Claire writes regularly for arts journals,

organisations and artists. Here you'll find a small selection of published essays.

What happens after tomorrow?

 

Alfred Hitchcock’s character Midge Wood asks the impossible question ‘What happens after tomorrow?’ in the opening scenes of the acclaimed film Vertigo.[1] Impossibility and the uncertainty of what tomorrow may bring seems a suitable place to start when introducing the work of the ten Australian artists featured in this exhibition, which shares the film’s title. There is a sense of the unknown penetrating their practices, and as with the central character of Scottie Ferguson in the movie produced over half a century earlier, the artists explore a world that is not always based on logic, but rather a world submerged in disorientation and fracture. It is this desire to interrogate the unknown that unites the artists in Vertigo.

 

Boe-lin Bastian, Cate Consandine, Simon Finn, Justine Khamara, Bonnie Lane, Kristin McIver, Kiron Robinson, Kate Shaw, Tania Smith and Alice Wormald embrace vertiginous strategies to perplex and confound their audience. Whether it is through shifts of scale in the natural world, or contemplations on the confusion and paranoia that can affect the human condition, their work traverses a landscape marked by chaos, flux and a slippage between dreamscapes and reality.

 

Presenting sculptural works, neon, painting, collage, drawing and video, the artists disrupt the ordinariness that can pervade life, building new narratives of human experience. By conveying feelings of anxiety and humour, or by using absurd gestures, the artists in Vertigo attempt to make sense of the world around them, with dizzying results. The multifarious artworks presented are all attributed with an artistic process, a conceptual framework or subject matter that speaks to the sensation of vertigo. Gripped by a state of perpetual anxiety in a world that is becoming more and more frenetic, the artists explore the breakdown between what is public and what is private, and what is real and what is imagined.

 

Poised at the precipice of joy and despair, of flight and trauma, are Cate Consandine’s confounding video works, Boy #1 and Lash. Taking as their departure point the human subject, Consandine not only mines the complexity and ambiguity of being human but also investigates our relationship with time itself. Seeming to experience the full force of gravity is a young boy in Boy #1. Enmeshed in the frontier of a psychological landscape, it is as much an evocation of the child’s burgeoning adolescence as it is an insight into the deeper nature and debilitating effects of anxiety. He squirms and spasms, his eyes searching wildly. It is almost as though he has spun around repeatedly and then fallen to the ground. The viewer is left questioning: is this ecstasy or catharsis? Trance or hypnosis? Is it possession? Consandine carefully eschews any grand narrative in favour of the continually looped and undecipherable moment. This is also the case in Lash where the primitive fetish of the mask suggests a magic rite charged with the powers of deception, vertigo and simulation. The lurid feathers affixed to the male subject’s eyes flutter in perpetuity. Through this simple embellishment, the human form becomes animated into a hyperreal encounter with the animal kingdom, but we are not satiated with the luxury of context; Consandine’s sensibility is one of poetic inference and haunting beauty.

 

In the mischievous provocation Jellies from her Coupling series, Boe-lin Bastian places two jellies on top of an old washing machine. They jiggle in a wonky performance that is dictated by the washing machine’s inner workings. The absurdity of the piece is shared with other works by Bastian. In her practice, everyday objects are defamiliarised through a deconstructive process which infuses them with life and humour. Plastic bags are the chosen medium in Big/Little from the same series. They spin idly in a kind of game that is strangely compelling; it has the hallmarks of senselessness and yet the result is surprisingly poetic. As the bags filled with water collide and contract in a playful dance, at times spinning uncontrollably, they draw you in. You realise, of course, that humans are animating their movements, and that at their source the bags are vehicles for acting out the somewhat ludicrous power struggles of their operators. Bastian tinkers with stratagems of equilibrium. In doing so, she reveals the precariousness which haunts our sense of stability. She interrogates and critiques our propensity to consider our world and our psychological fortitude as resolute, unshakeable. In Crutches, Bastian assembles orthopaedic crutches atop a series of wooden boxes to create a structural piece that resembles the mechanisations of the body. An awkward fragility penetrates the sculpture; it is but a ghost of the human form. Whilst motionless, it seems to evoke the ability to get up and walk out of the room. Crutches is a relic of stability caught in a moment of discontinuity, defiant against the laws of gravity.

 

Simon Finn’s drawings and new media works reflect the artist’s abiding respect for and mastering of computer-generated imagery, in particular polygonal modelling.[2] In his renderings, Synthetic Surge and Downward Spiral #2, Finn devises a creative process for capturing motion within the restricted medium of charcoal. Both works are conceived through a computer-aided process based in mathematical precision and simulation. Synthetic Surge, like its video-based counterpart of the same title, depicts the devastating effects of an imagined tsunami inspired by a plethora of imagery obtained from the Internet. This slippage between what is truth and what is fiction is a line Finn traverses with great austerity. Downward Spiral #2 extricates the NASA Mars Rover camera from its widely associated context of the alien landscape of Mars, staging it within an entropic spiral that whirls it into non-existence. With his fondness for deep-sea diving, the human inclination to explore new frontiers is one Finn appreciates all too well. The camera’s dizzying demise into the underworld speaks of the broader misgivings of our society—perhaps the perceived pointlessness of pursuing exploratory missions when our planet is already gripped with social and economic imbalance, combined with the knowledge that the natural and man-made disasters that afflict our world may threaten the human species itself. Finn’s dystopian imagery suggests that as our world continues to whiz past at faster rates, a state of vertigo is irreversible. His video work Alarm enunciates these anxieties. Based on a tsunami warning tower the artist saw whilst on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, the alarm signals an impending and unnameable calamity.

 

Where Finn’s practice is based in mathematical and scientific analysis and data, Justine Khamara’s work is deeply embedded within the psychological. Her painstakingly crafted works reflect the hysteria of occupying multiple psychological states. They also embody the somewhat schizophrenic condition of the digital age and hyper-consumption, where no one is free from constant surveillance and the ever-present repetition of visual imagery. In Khamara’s practice, the multiple and oftentimes ‘virtual’ guises we create for public and social environments are revealed as moments of construction, interconnected but distinct. Her work is also a deeply personal interrogation of social and familial relations, which expands the tradition of portraiture into illuminating territories. Consider the photomontage sculpture Now I am a Radiant People #3, whereby the artist has created a series of spheres colonised by hundreds of cut-out photographs of a man’s face at various angles. As the rippling fractal-like imagery ascends to the vertex, the man’s disembodied face looks further and further downwards. With its reptilian skin, the top constitutes a shield of scaly protection, whereas in the centre, the man faces outward, his gaze interlocking with ours, exposed and vulnerable. Similarly circular and beautifully conceptualised is Orbital Spin Trick #3, which in its sense of movement and architecture seems to orchestrate the mechanics of planetary rotation. A face is here laser-cut into multiple components that when divided offer a kind of after image. The contour lines coalesce and interlock. The spatial experience of this sculptural work is paramount; the viewer is intricately implicated in the work as each angle reveals something new. Rotational Affinity and Rotation Around a Fixed Axis #2 and #3 speak to the forces that divide and connect us. Through repetition and with psychological intensity, Khamara ruptures social and cultural identities.

 

Bonnie Lane’s video works manipulate everyday phenomena into something otherworldly. In her majestic work, the kaleidoscopic Make Believe, Lane meditates on the fractured representations of childhood. Devoid of personal and physical attributes, the young female dancer that Lane depicts is stripped into an abstraction of humanity. The alluring nature of innocence is the subject. When witnessed in its full installation, with its perpetual motion, time itself seems to stop still. The axis of meaning in Lane’s works oscillates between the minutia of the everyday and the wondrously uncanny. In her critique on futility, Life is Pain, the harmless actions of a goldfish catapult the viewer into a reverie firmly rooted in what is sometimes experienced as the banality of life. Lane’s ‘unspectacular’ goldfish is ‘constantly struggling to stay the right way up, but always being defeated’.[3] Its disorientating trajectory charts a course that inevitably returns to its tragic state of captivity, as is the case with the doomed mouse in her video Like Sands Through the Hourglass. The mouse-wheel that services the fitness needs of this mischievous creature embodies the aimlessness of incarceration and the trivialities of the everyday. The rotational mechanism of a washing machine meanwhile, as viewed in An Ordinary Grind, can whirl your psychological state from the prosaic into soulful introspection. Lane’s works, often haunting and dreamlike in their imagery, reveal a yearning for an alternate world.

 

A dreamlike quality also pervades Kate Shaw’s paintings; they emit an aura of blissful alchemy. The fluidity of the paint is modelled into landscape formations evoking the fantastical and sublime. Yet, in slipping into the medium of video, her work takes an almost sinister turn. The benign paint flows like lava down a volcano in The Spectator—her inaugural and phantasmagorical video. In this work, we witness countless spectacles of the world being witnessed by others—the turbulence and wonders of the globe conjoin in a cacophony of colourful interventions. The marvels of the natural world, whether it is experienced through mind-blowingly large aquariums, natural disasters or the environment, are all consummated through the role of perceiving. The artist states, ‘I am seeking to draw out the ambiguities of how technology has distanced our relationship to the natural world whilst creating more immediate access to spectacular and disastrous natural events.’[4]

 

It is not just our relationship with nature that has altered through contemporary technologies; our identities and transgressions have migrated, propagated and even distorted into the vortex of social media, shifting our identities and sense of self. With the rise of social media, our rights to privacy are jeopardised, and we succumb to collective inertia as capitalism and social media entrepreneurs garner every aspect of our personal lives.

 

The propositions within Kristin McIver’s works Thought Piece (What’s Going On?) and Vertigo expose the glitzy seductive powers of capitalist culture, broadcasting the systems that manipulate our worldview. Thought Piece (What’s Going On?) forms part of a much larger installation involving five other ‘thought pieces’. With steadfast resolve, they project the private insecurities, as well as thoughts and public comments made by the artist in social media. Enacted by the viewer, courtesy of their motion sensors, they flick on to reveal questions from online forums, prompting those that are ‘connected’ to share their lives. The eerie truths of our increasingly digitized ‘socially-connected’ world are examined by social media commentator Andrew Keen who states, ‘…the incessant calls to digitally connect, the cultural obsession with transparency and openness, the never-ending demand to share everything about ourselves with everyone else—is, in fact, both a significant cause and effect of the increasingly vertiginous nature of twenty-first-century life.’[5] McIver critiques this obsession suggesting that the ubiquity of the Internet creates an overwhelming sense of delirium in our social relations. The pile of bricks with disconnected words and disassociated phrases entice us to extract and decipher meaning. The mound embodies the fractured psychological state that can persist when bombarded with messages within this global culture. The instability of the world, and the deficits of semiotics are also highlighted in McIver’sVertigo. The words ‘This Way Up’ are stuck in an internal dynamic never able to quite reach the viewer with its intended meaning. The dissolution of words as they fragment and distort, recalls the illusory capacity and distorted nature of the social media age.

 

Mass communication is also the field of inquiry for Kiron Robinson. The visual world can provoke and aggravate the experience of vertigo. It is difficult to escape the dark humour penetrating Robinson’s work I’m Scared World where the vulnerability of being human, and perhaps the most profound fear, is not only resolutely declared but in its starkly lit neon, it is glorified. To propagandise such inner turmoil is simultaneously horrific and hilarious. As we navigate the inherent trauma of this work, we come to sense that while there is a sense of urgency, there is also a need to laugh at the world. Robinson offers a reprisal to this torment in My Head is my Home, my Head is my Home. His answer to the hyper culture of our globalised world is psychological resilience, heightened by the minimalist environment of the object’s white void. Here, you may sequester; you can escape the global network into a private space with only your subconscious to fashion a world of inner secrets, delusional, accepting or meditative states and the projection of anxieties, hopes or fears.

 

It is not just modern technologies that have brought vertigo-inducing qualities to our lives. The boundaries of distinction have blurred in modern science too. Biotechnologies and genetic engineering have enabled cross-pollination and hybridized life forms. This expanding field is an interesting backdrop to consider in terms of artist Alice Wormald; her paintings assert an air of sublime confusion. What is this strange foliage of the underworld? She manipulates her subject matter so that what we thought we knew is somehow distorted. Microcosm and macrocosm are intermingled to become one; they emit a hauntingly austere beauty. The cut edges of paper that she mimics with paint hints to the collage that conceived the finished work. Her source imagery for Untitled #5, Untitled #6 and Giddy Heights was derived from photographs in nature journals. Her paintings transform these archives into an intense composition that oscillates between creamy fluid forms and lurid and iridescent patterning. Within her work we see real and imagined geological formations and flora. The strangeness engendered through this process is one of subtle disorientation.

 

Afflicted by anxiety and a seriousness that pervades contemporary life, some artists propose other agencies for change. Humour is the aesthetic and performative device explored by Tania Smith. The interventions captured in her Untitled series cry of disequilibrium, with hilarious results. Smith’s propositions are absurdist gestures that seem to blithely punctuate the landscape with colour and movement. Invoking the spirit of the whirling dervish, a state of exaltation presides, although they reveal an unsettling undertone. The activities that her protagonist engages in, whilst innocuous, speak of a need to separate oneself from the status quo. The motivation for such a need is not articulated, but the audience can only assume it is due to what many perceive as the drudgery of everyday existence. That these desires to engage in ridiculous acts must be kept secret (as evidenced by the woman stepping out of her reverie with blatant nervousness), speaks to a society which restricts behaviours and pursues coveted norms in its governance. Smith’s character is not alone in her yearning for freedom—we all harbour a desire to break free, albeit occasionally.

 

So, what happens after tomorrow? Lacking prescience, this is of course an unanswerable question that strikes at the heart of this exhibition. The bold offerings of the artists in Vertigo articulate the psychological repercussions and sense of dislocation that arises when considering the uncertainty of our world and its future. With environmental catastrophes, inequity and global conflicts on the rise, and new technologies—which enable new modes of surveillance, monitoring our socio-cultural landscape, life today is shrouded in uncertainty. Do these works embody gravitas and signify a demise of hope? Some teeter on the edge of despair, yet cutting through their solemnity is a sense of exuberance for the multivalency of life and an awareness that there is no fixed notion of the world. They invite us to contemplate the volatility of humanity.


If we think that attempts to overcome our dizzying contemporary world are in vain, we only need recall the optimism of Hitchcock’s central character Scottie when he tells Midge that (after tomorrow) he can overcome his fears a little bit at a time. ‘It’s a cinch’, he declares.[6]

 

 

 

Claire Anna Watson

 

Published by Asialink Arts 2014

 

Vertigo

Indonesia  | 20 March – 15 April 2014  |  Galeri Soemardja – Bandung Institute of Technology, Bandung
Taiwan  | 9 May – 8 June 2014  |  Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Taipei
South Korea  | August 2014  |  POSCO Art Gallery, Seoul

 

 

 

[1] Alfred Hitchcock (Dir.). Vertigo (film). Paramount Pictures, 1958.

[2] This approach incorporates polygons as the main mathematical building blocks for modelling objects in a virtual world.

[3] Bonnie Lane. Artist Statement. 2010.

[4] Kate Shaw. Artist Statement. 2013.

[5] Andrew Keen. Digital vertigo: How today’s online social revolution is dividing, diminishing, and disorientating us. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2012, p.66.

[6] Alfred Hitchcock. Vertigo.

Colour—Beyond Perception

 

Colour beguiles us. Light, its source, is somehow unreachable, intangible and enigmatic.

 

Light equals life. The sun emits light in such vastness and with such consistency that it is easy to take it for granted. Light and its relationship with colour is something that has confounded and intrigued artists and scientists for centuries. While scientists think of light as a particle or wave and speak of colour as differing wavelengths, artists commonly speak of having a feel for colour and in terms of instinct and intuition. The artist’s approach to colour is often very different to that of scientists but whether artists knowingly engage with scientific knowledge, they are often penetrating its domain and traversing the intersection of science and art with a desire for understanding.

 

The Newtonian concept of colour formed over 300 years ago assumes that colour is born of light. But is this point of view still shared by scientists and philosophers? There is still much speculation and conjecture about modern interpretations of visual sciences.[1] But whether it is physiological or phenomenological, or an amalgamation of both, it cannot be refuted that we experience colour. And perhaps, more importantly in the context of this exhibition—artists are as enamoured with colour as they were centuries ago. Colour and its relationship to light is the central theme interrogated by the 29 finalists in the 2013 Banyule Award for Works on Paper. Through a diversity of artistic techniques, the artists transpose their personal sensibilities toward light and colour onto the medium of paper, under the theme: Of Light – Reflections on Colour.

 

Eolo Paul Bottaro and Simon Mee grapple with the science of colour. Highly saturated colour is both subject and material in Bottaro’s lithograph Colour without a name (2013). His illustrative and symbolic work, depicts the artist himself grinding his own pigments, an activity he assumes before he creates his lyrical oil paintings.

The monochromatic sensibilities of Simon Mee are consistently employed in an allegorical way, particularly in The doctor of alchemy in the arts and the somewhat underrated discovery of the monochrome rainbow (2013). Mee like Bottaro, freely incorporates text to provide visual clues as to the meaning of his work.

Similarly self-referential to Bottaro’s work, Bran Hoc documents a sculpture made from coloured high-density foam, in his self-portrait bustColour Model (2013). In tri-part sequence and in black and white photography he creates a historical connection to the first experiments of RGB photography revealing the fact that in his words “you can’t ever capture light”.

 

Drawing from social histories, Emily Floyd’s work Herrnhutt Commune (2012) presents striking typography and elegant design work. Bold colour always features prominently in Floyd’s work and here she also references Bauhaus and Constructivist text. Her depiction of communal life and farming discretely references the very sources of light and life itself, the sun.

 

Andrew Tetzlaff and Wayne Viney offer a state of transition. Tetzlaff sees the two-dimensional plane as restrictive; he goes beyond it by building a wooden construction that holds the print in space. He references the framework of paintings but also shifts the traditional flattened surface of paper in a manner closely emulating the bending of light. Light is not only depicted in the atmospheric imagery of his Gravity Interrogation II (2012) but also plays upon the surface of the print itself.

 

In Viney’s monotype Division of Darkness (2013), a band of brilliant warm yellow divides the picture’s plane imitating the horizon, the most affecting of all landscape elements. Each day the horizon marks the passing of time; it is where we first see light and hence colour. This transitional state is further explored in Senye Shen’s articulation of day and night in Day after Day and Night after Night (2013). Assembled to present day above night in a stylised fashion, Shen’s work attests to the subtle variations of colour and light in a 24-hour cycle.

The organic morphology of paint is at the forefront of Ellie Malin and Julie Harris’ works where colourful organic forms are animated. The translucent and luminous qualities of colour emanate from the paper’s surface evincing chromatic sensations. Building up layer upon layer of colour, Malin in Painterly Assemblage (2013) and Harris in Coloured Drawing #4 (2013), create verdant patterns rejoicing in the intensity of colour itself.

Jon Butt transports his viewer into a mesmerising field of finely nuanced patterns in The Valley (2013). He overlays two photographs taken of the same valley in regional Victoria and reveals the similarities and differences in perception across time.

 

Diffraction can reveal the incredible capacity that light has to contain all colours. Explorations of the prism and spectral colours are especially present in works by Peter Daverington, Betty Greenhatch, Connor Grogan, Paul Snell and James Tapscott. Employing collage and layers of clear acetate, Daverington fragments romantic notions of landscape into prismatic shards. In Construction Drawing #1 (2013), the grandeur of an earlier mountain-scape painting by the artist is printed and collaged, breathing new life into its previous form.

 

Poised at the threshold of colour and light is Greenhatch’s Transition (2013). The indecipherable imagery is suggestive of electromagnetic energy, perhaps of dancing figures against a prismatic field. It urges us to inspect closer and yet its fleeting imagery stops short of revealing the veracity of its subject.

Grogan employs graphite, oil and collage in White Light (2013) to manifest a crystalline structure that seems to pivot or hover in a virtual space. The structure rendered in black and white sits against a refracted aquamarine

plane where its mysteries remain untold.

 

Comprised of strident panels of colour, Snell’s minimalist digital print Elliptical #201210 (2012) presents an open and expansive field of pure colour. Speaking to the illusory qualities of light, the work rejuvenates hardedge abstraction and questions visual perception.

 

In Controlled Experiment (2011), Tapscott explores the diffraction of light emitted from concentric colour in vivid hues. Against a darkened backdrop, he creates a super-charged vibration exploring the seductive power of neon light and the differing wavelengths of colour.

 

Artificial light constitutes the primary focus for Stephanie Hicks, John Krzywokulski and Beverley Southcott. Hicks scours vintage books and journals for her source material. Combining a fascination of the decorative arts and collage in Small Gatherings (or Curiosities of Coloured Glass) (2013), Hicks plays with symmetrical and asymmetrical patterns.

 

The paintwork in John Krzywokulski’s work City night flight (2013) commands attention with its torn appearance alluding to a collage when in fact it is executed purely in paint. The jarring pictorial device of overlaying fragments of one image is suggestive of assembling a souvenir piece by piece. Based on an out-of-focus photograph the work disorientates the viewer in a cacophony of colour and light.

 

Southcott’s ethereal Conduit Space One (2013) effuses softened, coloured light in an enigmatic mist. Capturing the ephemeral light reflected back from porcelain china, she draws our attention to a personal transmission between objects, their previous owner, and the artist.

 

Indigenous artists Gladdy Kemarre and Josie Kunoth Petyarre harness the captivating allure of colour in their works where potent optical effects seem to simultaneously contract and expand. Their works refer to the wonders of the universe and the stories of its people. InSugar Bag Story (2012), Petyarre points to stingless native bees, which have gathered nectar from colourful bush flowers. In Kemarre’sAnwekety (Bush Plum) (2012) physical and spiritual associations are combined.

 

Danica Chappell and Carolyn Lewens both examine light as a material for analogue photography. In Danica Chappell’s diptych Light Shadow (2012), the process of developing chromogenic photographs elicits luminous coloured effects, enabling the immaterial properties of light to be preserved. Presented in an off-kilter manner where the angles of the picture frame and the image do not correspond, the imagery reveals an artistic process played out in a colour darkroom and resonates with the way refracted light can impact on our perception.[2]

 

With its pulsating form, Carolyn Lewens’ cyanotype photogram In the Photic Zone (2011) alludes to the retina or the sun. Its blinding light seems to burn through the paper. The artist asks: “Is this a giant sun, the energy of a planet exploding or a bioluminescent cellular life form?” Its possibilities appear at once universal and endless.

Alex Spremberg and Bibi Viro express the fluidity of paint itself in their works. Spremberg intersects the mercurial qualities and unpredictable nature of paint with Chinese propaganda. In Thrills and Spills - Marching (2011), the physical laws that propel a fresh drip of paint collide with the rigidity of a marching army. The continuous perpetual movement and uncontrollable chaos of fluid paint is starkly opposed to the obscured image underneath. The disassociated elements, whilst incongruent, are a comment on the oversaturation of imagery in a globalised world.

 

Intermingled with the incandescent and jarring colour in Viro’s Tectonic Colourscape (2013) is patterning that, in the artist’s words, is “a description of the energy of the natural world”. Viro’s work invokes a schism between digital media and a reckless organic appearance punctuated by all-consuming colour.

In the atmospheric landscapes of Andrew Gunnell and Adriane Strampp there is a sense of a psychological landscape where inner and outer worlds have coalesced. The dappled light and muted colours of Gunnell’s landscape Give my shadow to you (2013) is suggestive of a faint memory imprinted on the psyche. Strampp shares a sense of the poetic in Ether (2013). Her romantic rendering of cloud formations engulfing distant mountains reminds us that the psychological dimension of colour also correlates to weather conditions, hence the bleak undertone in her subdued palette.

 

Borrowed Scenery (2013) by Alice Wormald is suggestive of an alien landscape. Her imagery rendered in watercolour and gouache, whilst drawn from botanical documentation of the world’s plant life, becomes otherworldly through manipulation of scale—hers is an evocation of alternative worlds.

Tai Snaith and Ralf Kempken explore the perceptual psychology of seeing and in Snaith’s case of capturing and documenting the appearance of things. Her depiction of a now obsolete Polaroid camera in Fistful of Wishes (2013) is divorced from reality. Floating in space, it is a distant memory and yet it was through its lens that over a decade of the colour of human culture was captured.

 

The hypnotic quality of the gigantic eye in Kempken’s work The Visual Ray (2013) is unsettling. The hand cut stencil work references the act of looking itself—the eye being arguably the most intrinsic connection to light and colour that we have. Panels of red and blue sit side by side and yet, as the artist explains: “Various shades of pinks and mauves appear to be generated within these patterns. Our mind creates these patterns and additional colour shades even though they do not exist.” This phenomenon begs the question: is colour merely a sensorial experience of the optic nerve?

 

Time seems to accelerate in today’s sophisticated environment, which is filled with technology and where we are bombarded with colourful imagery. The value and function of light and colour in our world and within human experience is incalculable; it is clear that its effects move beyond purely perception into the realm of the phenomenological, our lived experience.

 

In all its brilliance, mysteriousness and luminosity, artists continuously survey the minefield and ‘mindfield’ that is colour. Whether they actively engage with colour in a chimerical or realistic way, the artists in this exhibition propose an alternative vision gripped by a sustained fascination with colour and its symbolic and unequivocal birthplace—light.

Claire Anna Watson

Curator

 

Published by Banyule City Council, 2013

 

Of Light — Reflections on Colour: The 2013 Banyule Award for Works on Paper

 

Hatch Contemporary Arts Space

Exhibition Dates: 18 October - 14 December

 

[1] For an extensive discussion of research in this area, see Evan Thompson’s Colour Vision: A Study in Cognitive Science and the Philosophy of Perception, Routledge, London & NY (1995).

[2] As an example, when you look at a pencil or straw in a glass half filled with water, the object appears to bend at the surface of the water.

2010 - present

2010 - present

Singed beards and burnt down buildings

 

 

An overriding tendency within human culture is to consider all objects encountered—things of the world, inventions and discoveries—as complete and resolute outcomes, intended and shaped by their maker without any history of mishaps or diversions from their makers’ objectives whatsoever. Of course, this is barely ever the case. The successes that drives humanity forward are more often than not the result of a series of setbacks, happy accidents and fortuitous moments congealing at an auspicious point in time, empowering serendipity to wave her magic wand.

                                                                                                                                                 

Much as their scientific counterparts, the artist can thus be viewed as a discoverer. They research their medium, trialling out new conglomerations, new articulations of conceptual themes. They often add to and subtract from their chosen media, always in pursuit of an original concept that is (with any luck), unlike anything ever seen before. Their yearning to create, to invent, to devise the ‘new’, is ceaseless. It is a drive which fuels the practices of Darcey Bella Arnold, Adam John Cullen, Saskia Doherty and Matthew Greaves who are all represented in this exhibition Light the blue touchpaper and retire.

 

The title of the exhibition is a phrase derived from an offering frequently located on fireworks instructions. It has become a colloquialism referencing how a simple action may be a propellant for a major spectacle. It is within this context of arresting displays that we encounter the artworks in this exhibition.

 

The trigger for Darcey Bella Arnold’s latest work is the UK television series Art Attack that aired from 1990 to 2007. Arnold’s new work commemorates a period in her youth when she was continuously inspired to create under the spirited guidance of the presenter Neil Buchanan. Each craft project she undertakes subverts grand notions of the artist and reinforces the idea of creativity being accessible to all. This brings in to question the role of authorship and creativity. Who owns the concept of this body of work and to what extent is attribution required, if any? Arnold’s series has all the hallmarks of a Jeff Koons style project where popular culture is revered, but without the trappings of a polished aesthetic: Arnold’s sculptural objects are hinged with craft glue. Her ongoing fascination with screen culture, whether it be YouTube, emoticons or television, here materialises in quotidian products found in most homes—sponges, newspaper, plastic cups, bin-liners, coffee, flour and cardboard. It is the structural and conceptual simplicity fuelling these works, which the artist finds exhilarating.

 

Adam John Cullen’s series of sculptural works appear like relics of another time, yet it is difficult to place from exactly when. Each formation appears as an interrogation of materiality and weight. The light featheriness of a pillow is articulated through concrete. Seemingly solid concrete plinths have sections that are cut away entirely or have a sense of porousness. This sense of decay is rendered through the unique process whereby Cullen embeds old works within his structures. Vestiges of failed projects and trials are combined. Studio failings are given new life. These disruptions are discombobulating given they occur within the structural hardiness of concrete. In Cullen’s work, solidity and fragility battle it out. Time compresses and there is a sense of lived decay. Cullen seeks to subvert the plinth itself. He calls in to question this museological device, excavating the layerings of socio-cultural meaning that empowers it. Strangely, these works also exist as paintings but in a three-dimensional form. Coloured compositions of blush pinks and creamy yellows encircle one another in embryonic forms evoking a sensuous fluidity.

 

The manner in which images are constructed seems a logical starting place for an artist to begin their research. That single moment of exposure when the world is captured through photography can be expressed quite strikingly through that humble and commonplace machine, the photocopier. Saskia Doherty pressed ‘start’ on an old photocopier while it was ajar to see what would happen. This single and seemingly trivial action yielded a print that has been the source of a vast body of work. She has then gone on to take this print to a range of different printers to have them enlarge it into A0 prints. The results of each print are vastly different. The internal mechanisms and the variables of toner and machine, determines not only the small embellishments and markings but also the richness or faded quality of the print. The archaeology of this experiment may elude the viewer but for Doherty, the function of vision is what is imperative rather than her own creative process. When we look at an image, do we understand its history of reinterpretation?

 

In his poignant essay, Matthew Greaves recounts a series of events during a holiday and arts residency in China. It is an exploration of the political as much as it is of time itself. In dulcet tones, the artist narrates the video of still images he’s extracted from personal video footage but the subject is anything but soothing. Implicit in this work, is the questioning of the logic and presentation of visual images and icons as catalysts of pro-democracy activism. It is also a critical analysis of The Goddess of Democracy, its likeness to The Statue of Liberty and the uncanny manner in which it has leveraged alternative political campaigns. Greaves’ investigation exists as a collision and collapsing of political histories. He takes the viewer on his personal journey to ‘combat’ his ‘general ignorance’ but this is a straight-shooting artist aware of the privileges afforded to him and his colonialist heritage.[1] The poetics at play in this work serve as entry points for a wider discussion on the role of icons in catapulting humankind through revolutions, armed warfare as well as their ability to invoke veneration or nostalgia.

 

Sparks may fly in an artist’s studio both figuratively and literally speaking. Indeed, Arnold notes ‘the idea of art itself is kind of like an explosion.’[2] In the 9th century, so the story goes, proto-gunpowder was invented when Chinese alchemists were seeking the elixir of life.[3] The irony that they instead discovered gunpowder—the basis for nearly every deadly weapon used in warfare, is unsettling to say the least. ‘Singed beards and burnt down buildings’ was the result of their benign research.[4]

 

Whilst these exhibiting artists aren’t burning down buildings they are certainly questioning the foundations and cultural mythology of image making. In their pursuit of new techniques and approaches to their craft, collectively they function as alchemists. Their process of creative production yields ongoing surprises. Through various strategies and devices these artists embrace the making of visual images armed with a touch of cynicism, raw honesty and intellectual rigour that makes their practices all the more explosive.

Claire Anna Watson

 

Published by The Gallery @ Bayside Arts & Cultural Centre, 2015

 

Light the Blue Touchpaper and Retire

15 August - 27 September 2015

 

[1] Matthew Greaves. HK PC. Isabelle Sully, Simon McGlinn (eds). Buffet. Melbourne: Buffet Publications, 2015

[2] Interview with the artist. 12 July 2015.

[3]  Kenneth Chase. Firearms: A Global History to 1700. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003, p.31

[4] Joseph Needham. Science and Civilisation in China: Military technology: the gunpowder epic. Cambridge: University Press, 1986

 

 

 

 

 

Imperium of Dreams

 

In Kevin Chin’s paintings the phantasmagorical is unearthed. Whether it is strangers, his partner or himself depicted, it is as though his protagonists are all intertwined, engaged in an uncanny dance with not only nature but also earthly possessions. The purpose of this dance: to unravel the nature of reality and allow magic to intervene. It is a dance of self-dissolution, communion and bliss at the expense of time, sorrow and the minutiae of daily life.

 

Pleasure and wonderment punctuate the works in this solo exhibition Worlds Away. Here, we are invited into a mythic world where a compendium of narratives coalesce and a hypnotic reverie is invoked. Leisure activities including swinging, walking, rowing, and eating, showcase humanity at its most peaceful and least complex. People and objects curiously float, devoid of fixed boundaries. Humans undertake simple activities, abstracted from complicated lives. Across sweeping terrains, they are united within the artist’s euphoria for colour and his deep reverence and joy for life.

 

Bliss is at the heart of Airlift, 2016. A haze of fog stretches across the image creating an air of mystery and otherworldliness and articulating Chin’s interest in what is both seen and unseen. Disproportionately scaled domestic crockery composes nearly a quarter of the painting and yet it remains incidental to the central figure’s joyous experience. The strewn bowls and chopping boards somehow manage to be absorbed into the rest of the landscape and are strangely not out of place. Combining disjointed imagery generates a cognitive dissonance that is powerfully arresting and indeed the signature style of Chin’s oeuvre.

 

Structurally, the work is predicated by a series of strong lines, from the rope swing to the ladder, through to the poles and the post, which supports the weight of one of the brightly dressed young girls. But invisible lines—those being the trajectory of the subject’s gazes—enhance these strong compositional lines further. The young man looks up and across, whilst the two women seated on the bench look upwards. Meanwhile, the two girls look away from us, the viewer. This device of activating the work through the direction of the gaze, engenders a dynamic sense of intrigue, as though the image is but a very small piece of a much more involved scenario. These invisible lines also serve to create a sense of three-dimensionality to the work, fabricating a sense of immersion and suggesting the picture continues beyond the bounds of its edges. This is what makes Chin’s work so captivating and engaging. We’re always asking ourselves, what are the subjects looking at? What might be hidden from view?

 

Similarly, in Chin’s diptych Less Than White, 2015, we experience the sense that we are closing in upon a much more expansive vista. The first panel depicts two children playing in the snow bathed in a soft and diffusive light. Although it appears to be the same landscape, strange objects, some resembling elongated pigs infiltrate the second panel. Could they be play equipment or public art? Could this be an alternative reality or is it the same space? Whatever the case, the curious relationship of the two panels provides a sense of tension and unrest. Intriguingly, there is a tranquillity and sense of the sublime marrying the two works. Together they invoke a harmony between humanity, nature and the other.

 

Snow is also the trigger for activity in Shovel Aside, 2016. Lush foliage and a vegetable patch intersect with a forest scene where two workers are busy shovelling the fresh white powder. The washy fluidity of paint marks in the foreground contrast with the detailed rendering of the snow and greenery. A singular shovel overshadows their efforts. It stands poised, erect; its torn edges as though a collage, reference the artist’s process of taking photographs (whilst artist in residence at Youkobo Art Space in Japan) and using it as source material for his paintings. Are these workers scooping up snow or are they digging into the fabric of painting itself? Are their actions self-referential to the artistic process? They seem unreservedly implicated in the stylistic carving and construction of the picture’s surface. This methodology is also visible in the masterful Grow Together, 2016, where a young child tending the painting with a watering can produces part of the image’s surface, a tree.

 

Chin is astutely aware of the weighty history of painting. Sometimes he overtly parodies it and other times he is purely ensconced with the medium for its superlative ability to convey beauty and illustrate a kaleidoscopic imagination. In Via Swan, 2015, it is the latter at work. Crowds enjoy swan-shaped paddleboats and rowboats. They travel within a divided and inverted landscape, each traversing a different path and yet somehow their individuality is obliterated. Within their merrymaking they appear to experience one and the same thing; it is a carnival of pure pleasure: innocent and buoyant.

 

Indulgence is also the subject for Liftoff, 2016. The sweet power of ice cream is the catalyst as a young girl clenches her face in both terror and awe whilst scooping into her mouth a heap of sugary softness. She floats between two worlds. Could the ice cream be inducing perception-altering effects or is the girl caught in a personal daydream? The blue and pink entangled tubes could be oversized straws or they could be transporters in between two realities—one a dreamscape and one real life.

 

Amongst these dreamscapes and blissful reveries, only one of the works points to perhaps a darker and more solemn mood, that being Veils, 2016. Three figures inhabit a mountainous landscape. One is hunched over under a scarf gripping their head; another awkwardly sits atop a pile of rubbish whilst another scratches their palm. Their gestures reveal a range of psychological states. Veiled so that their faces are only partially revealed, if at all, a sense of ambiguity penetrates this work. They are clearly in transit but to where? The rubbish and a street sign counterpoint the pristine environment of the mountain-scape. They are in a space of limbo, an in-between state.

 

A trek through mountainous terrain is also featured in No Rest, 2015. This is the most affecting of the works in this exhibition for it overtly references the act of dreaming—the life-blood of Chin’s practice. Here we see the artist and his partner Clinton, hiking and camping through rocky and richly coloured terrain. Chin looks admiringly across to Clinton as he sleeps. Cuts into the picture plane reveal a heavenly light. Within the rock face, we see two different seasons intersect. Luxurious and ornate renderings of decorative flowers and leaves blanket the image; and there is an undeniable sense of wonderment at their psychological inversion.

 

Things are not quite as they seem in the world of Kevin Chin. He marries the banal with the fantastical. His is a mystical and transcendental discourse where inner states of tranquillity and equanimity are cultivated across all life forms including inanimate objects. It is a realm where dream states rule, a place we can only ponder whether or not it’s truly worlds away.

Claire Anna Watson

Published by The Gallery @ Bayside Arts & Cultural Centre, 2016

 

Kevin Chin | Worlds Away

27 February - 24 April 2016