29 January - 14 February 2009
Curated by Natalya Maller
Aly Aitken, Rachel Feery, Ashley Ireland, Angela Leech, Kristin McIver, Carl Scrase, Lisa Stewart, Kristina Sundstrom + Kent Wilson
Debut V is a curated selection of works by nine artists who graduated from Melbourne’s art schools in 2008.
Debut has become an annual fixture of the Blindside exhibition program, introducing and supporting Melbourne’s art school graduates in their transition to the professional art scene. The exhibition is in keeping with Blindside’s ethos to support and promote emerging artists and contemporary arts practice.
Debut V brings together a selection of the many innovative works reviewed during 2008. It is a kaleidoscopic show touching on escapism, imagined worlds, dreams and memory, sensory experience, contemporary living and cultural constructs. Brought together under the theme of ‘exploration and discovery’, Debut V is an opportunity to challenge and redefine our notions of reality and delve into new artistic possibilities.
The act of exploring is to search or travel for the purpose of discovery1. Exploration is not confined to the notion of ‘discovery of lands’ or surveying terrain but is an integral part of human existence. Human society and culture are the result of exploration and discovery. New ideas could not occur without accidental or intentional branching into new ways of seeing, searching, experiencing and playing. Exploration and discovery are bounded only by the limits of our imagination.
Exploration and discovery have been important ingredients in the curation of Debut V. It has not necessarily been the artists’ intention, however, to employ ‘exploration’ or ‘discovery’ to the meaning of their work, but has been curatorially applied. The works by Aly Aitken, Rachel Feery, Ashley Ireland, Angela Leech, Kristin McIver, Carl Scrase, Lisa Stewart, Kristina Sundstrom and Kent Wilson, cover diverse subjects and whether intentional or not, are perceived to have involved or inspire both exploration and discovery.
The works have been divided twofold: spatially across two gallery spaces, and thematically by ‘internal’ and ‘external’ exploration and discovery. ‘Internal’ exploration is of the mind, psychological, emotional and spiritual, while ‘external’ exploration focuses on the five senses and environmental, cultural and social constructs. Many of the works often exhibit signs of flowing between external and internal aspects.
Carl Scrase’s Structure for the Accumulation of All Knowable Knowledge (2008) is a playful reinvention of everyday objects. A group of hard covered, plastic, coloured office folders are fused together with bull-dog clips to present a circular rainbow. Significant to the selection of these objects is the fact that they are the very tools and accessories we use to order, sort, divide and control our lives. The circle itself bridges internal and external modes of exploration. There is a sense of liberty that encourages us to penetrate the surface reality of the objects we interact with in day to day living to a deeper philosophy. The wit of the work lies in its sense of the ridiculous. As indicated in the title, ‘…All Knowable Knowledge’, it suggests that a higher wisdom is achievable through a typical business environment. Is Scrase offering us a modern spirituality “…a personal form of mysticism based around the belief that a deeper, more fundamental experience of reality can be uncovered from the misuse of things that surround us”? Structure for the Accumulation of All Knowable Knowledge (2008) gives license to explore our environment and venture out of a disciplined and ordered reality to re-examine the seemingly mundane and monotonous modern constructs of our contemporary ‘nine to five’ existence.
Similarly, Angela Leech’s The Isolated Display: Cabinet and Chevy Teddy (2008) works on two levels of internal and external exploration and discovery. It is investigating the institutional qualities of a museum and the scientific apparatus, with a glass cabinet and Chevy Teddy, a construction of separate pieces that create a whole. The ‘display only’ aspect of the cabinet, however, is made defunct by the addition of rubber gloves which allows the viewer to be taken beyond the norms of classical museum behavior, to engage, explore and play with Chevy Teddy, who has succumbed to the role of specimen or artifact. Leech’s interactive component is intended to encourage understanding the conceptual where “…art can create more than a passive viewing experience: stimulating the mind and the senses…with the meaning of the work relying on the participation of the viewer”. With aspects of participation, exploring ‘the specimen’ with touch, and the opportunity to absorb the concepts mentally, a more holistic knowledge can be gained.
In Sheep’s Clothing (2008), Pushmi-Pullyu (2008) and Don’t Call me Alice (2008), from the Outside In series by Aly Aitken, are a hybrid of reality and dreams, a “mongrel mix of art, human, animal and vegetable”. These three creatures bridge between both internal and external exploration by being inhabitants from a “fabricated world [of]… twilight space…belonging to a landscape in limbo”. Aitken’s work is concerned with two areas: escapism and our relationship with the natural environment. It is tempting to propose that the personalities of In Sheep’s Clothing (2008), Pushmi-Pullyu (2008) and Don’t Call me Alice (2008) are reminiscent of characters created by the painter Frances Bacon, but although they stir a sense of unease and wariness, there is a hint of charm, innocence and humor equally reassuring and unsettling. They are a charismatic trio who show us how, from the safety of buildings, we use and interpret the natural environment. Aitken is presenting a contradiction of a romantic but naïve sense of detachment to the landscape that we admire but keep distant, “the outside world is often experienced through a window or screen…engagement vicarious and safe…[yet] we fill our clean, sanitized spaces with simulacra of the natural world”. Aitken proposes her work to be about escaping to “the hidden spaces of the psychological bolt holes we build for ourselves”.
While Aitken expresses a concern about the disintegration of our connection to nature, Ashley Ireland is concerned with self belief. Ireland’s work Help (2008) is predominately about investigating our internal world and existence, and focuses on the modern pre-occupation with self-help products and “…quick fixes”. Help (2008) comprises a new-media installation of six flat TV screens, flashing text and found images from self-help books creating a “… manic and hyper experience for the viewer”. There is a sense of consumer culture preying on pre-ordained mental or emotional breakdown that is the result of contemporary life. There is a feeling of relief to learn of the normality of your heartache, and consoled and reassured, you feel all is not lost. Ireland is investigating how these “…quick fixes” are promoted in a similar fashion to other consumer products and technologies. Relinquishing responsibility, instructions, diagrams and explanations from self-help products conveniently provide the be-all and end-all of remedies from paperback gurus.
Kent Wilson, Off the Record (2008), and Kristin McIver, The Dream (2008), delve into social and cultural constructs of two significant environments, both of which play a part in our sense of place and identity: the natural environment and the concept of home. Our relationship with the natural environment and home contribute to and reflect who we are as individuals and as social beings, often as places of refuge and recuperation, play and exploration. Wilson and McIver offer ways of exploring and discovering aspects of our lives that relate to our sense of belonging.
Wilson’s work investigates the connection between the natural environment and culture through “… the premise that culture is the articulated voice of nature”. Off the Record (2008) replicates a natural area, with the suggestion of a functioning ecosystem transported from the forest floor into the gallery space. An anomaly is the presence of tree stumps that not only express signs of past logging but have mysteriously formed into rotating turntables. The turntables also have a voice, a wiring song, evocative of both productivity and an emotive sense of the past. Culture refers to human activities that symbolically create significance as a result of social learning and individual creativity 2. Wilson suggests our environment plays a key role in our cultural life where “…nature is the field from which culture springs… and [culture is nature’s] most elaborate invention.” Social ecologist Stephen R. Kellert’s Kinship to Mastery3 explores a similar finding on the subject of biophilia, (a term coined by the biologist Edward O. Wilson4), where human culture is infused with our connection to the natural environment. Poignantly, Off the Record (2008) expresses this relationship between nature and culture by the turntables “rotating continuously, as turntable arms attempt to read the growth ring[s]”.
Complementary to Wilson’s artwork is The Dream (2008) by Kristin McIver, where place and identity are defined by the idea of the ‘Great Australian Dream’ of home ownership. McIver’s work is concerned with how globalization and urbanization have changed the way in which we see ‘home’. The slick and smooth lines of neon glow from a glossy black background, referencing an advertising billboard. McIver uses materials and design elements associated with mass media to suggest home ownership is merely a utopian dream not an achievable reality: ”due to a number of factors, such as population influx and tax incentives, house prices have soared out of reach of the average family”. The notion of our identity may be founded on home ownership, but what of those who will never be home owners, how and will it affect their sense of security and belonging?
The final work, Time and Place (2008) by Kristina Sundstrom, touches on the link between the inner self and the external environment. Time and Place (2008) is an installation work of documentation, comprising of etchings and screen prints carefully hand shredded and twisted into thread-like ropes and knots. Sundstrom’s ropes and knots are representational of the body-mind complex of memories, how they are mapped in the body and the effects on self and connection to constructed space. The creative process of Sundsrom’s work is symbolic whereby “…deconstruction and reconstruction represent the mechanics of the mind, how we perceive, identify and archive sensory information”. The complexity, however, expands to include the significance of place, where the viewer is taken into account as ‘participant’ in the site-specific arrangement of the ropes and knots. A relationship is considered between all components; object, time, space, place and participant. Time and Place (2008) considers the patterns, repetition and rhythms of how we receive sensory information and experiences, creating a foundation “…[to] serve as a temporal anchoring” for “…understanding and controlling [our] environment”.
In keeping with exploration into the workings of our minds and the discoveries we can encounter is Rachel Feery and Lisa Stewart’s mixed media audio visual work Echoes of Gold (Individual View) (2008). Feery and Stewart set out to inspire our inner child and sense of play. Through the small viewing window of a white cardboard box, amongst the darkness of space, there is a glimpse of new places. Over constructed environments and scenery our eyes are guided on a journey, a narrative of landscapes and terrain, where we succumb to our imagination. The experience is one of nostalgia, recreating an innocence and excitement reminiscent of the C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe5, in that we hope the white box is a portal to a world we can climb into. The viewer, Feery and Stewart remark, is “[taken] to uninhabited lands of mysterious origins…to rediscover the wonderment of the make believe”. Growing up is associated with responsibility. If fortune has not bestowed upon us a creative life, it is perhaps important to indulge in, explore and discover imaginary worlds and periodically remove ourselves from adult sensibility.
Together, the eight works included in Debut V encompass an array of exploration and discovery: through interacting with objects or our environment, delving into nostalgia or stretching the limits of our imagination, portraying the numerous ways of processing emotional experiences, or understanding the role of mass media and contemporary culture in forming our sense of identity. The diversity of subjects, the artistic approach and skillful execution, reflect the desire of the artists to study and observe critically, and with wit, create an informative discourse for the audience to absorb.
Natalya E. Maller - 2009
1. Alison Moore (Ed.), Macquarie Concise Dictionary, 4th edition, New South Wales, Macquarie University Press, 2006.
2. Jary, David and Julia Jary, Collins Dictionary: Sociology, 3rd edition, Glasgow, HarperCollins Publishers, 2000.
3. Kellert, Stephen R., Kinship to Mastery: Biophilia in Human Evolution and Development, Washington, Island Press, 1997.
4. Wilson, Edward O., Biophilia, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1984.
5. Lewis, C. S., The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, New York City, HarperCollins Publishers, 1950.