs; the tain-less mirrors, the books dipped in beeswax; the votive offering of poems placed into the beehive re-inscribed by the bees themselves – and above all the luscious, warm smell of beeswax that fills the gallery (echoing Beuys concept of warmth, to extend beyond the material to encompass what he described as ‘spiritual warmth or the beginning of an evolution’).

This alchemical installation asks the viewer to free themselves from themselves – “the moment in which he frees himself of himself and… gives the sacred to itself, to the freedom of its essence…” as Maurice Blanchot put its – a process Carl Jung called individuation, a synthesis of the Self which consists of the union of the unconscious with the conscious. Jung saw alchemy as an early form of psychoanalysis in which the alchemist tried to turn lead into gold, a metaphor for the dissolving of the Self into the prima materia and the emergence of a new Self at the end of the process, changing the mind and spirit of the Alchemist. Here the process is the same. We are invited to let go the eidetic memory of shape and form in order to approach the sacred not through ritual but through the reformation of Self.

As Pip Stokes last few paragraphs of her artist statement succinctly observes,

“Maurice Blanchot, has interpreted this myth as the descent of the artist to the realm of death to gain the work of art. Out of the failure of the artist, a necessary failure, emerges the artwork, wounded and bearing the ash of its origins.

The work of mourning, the work of healing.

Reflection, apparition, illusion: what appears as image, disappears evaporatively. As we change our place the space is already gone: the mirror holds a trace. What is veiled, enigmatic, uncertain remains as shadow that casts a light.”

The space in which we stand falls away: the mirror may hold a trace but it is only ever a trace. Our visions elude the senses, slipping between dreaming and waking, between conscious and subconscious realms. As Orpheus turns back to look so Eurydice dissolves, “falling out of the skin into the soul.” We, the viewer, are changed.

 

So far so good.

Unfortunately what does not facilitate this engagement with change is the combined verbiage of both the artist’s statement and the catalogue essay by Lisa Jacobson. These texts, especially the latter one, with quotations by Blanchot, Rilke, Calasso, Beuys, Cocteau, Neruda, Cobb, Virgil, Rilke again, Cocteau again, Poe and Derrida and meditations on mythos, the sacred, resurrection, mourning et al are mostly unnecessary to support what is strong work – in fact they seem to put a physical, textual wall between the viewer and the work, between the installation and the proposed dissolution of Self into the sacred. The catalogue essay is confusing and needed a judicious edit with the understanding that sometimes less is more! The work needs to speak for itself, not to be didactically spoken for and knowing when to merely suggest an idea is one of the skills of good writing. Perhaps all that was needed was the quotation by Blanchot and the two paragraphs above by Pip Stokes – nothing more.

Approaching the sacred is, I believe, and act of letting go, of aware-less-ness. As we immerse ourselves in that enigma we find that it is our fluid shadow aspect that has cast the light, with all attendant expectations, beliefs, dreams, visions, weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts. This exhibition asks us to reconcile the journey into darkness with the hope of redemption.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
All photographs are installation shots of the exhibition – please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs courtesy of the artist and fortyfivedownstairs taken by © Marcus Bunyan who is completing an internship at the gallery.

 

The Gaze of Orpheus

Maurice Blanchot

“The Greek myth says: one cannot create a work unless the enormous experience of the depths – an experience which the Greeks recognised as necessary to the work, an experience in which the work is put to the test by that enormousness- is not pursued for its own sake. The depth does not surrender itself face to face; it only reveals itself by concealing itself in the work. But the myth also shows that Orpheus’ destiny is not to submit to that law – and it is certainly true that by turning around to look at Eurydice, Orpheus ruins the work… and Eurydice returns to the shadows; under his gaze, the essence of the night reveals itself to be inessential. He thus betrays the work and Eurydice and the night. But if he did not turn around to look at Eurydice, he still would be betraying,… the boundless and imprudent force of his impulse, which does not demand Eurydice in her diurnal truth and her everyday charm, but in her nocturnal darkness, in her distance, her body closed, her face sealed, which wants to see her not when she is visible, but when she is invisible, and not as the intimacy of a familiar life, but as the strangeness of that which excludes all intimacy; it does not want to make her live, but to have the fullness of her death living in her.”

“The sacred night encloses Eurydice, encloses within the song something which went beyond the song. But it is also enclosed itself: it is bound, it is the attendant, it is the sacred mastered by the power of ritual – that word which means order, rectitude, law, the way of Tao and the axis of Dharma. Orpheus gaze unties it, destroys its limits, breaks the law which contains, which retains the essence. Thus Orpheus’ gaze is … the moment in which he frees himself of himself and…, gives the sacred to itself, to the freedom of its essence…”

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition A Shrine for Orpheus by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

 

A Shrine for Orpheus

Pip Stokes

 

The first temple was made by the bees with feathers, wax and honey.

Calasso

 

… it is Orpheus. His metamorphosis
In this one and this. We should not trouble
about other names. Once and for all
It’s Orpheus when there’s singing.

Rilke. Sonnets to Orpheus

 

We are the bees of the invisible
We frantically plunder the visible of its honey
To accumulate it in the great golden hive
Of the invisible

Rilke

 

In mythology, honey was regarded as a spiritual substance and the bees were godly… This belief was… influenced by the whole process of honey production as constituting a link between earthly and heavenly levels. The influx of a substance from the whole environment – plants, minerals, and sun – was the essence of the bee-cult… The whole builds a unity, … in a humane, warm way, through principles of cooperation and brotherhood.

Beuys

 

 

This installation, A Shrine for Orpheus, comprises four hundred hand cast beeswax blocks and a traditional beebox, in use by the bees until recently, accompanied by found objects such as old mirrors as well as ephemera collected from nature including feathers, bones and the salt mummified skeleton of a rabbit. Over the past year I have worked with the living beehive, placing votive offerings associated with poetry, death and renewal into the hive: objects such as books, cast wax pages, vessels, textiles and bones. Melbourne writer, Paul Carter has engraved wax tablets with aphoristic poems to the bees. These objects have been transformed through the bees’ processes of honeycomb- building.

The metaphors of the beehive in this connection to poetry, death and renewal are explored in the materials and structures of the installation. The warm sweet- smelling wax of the bees, cast into six sided blocks, provides the building material for the Shrine and two mausoleums, each with a void space, a space of underworld. The void of the larger mausoleum contains, ashy, burnt books, personal photos from family albums scorched by fire, evoking ‘shades’, the shadowy dead – and porcelain-like bones which have been materially transformed by cremation in a kiln. The second beeswax ‘grave’ has two voids, one of which contains a beeswax- bound and dipped facsimile of handwritten poems by Keats and, in the other opening, a book of insect morphology, also dipped and bound in beeswax.

The traditional beebox in the centre of the ruin of the Shrine is placed on a lake of mirrors. The mirrors have lost their tain and been translucently washed with plaster of Paris to further dim our view into the obscurely reflective world that lies beneath. The Shrine is accompanied by offerings of honey, honeycomb, beeswax bound books and pages cast from beeswax awaiting new poems, laid at its entrance.

Myths of death, dismemberment, transformation and resurrection have haunted the Western imagination from Isis to Dionysus, Orpheus and Christ. In his essay, The Gaze of Orpheus, the French literary theorist, Maurice Blanchot, has interpreted this myth as the descent of the artist to the realm of death to gain the work of art. Out of the failure of the artist, a necessary failure, emerges the artwork, wounded and bearing the ash of its origins.

The work of mourning, the work of healing.

 

Reflection, apparition, illusion: what appears as image, disappears evaporatively. As we change our place the space is already gone: the mirror holds a trace. What is veiled, enigmatic, uncertain remains as shadow that casts a light.

The temple re admits this invisible.

 

Pip Stokes. May. 2010
A Shrine for Orpheus

Beeswax, beehive box, mirror. Mixed media, dimensions variable.
Original texts by Paul Carter, writer.
Sound by Kasimir Burgess, filmmaker.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition A Shrine for Orpheus by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

 

A Shrine for Orpheus

Lisa Jacobson

If Orpheus is guardian of the sacred arts, then it is possible that never before has there been a century so much in need of his song. This is because the world insists, on a daily basis, that we lose ourselves rather than commune with loss, to be drawn to darkness as logos rather than seek out its mythos. The myth of Orpheus has an integral role today in that it returns us and brings us back into communion with the sacred through poetry, dance, music and art.

Pip Stokes’ most recent exhibition, A Shrine for Orpheus, provides a mythic language for the story of Orpheus. It is a contemplation of myth that reflects back on itself in an endless refraction of associations and images; a visual representation of the myth itself which is never simple or linear but, rather, layered with metaphor and re-imaginings. Stokes’ installation reveals the ways in which myth enters us, but does not belong to us. Rather, we are the conduit through which myth runs and Orpheus, indeed, does run and has run through the dreams of humankind for as long as we have been able to dream.

This is in keeping with the Neo-Platonic notion, in which Orpheus plays no small part, that the figures of myth occupy not only the rooms of the psyche, but the rooms of other houses outside of us. It is not the artist who invents these figures of the psyche, of Orpheus and Eurydice, of Persephone and Hades, but they who reinvent themselves. The zeitgeist or midrash (as the Jewish mystics call the spirit of the times) summons up those gods it needs most. In Stokes’ work, it is Orpheus who answers this call.

Orpheus, playing quietly on his lyre in the middle of the forest, coaxes the animals out to listen, as Rainer Maria Rilke writes in his first sonnet to Orpheus:

“…And where there had been
just a makeshift hut to receive the music,
a shelter nailed up out of their darkest longing,
with an entryway that shuddered in the wind-
you built a temple deep inside their hearing.”

 

Summoning the animals translates, perhaps, into an ecological sensibility; to hear the call of Orpheus is to answer the ecological call, to re-sacralise nature. At a time when the world seems intent on hurtling towards its own demise, A Shrine for Orpheus inclines towards meditation and the transformation of nature, the stillness of catacombs, the quietness of wax, the purposeful industry of bees and silkworms, the potential for flight, the distillation of air, the reflective gaze, the emptying out of all colour until there are only shades of white: bleached bones, wax, ash, silk and paper, feathers in contemplation of flight as if, as the poet Pablo Neruda writes, “we lived falling out of the skin into the soul.” Like the bees which flew in through the open window of Stokes’ studio to busy themselves on the beeswax, even the very act of art-making has summoned and sung up, in its own way, the problematic aspects of creation. As Jean Cocteau observes in his film, Orphée, “Look for a lifetime in mirrors and you will see Death at work, like bees in a hive of glass.”

The music of Orpheus, as Noel Cobb has said, is “the activity of the theologos, the one who spoke with and about the Gods.” His sanctuary also encompasses poetry and art. Orpheus’ lyre has to do with both dismemberment and re-membering, god-like attributes, as Stokes alludes to in her depiction of Orpheus’ wax heart awaiting resurrection. Orpheus’ lyre was said to be strung with human sinews, and the music he plays as he sings nature and animals into being dips, inevitably, into the underworld, into death and decay, dismemberment, a scattering of the psyche into fields not yet dreamt of, in the act of its resounding. The wax which forms the foundation of Stokes’ Shrine for Orpheus, the books on which bees have fed in order to make their own inscriptions (texts by writers from Keats to the contemporary Paul Carter) also hint at resurrection and immortality. At the centre of this ‘temple’ is the beehive, symbol of transformation.

As Virgil notes in The Georgics in a section entitled “The Peculiarly Wonderful Features of Bees”, bee stock is immortal in that the hive itself is passed on from generation to generation, the structure keeps on singing, and never really dies despite the passing of the bees who composed it. In a similar fashion, Orpheus’ own lyre is carried forth, made from the shell of a tortoise whose death made possible the music itself. The heart of Orpheus, like his own severed head in the myth, does not cease its previous musicality, the song of its rhythmic beating. So too might the artist reach down into the darkness of herself, even if she risks being torn apart, knowing that the heart remains intact and can be resurrected.

Rilke again:

Only the man who has also raised
his lyre among the darkling shades
may be allowed a sense
of infinite praise.

 

Inside the Orphic vision which Pip Stokes’ art immerses itself in, everything is panoramic and ornamented by mythic figures whom we cannot ever really know, but only glimpse via the language of metaphor: the hand that plunges through the earth while one is gathering flowers, the hem of a beekeeper’s shroud-like coat, the thin silken thread of a worm, the trace of words upon wax, or feathers, burnt books or ash. These are the images that translate the emotion of the myth but which remain, nevertheless, untranslatable because should they be hardened into the prosaic everyday language of the world, they would cease to be mythos.

Perhaps it is for this very reason that Eurydice cannot be brought back up to the shining world of which Rilke writes, in a different poem on Orpheus, and that Orpheus himself rises into at the very moment Hermes ushers Eurydice once again below. Eurydice is too far into death to be brought back to life. She has sunk into the “dream within the dream” in which, as Edgar Allan Poe writes, we are all participants. All Orpheus can take with him is the imprint of her, the illicit gaze, the melancholic pathology of the backward glance, that perhaps was not so much hastily stolen as executed too quickly. How long must the artist gaze into the underworld? Is it ever enough? Must she not continually turn back and gaze at what cannot be brought to the surface but that she must, even so, attempt to translate? Is it this that Rilke refers to when he writes in his sonnets, “it is in overstepping that [Orpheus] obeys?” Cocteau, speaking about his film, commented that “Poets, in order to live must often die, and shed not only the red blood of their hearts, but the white blood of their souls, that flows and leaves traces which can be followed.”

There is loss in this of course, great loss, that Stokes’ art both acknowledges and makes a place for. As Orpheus travels along “the path ascending steeply into life” towards “the shining exit-gates,” he cannot help but glance back. In the sonnets Rilke cautions, “Be ahead of all parting as though it already were / behind you.” This has echoes of Jacques Derrida’s The Work of Mourning, in which he argues that mourning begins the moment friendship begins; that we cannot enter into relationship without becoming conscious of the loss that will inevitably come with the other’s death. Indeed, the very idea of this loss precipitates the event itself, leaves us prematurely bereft and continually turning back towards the absent loved one in our grief. And if we are always turning back, is not the artist most required to do so, is not the artist most compelled to incline her head towards the darkness in order to write of what stirs beneath the shining surface of the world, of what calls to be heard? Is this not the invisible that Orpheus calls into being through poetry, music and art? Orpheus rises in Rilke’s poem, and in Pip Stokes’ work. In fact, if we dare to journey with him, he will rise in us all.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition A Shrine for Orpheus by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

 

fortyfivedownstairs
45, Flinders Lane
Melbourne 3000

Opening hours:
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Sat 11pm – 3pm

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08
Jul
09

Review: ‘Morphed’ by Emma Davies at Craft Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 19th June – 25th July 2009

 

Emma Davies. 'Sekai' (be humorous') 2009

 

Emma Davies (Australian)
Sekai (meaning ‘be humorous’)
2009

 

Emma Davies. 'Tariro' (means 'hope') 2009

 

Emma Davies (Australian)
Tariro (meaning ‘hope’)
2009

 

'Rutendo' (detail - means 'faith') 2009

 

Emma Davies (Australian)
Rutendo (detail – meaning ‘faith’)
2009

 

 

A stimulating exhibition by Emma Davies at Craft Victoria of polypropylene industrial netting and packaging that has been heated, moulded, sculpted and literally morphed into these fantastical sculptures, inspired by the artist’s experiences when visiting Johannesburg in South Africa as part of the South Project. Davies evokes the mysterious and the bizarre in her figures, making the commonplace into something uncommon, taking her themes from the relics of bush medicine present in the street markets: the medicine market of Johannesburg full of dried animal bones, skulls, skins and bottles of alchemistic objects.

Despite their comforting South African names (translated into English as ‘hope’, ‘faith’, ‘quiet, tranquil’, ‘lady’, ‘chief’, ‘prince’ for example) these extremely individual figurative ‘presences’ have a powerful melancholic affect on the viewer. Their elongated long legged and armed, no necked forms create dark eyeless creatures that crouch in rusted boxes or sit on wooden posts with their legs and arms hanging, folded. They seem lonely and sad despite their titles, perhaps reflecting the harsh realities of a life of poverty on the streets of Soweto.

Two figures on wooden blocks seem to walk aimlessly, placed on large rough industrial tables with huge wheels while another figure sits up a rusted ladder propped against the wall. A group of figures are clustered together on top of large wooden posts of different heights, some with arms round each other for comfort, others with black or red feathers sprouting from shoulders, legs or wearing a red feathered skirt. These creatures create a marvellous group of contemplative wandering minstrels while behind them their eerie shadows fall on the gallery wall.

The crystalline nature to the surface of the creatures, like sparkling coal, reminds me of the work of William Kentridge, his white industrial protagonist Felix haunted by images of black workers deep underground mining coal (see Mine (1991) where his coffee plunger goes down into the ground through the bodies of black people). Some of the figures bat like ears also bring to mind the work of Francisco de Goya and specifically his work Los Caprichos (The Whims), plate 43 from the series of 80 etchings published in 1799 titled The Dream of Reason Produces Monsters. The artist described the collection as an exposé of “the innumerable foibles and follies to be found in any civilised society, and from the common prejudices and deceitful practices which custom, ignorance, or self-interest have made usual.”

As Goya began to sympathise with the suffering of the peasants so Davies seems to have been transformed by what she saw around her during her visit, trying to make sense of a foreign culture, dreaming the sleep of reason but surrounded and invaded by a world in which the natural and unnatural has fused and morphed.

I really liked this exhibition and the presence of these figures. I am obviously not alone as the show is almost sold out. A visit to these disturbing, enfolding creatures is recommended.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

.
All photographs courtesy of Craft Victoria (thankyou Amy Brand!) and taken by their photographer Alexia Skok.

 

Francisco de Goya. 'Los Caprichos', plate 43 from the series 'El sueño de la razón produce monstros' 1799

 

Francisco de Goya (Spanish 1746-1828)
Los Caprichos plate 43 from the series El sueño de la razón produce monstros
1799
Etching and aquatint
Height: 21.3 cm (8.3″); Width: 15.1 cm (5.9″)
Museo del Prado, Madrid

 

Emma Davies. 'Zola' (detail - means 'quiet, tranquil') 2009

 

Emma Davies (Australian)
Zola (detail – meaning ‘quiet, tranquil’)
2009

 

L-R-7-8-9-10-11-12-small

 

Emma Davies (Australian)
Group with from left to right: Enitan (person of story), Ntombi (lady), Kgosi (chief), Nkosana (prince), Lucky and Alaba (second child after twins)
2009

 

Emma Davies. 'Nkosana' (detail - means 'prince') 2009

 

Emma Davies (Australian)
Nkosana (detail – meaning ‘prince’)
2009

 

 

Craft Victoria
Watson Place, off Flinders Lane,
Melbourne 3000
Phone: 03 9650 7775

Opening hours:
Monday-Friday 11am – 6pm
Saturday 11am – 4pm

Craft Victoria website

Emma Davies 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, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr 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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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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