11 – 27 March 2010

Sarah Bunting


“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.  We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly.  We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle

The paintings themselves are near-monochromatic.  The paint is applied loosely in places and left to run, creating a cloudy montage or perhaps a process-based stream of consciousness.  Through the vapour a range of icons begin to emerge, beyond the composition of curves and circles, past the materiality of the pigment being pushed across the page.  Shadowed bowed faces and prostrating silouettes evoke a medatitive quality with hints of the all-seeing eye, crucifixes and halos.  Religious and cultural icons appear only to be partially obscured by the drips that gravity records upon the surface of these images.  The underlying iconography is treated as a precious object that can never be fully obliterated, creating a tension between reverence and obscurity.  The marks are premeditated, but loose, falling into the (literally at times) grey areas between order and disorder.  Despite the range of mark-making, however, the paintings remain predominantly white.  White is not a colour, but a tone and Bunting’s paintings are tonal on several levels.  Rhythmic and repetitive, not unlike the tones of music, the movement of swirling curves and s-shapes across the canvas increases the tempo of the work.  Bunting is at her best when she is creating elusive open signs.  Is it a snake or an ‘s’?  Is there a face behind that dribble of paint or is it just my anthropocentric search for one?  The ambiguity of these moments animates the works, amplifying movement and flow.

The use of language and metaphor is central to Bunting’s interest in habits and rituals.  The metaphorical relationships between rituals and other established discourses have been extremely important in expanding our understanding of rather complicated practices that exist everywhere but range widely from context to context.  Language and rituals function as communicative devices that encode and relay meanings about a society’s core beliefs.  Both language and rituals are performative devices with broad social implications.  The very word ‘ritual’ is loaded with meaning.  Rituals can be functional, ideological, religious or conceptual.  They can be defined as process or praxis.  Rituals are deliberate and conscious, purposeful.  They are acts of symbolic and emotional resonance, performed with an awareness and assent that is not present in the performance of a habit.  A habit is passive, it is a pattern we fall into in the absence of conscious choice.  That is not to say, of course, that all rituals are active, for rituals can easily become habitual.  Many group and inherited rituals are particularly passive, for example, with the symbolic and emotional resonance divorced from the ritual as it is performed.  Both habits and rituals have potential positive and negative social readings, for the individual and for society, and Bunting has seized upon this ambiguity and incorporated it into her work.

These open possibilities have led Bunting to a politicised outlook, increasingly concerned with the violence systemic to late capitalism, religion, gender issues and history.  Her Bible work is a case in point.  Covered in white and open on a small white shelf, every word has been erased except for those which reference violence, sex or wealth.  Similarly engaging is the cluster of small sculptures opposite the paintings which are loosely based on discernable religious icons.  These normally venerated symbols are instead depicted as monochromatic masses of clumsy and malformed materials.  The incompleteness of all the pieces in Bunting’s exhibition alludes to something beyond the individual works themselves.  They reveal a subconscious struggle between strict self-control through habit and repetition and a yearning for transformation, resulting in a kind of fragmentary self-portrait of the artist.

Drew PettiferFebruary 2010.