21 March– 7 April 2012
Caroline Phillips’ Easement builds on her ongoing practice of exploring embodied spaces of the feminine. Phillips has a particular interested in architecture as a metaphor and conceptual medium – her work draws on themes of enclosure, tension, boundaries and inter-relationships. Easement visualises both an interior and exterior boundary whilst the materiality of piece itself embodies stress, tension and a threshold between spaces.
THE ART OF THE STRETCH
There’s no rest for the wicked in the feminist mattress of effects Caroline Phillips creates in her latest installation Easement.
If fiction is the art of stretching out a moment then installation artist Caroline Phillips is a fierce rhetorician. Her narrative is about a deep connection with the material world – piercingly demonstrated through more than 200 metallic hooks in her wall piece for Easement – and the principles of material post-minimalism extracted from the work of Eva Hesse. Connecting into a movement that has created its own gravitas out of materials such as latex and rubber is important to Phillips. Even while she is making her excursions into the mother world of Bunnings where practical devices such as ocker straps and nets for containing trailer loads attract her attention, she is creating a tragic irony out of these everyday workable items. Ocker straps – do they do a handy little job of securing us against the winds of chance or are they strapping us into a mentality that cannot be shifted except by exposure to our own fetishised existence?
Easement – defined as ‘the legal right to cross or otherwise use someone else’s land for a specified purpose’ suggests that Phillips is exploring the conditions for such a crossing. Can they be conferred by law or do we need to engage with the tension of existence? Are there barriers to this crossing? Can small rubber straps configured symmetrically on a pink wall help create the necessary conditions for discovery? Do we cling, climb up and generally grasp for the impenetrable? Are we entering a feminist phenomenological space based on imaginings of touch rather than sight? The French philosopher Merleau-Ponty says we perceive objects in relation to the horizon. Phillips is proposing a different horizon, one of pain and suffering, a subjective space that is just beyond grasp. Her textual unconscious is taut and cryptic.
It is tempting to make something out of the repository of hardware goods that Phillips haunts, to turn her visits into girly jokes at the expense of the tradies she meets in the aisles for being so utilitarian in their desires. Yet, Phillips is stealing some of their competence. Her works take two days to assemble. Hooks cut into her fingers. Systems need to be in place so she can harness the stretch and all of its implications. Yet she might take a roll of rubber and, out of a deep engagement with its presence, let it unfurl on the floor rather than cut it up for some aesthetic scheme. She is nostalgic for utility yet, in the tradition of the discipline she follows, she plays with its antithesis. These small black components have been selected by her and hooked into a feminist mattress of effects, an impossible place that could never provide rest. No rest for the wicked. No rights for the hook that can stabilise and dig deep at the same time.
Phillips has recently completed a Master of Fine Art at the Victorian College of the Arts where she undertook research into phenomenological feminism. She has been influenced by the work of the French theorist Luce Irigaray whose ‘grammar and syntax are consciously stretched, sometimes to their limits’. Yet, like the work of her heroines, Phillips’ installations are never meaningless. Ambiguities in Irigaray’s approach to textuality proliferate rather than diminish meanings. They defy attempts to pin them down definitively. Similarly, Eva Hesse and her tragic innovations in latex have opened up new fields of scholarship into the relationship between trauma and the outrageous. When practicing the art of the stretch, it all comes back to finding just the right hooks. Luckily they cost just $5 in Bunnings and there are plenty of them available in the stock room.
- Rhonda Dredge
Rhonda Dredge is a narrative artist based in Melbourne. She is doing a PhD in Creative Writing at La Trobe University.