8 - 25 May 2013

Opening Night |Thursday 9 May 6-8pm

Laura Skerlj

White, Gold, Mountain presents a (re)assembled landscape; cut, collaged and arranged to frame new versions of 'the wilderness'. The paintings in this exhibition focus on rocks, mountains, and mineral compounds, coercing these elements into disproportionate scales and disruptive compositions to infer the psycho-geography of a mythic and sublime terrain.

IMAGES | Laura Skerlj, Fool's Gold (Amethyst Crinkle), 2013, oil on board, 35 x40cm| Images courtesy of the artist. 



According to current cosmological theories, the shape of our universe most likely resembles a flat, rectangular plane, akin to a screen. Elements vanish over one edge only to reappear on the adjacent side, like the hungry ghosts in the Pac-man video game. It has a framework, but this frame refuses its normal function as a boundary, instead reiterating the infinite nature of the cosmos.

If we accept that our universe is thus contained, we must also entertain the possibility that it may be one among unlimited universes, a fragment of a greater macrocosm1. The cosmic becomes the microcosmic, the apparently boundless is enclosed, and the regression continues anon.

The universe is limitless, unbounded.
In any of its areas, otherwise
It would have to have an end somewhere, but no –
Nothing, it seems, can possibly have an end
Without there being something out beyond it,
Beyond perception’s range. We must admit
There can be nothing beyond the sum of things.
Therefore that sum is infinite, limitless.
It makes no difference where you stand, your centre
Permits of no circumference around it.
— The Way Things Are: The “De Rerum Natura” of Titus Lucretius Carus2

The pigments in certain oil paints are composed of earths and minerals extracted from the ground. Cadmium, titanium, zinc, ochre, umber…milled to a fine powder, suspended in plant oil and transformed by the painter into scenes of humanity’s conquering power over nature. The romanticised explorer, gazing out across lands now his by default (Caspar David Friedrich). Or, a delicate, precise picturing of every star visible in a far-flung galaxy (Vija Celmins). Paint, acting as the meeting point of physis and techne, and paintings as the art object de rigeur, themselves co-opted as symbols of wealth and power. The practice of painting, as anachronistic as 19th Century notions of the wilderness, yet able to fold the cosmos up in an act of vibrant origami.

In paintings by Friedrich, the “specular witness” to the European wilderness is often explicitly figured.3 Through their eyes, the viewer inhabits the world of the work, invited to cast a colonising gaze over all that s/he surveys. Apprehension translated into domination, a rope cast around the sublime.

Celmins’ starscapes imply a distant observer, apprehending the vastness of space via obsessive mark making. A painting of a picture, produced by a telescope, the wilderness kept at a safe remove.

In contrast, the paintings of Laura Skerlj destabilise the position of witness. Her re-assembled landscapes expel the viewer from the frame, recapitulating the distance of our contemporary relationship to the environment. Mountains abut mountains in a precisely measured construction, leaving us no path to step on to; no kind gateway marked ‘enter here’. On closer inspection, holes turn out to be acts of interference, a splicing together of solid surfaces rather than passages or voids. What might be rock faces, at close range prove to be crinkles in foil, plastic pyrite reflecting our concepts of “nature” back at us.

The denegation of the picture opens up “free spaces” for speculation itself. The speculation denies its speculation to be complicit with and enmeshed in the world.4

The loose circles of rock or mineral interrupting these facets create a type of multistable image (Wittgenstein’s ‘duck-rabbit’), one painting nested inside another, generating ambiguity. Mitchell suggests that such images act as devices for “educing self-knowledge, a kind of mirror for the beholder, or a screen for self-projection like the Rorschach test5.” Skerlj’s work shifts us back and forth between our imaginings of “nature” and “culture”, unsettling what we think we know of both. Her paintings demonstrate Roepstorff and Bubandt’s notion that “… ‘nature’ is at the same time real and constructed, simultaneously independent and full of human agency.”6 The heightened colours of her palette align more closely with the virtual, whatever the origin of her pigments.

Viewing the works in White, Gold, Mountain, we find that our cosmos is papered together, collaged images from disparate sources competing on an unstable surface. And if nature is an incautious imagining, what does that make of us, its insider/outsider imagineers? It would seem that we are just like Pac-Man, consuming everything in his path, risking his last life chasing Ghosts.

- Sarah Bunting is an artist, writer and current candidate for the Master of Fine Arts at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne. www.sarahjbunting.com

1Greene, Brian, The Hidden Universe, London: Penguin Books, 2012. See especially Chapters 1 & 2, “The Bounds of Reality: On Parallel Worlds” and “Endless Doppelgängers: The Quilted Multiverse”.
1Quoted in Clair, Jean, Cosmos: From Romanticism to the Avant-Garde, Montreal, Quebec: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Munich: Prestel, 1999
1Bordo, Jonathan, “Picture and Witness at the Site of the Wilderness”, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 26, No. 2, p227
1Bordo, Jonathan, “Picture and Witness at the Site of the Wilderness”, p242
1Mitchell, W.J.T., Picture Theory, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994. See especially Chapter 2, “Metapictures”.
1Nils, Bubandt, Kalvei Kull and Roepstoff, Andreas, Imagining Nature, Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press, 2003.