12 March – 16 April 2016
Hayley Megan French
Vivian Cooper Smith
Interiors/Exteriors - Grace Cossington Smith Gallery
The basic premise for Interiors/Exteriors is bringing together a group of artists whose work enriches our experience of everyday living in a place. This may sound like a straightforward premise for an exhibition, but in truth it is a complex and often ideologically challenging place to explore. Place as a concept has been the site of much debate in the postcolonial era of Australia. Even the act of referring to ‘Australia’ itself, and Australia as being postcolonial is open to discourse, with many Australians (indigenous and otherwise) considering the country as under continuing occupation. But to view the exhibition as a collection of various political stances would do it great disservice. While, yes, some of the work of Interiors/Exteriors intersects with politics, all of it is deeply personal to the artists and their own stories.
This rupture between the personal and the political is understandable, given the climate of the conservative neoliberal western world (colonialism is very very bad, but capitalism is very very good), and its bullish attitude toward culture (unlike sport and science, art must constantly justify its own existence). If the contemporary artist cares to listen to the cacophony of context that surrounds them, he or she cannot help but feel defensive, or at the very least conflicted, in his or her calling. The dichotomy of Interiors/Exteriors is a personal one; one can only express one’s own ‘interior’ by putting it out there, giving it form or expression, pressing it into an exterior presence. As an exhibition, the art can be loosely ordered into three bodies of enquiry, all of which discuss place and space in ways particular and recurring in each artist’s practice.
The work of Emma Thomson, Nana Ohnesorge, Heath Franco and Hayley Megan French incorporates responses to place, immersed in the stories, home, places of work, fashions and possessions of others. These images imply narratives without necessarily spelling them out, leaving us to make our own connections, and tease out their meanings and connection to the artist. Places filtered through, and rearranged according to, the artist. Thomson and Ohnesorge reflect an agitated and insecure culture back at itself. Franco amplifies and distorts its vulgarity. French searches for something greater, something universal, in its roots.
The work of Deb Mansfield, Chris Dolman, Kylie Banyard, Gary Carsley, Ron Adams and Samuel Quinteros creates places and spaces from whole cloth, world-building according to some mysterious personal interest or ideal. These fabricated spaces do not exist, could not exist, but serve as extensions of the artistic imagination, blueprints of what could be, transposed into the space of the gallery, transforming it. Maybe these places do exist after all, visible (or enterable) only at the whim of the imagineers. Spaces as extensions of the artists themselves. Mansfield’s work doubles back on itself, colliding object with illusion, image seemingly pixilated in its tapestry. Dolman, Banyard and Quinteros bring a kind of mass-culture reimagining of the world, according to Saturday morning cartoons, ‘60s Ultra-lounge and Bladerunner respectively, paint suggesting cells, wood panelling and wetware. Carsley’s and Adams’s worlds are at once inviting and off-limits, at least in our un-vectored human form. Imagine what Tron’s C.L.U. would hang in his living room.
The work of Kate Beckingham, Mason Kimber and Vivian Cooper Smith responds by collecting, documenting and archiving findings, relegating the artist to the role of observer, voyeur, collector, arranger and curator. The assemblage of such treasures and detritus recreates the visited place in miniature, an intimate arrangement that evokes the time of day, the weather, the feel, of a memory. In this instance, memories are somewhat plastic, changing through life, smoothing out harder edges, sometimes mothballed side by side with other fragments of time.
At the end of the day, these artworks become something more than the places and spaces that they create, represent, conjure of suggest. How can a feeling or an impression be accurately documented, especially given the nature of thought and memory? Perhaps the works of Interiors/Exteriors are the best way of doing so, the only way, really. Forgetting the hard edges and high-res clarity of the scan, capture and photograph, and instead turning to the suggested, the unseen and the felt.
Dr Jonathan McBurnie
Director, Umbrella Studio Contemporary Arts