21 May - 6 June 2009

Bree Dalton

Investigating the technological and mythological concepts associated with the grotesque, Dalton will transform Blindside into a grotto representative of a microcosmic immersive space.


Bree Dalton describes her installation Dying to time ‘as a site that plays host to esoteric curiosities organized and classified into an imaginative world or microcosmos, it connects strongly to the spatial qualities of the grotto, which entices viewers into an immersive space’.

Cryptic forms anthropomorphise and flourish, populating this world. Their form is resplendent and feral, their origins intangible. These ‘esoteric curiosities’ constitute an amalgam of found objects and surprising materials that create hybrid forms oscillating between cute and horrifying.

Lurid configurations of viscera adorned with diamantes sprawl with baroque abandon within the rocky boundaries of the grotto. A procession of glitter covered forms donning miniature top hats with protrusions of lace-covered razor blades exude an air of grim and deliberate intent.

Heterogeneity is vital to Dalton’s methodology: natural and synthetic materials mingle unabashedly within the installation. An example is a creature crafted from resin and bristling with hundreds of plastic triangles that sprout tails made from actual oyster shells.The effect of the numerous cross fertilizations such as these are as beguiling as they are curious.

There is a consciously girly and mannered aesthetic and method to the construction of her forms. During her undergraduate years Dalton studied painting and is therefore not a trained sculptor. Consequently there is a refreshingly egalitarian approach to materials. Despite their florid and (at times) playful appearance, there is gravity in their nature. Dalton speaks of a desire to lend these materials a ‘dignity’. This is evident in the uncensored couplings and combination of traditional materials like oil pigments,with the unconventional, such as false fingernails or flowers carved from soap. Here, Dalton approaches the notion of kitsch in a manner that transgresses dualistic high/low arguments to reveal complex narratives relating to mythological conceptions of the grotesque as well as its manifestations in contemporary culture.

Bree Dalton’s sculptures resemble wonders as found in cabinets of curiosities, or ‘wunderkammer’ that became popular in eighteenth century Europe. The wunderkammer, she says is a ‘construction for organising objects into a space demarcated by its collector, with the intent of creating a little world’(1).
Wundrkammern contained objects, both real and fake, which elicited feelings of wonder due to their strange and anomalous qualities. Wunderkammer were places in which one was able to ponder the otherworldly realm as well as the actual world and its anomalies. In contemporary times we turn to the spectacle of celebrity to get our freak fix.

In the celebrity world the iconic king of aberration is also the king of pop: Michael Jackson. Jackson represents a tormented amalgam of disparate elements and pop cultural references that conspire to grotesque and fascinating effect. The most recent chapter of the Jackson chronicle, reported in news worldwide, is the auctioning of his prized possessions from Neverland. His eclectic belongings were exhibited at an auction house in Beverly Hills that spanned 1,390 lots. The goods were never sold as Jackson, suffering from seller’s remorse, retracted the items from sale but not from view. The eccentricities were grouped categorically and organised in a haphazard way. Items such as his famous crystal glove or Asian textiles are displayed alongside original artworks by Macaulay Culkin.

There is something appealing when celebrity collections like Jackson’s are put up for auction because their display is commodity-driven. We see them as a whole that has not been edited for a specific audience or scrutiny. In this absence of curation during a time when “curating” is highly esteemed, the online auction catalogues of Michael Jackson evoke classic wunderkammer from which museums originated.

Hyperbolic manifestations of celebrity such as Michael Jackson (and his plethora of belongings) reflect the distorted nature of the sculptures within Dalton’s grotto. Both correspond to the reality of appearances in which transfiguration is the catalyst for engagement, and is entirely dependant upon the space in which they exist. Like myths, celebrity personas grow naturally out of valid perceptions and appearances, but when introduced into the speculative sphere they unfold with an unyielding rigor, transgressing, at times, the limits of reason. Dalton’s grotto touches upon the waste and superficiality associated with consumer culture but avoids binary narratives.

In A Thousand Plateaus Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari used the term “rhizome” to explain theory and research based on multiple, non-hierarchical forms of representation and interpretation(2). A rhizome works with horizontal and trans-species connections, while an arborescent model works with vertical and linear connections. Deleuze andGuattari use an example of the “orchid and the wasp” to explain the biological concept of mutualism. In this example the orchids deceitfully mimic the female wasps, their labellum being similar in colour and in structure to the female wasp’s abdomen. This is so that the male wasp, in its efforts to impregnate various orchids, spreads pollen between them effectively facilitating the plants procreation. The simulacral quality of the orchid creates an instance in which two different species interact together to form a multiplicity.

Dalton’s sculptural incarnations within the artificial environment of the grotto demonstrate a fundamentally rhizomatic approach.  Her work indicates an approval of non-propriatal, non-hierarchical forms of attention and an approach to multiplicity that sees it as the animating principal of an art that can offer resistance to contemporary forms of social control.

In this respect the imaginative, irreverent qualities of the sculptures within the grotto have a combative yet capricious function. As curiosities within an imagined space they dance, fuck, mutate, spawn, scheme, parade, multiply and defy categorisation.
The grotto itself is a means in which to ponder. It is a ‘wondrous psychological reflection of the cosmos, or a humanist conceit at bettering nature – as something that is artificial from the outset’(3). The grotto is a philosophical space. It provides questions related to nature and culture, the real and the virtual, and reflects back at us the strangeness of the worlds we inhabit. It opens your eyes to an infinity of configurations but it provides no reply.

You will find no resolution here so you may as well just tuck a wasp shaped orchid behind your ear and moonwalk on out into the real world.

Annika Koops - 2009


1. Bree Dalton, The Semper Eadem: Salting Flesh Shoreline Project, MFA Thesis, Victorian College of the Arts 2009

2. See A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, University of Minnesota Press, 1987

3. Bree Dalton, The Semper Eadem: Salting Flesh Shoreline Project, MFA Thesis, Victorian College of the Arts 2009