Soft Spot Hard Feelings

More and more I seem to take my cues from the specific materials, objects and architectural spaces – and their properties – like colour, texture, weight, malleability and so forth. I think of such things as having their own secret lives… have to really listen – and experiment – until it’s right, knowing that in the end it’ll be a matter of relations.

John Barbour, I Malcontenti, Associazione Viafarini, Milano 25 March, 2008[1]

For a moment, let’s forgo a language of antonyms. Now, let’s think of the terms ‘soft’ and ‘hard’. Let’s visualise them transitioning from one state to another, losing a certain rigidity in representation becoming flexible, pliable, and giving way to a more speculative exploration of deeper thoughts. Presence and absence; the tracing of outlines, tangible and out of reach illuminate new truths.

Expanding notions of meaning, emotion and intention Soft spot, Hard feelings is a curatorial exploration of materiality, more specifically through the oppositional assemblages of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ elements. A diverse collection of Adelaide based artists have been brought together at the alternative Holy Rollers gallery/studio each considering a range of ideas whilst looking at the ways in which materials obstruct, disrupt or coalesce and amalgamate within binary formations. These conditions are further echoed within human experience embodying both and translating itself through art and knowledge.

A rudimentary reading of art practice tends to concentrate on the instrumental use of tools and materials to make an artwork. It is the artist or craftsperson that exercises their mastery over his chosen material harnessing its capabilities before signing away their name to a work. It’s a modest reading of the means and end of visual arts. Critics and theorists have built on this foundation steering towards a way of thinking on materials as a participating set of conjunctions with their contributing elements. From this, an artwork emerges. Objects and materials have agency – an emotive physicality that can expand notions of time, space and process. The formations are messy and unstable oscillating in and around meaning.

When greeted with the sculpture of Anna Horne we are immediately faced with a dynamic tension. Stability and volatility sit idly side by side, the materiality of the work suspended in a state of disbelief. The object’s rigidity or softness is illusionary and demands inspection focusing on its heaviness and tactility.

Objecthood and its comportment through historical visual arts culture predetermine our interactions with sculpture such as this. Deeper into the display Min Wong contemplates provocation and seduction through a selection of palpable sculptures and photography. Iconography, language and materiality are all questioned by attempting to reinstate potency to commodified objects. Rewiring and constructing new interrelationships Wong’s work is an experience in modern mysticism and counterculture.

What both Horne and Wong share is what Edward Sampson (1999) proposes as an ‘embodied interactive emergence’ arguing that the production of an artwork is the sum of its ‘actors’ and not of an individual. It is a shift from the singular to the relations between the individual body, the social body and the material conditions of making.[2] Both artists champion the process of manifesting a work of art, acting as co-producer rather than master. Whilst the materials announce a ‘truth’ of sorts there remains an overwhelming sense of the real and unreal softening; where certainty feels less assured.

The historical hierarchy of material nature is uprooted and retested by Carly Snoswell. Through the veil of pop culture and ‘humble craft making’ Snoswell asserts that the concept of excessive, repetitive (textile based) crafting is akin to devotional and obsessive spectatorship.[3] Snoswell attempts to find a deeper understanding and connection to identity and self-consciousness through the cyclical action of stitching, applique and other ‘hobby’ style crafts. Beyonce, an artist synonymous with screaming fans and iconic quality sits carefully amongst the ‘shrines’ and pin-up style banners meticulously stitched and hand embroidered by Snoswell. Loud, bright fabric, sequins and beadwork all disturb the tenuous balance between high and low art, mastery and kitsch.

Further exploring domestic craft in connection to feminist modes of production Deborah Prior exhibits a series of works that engage with space and the body through meditative mark making and stitching. In a series of interventions on found or acquired materials Prior constructs enigmatic pieces that interrogate the body through corporeal experience. For this exhibition Prior has reimagined existing works in relation to the space – this unique ‘gallery’ (a previous church hall) exudes the memory of its prior existence. Their marks forming inspiration and reinforcing connectivity with Prior’s research into materiality, Christianity and the role of ‘women’s work’ within feminist theory and visual arts culture.

Sundari Carmody sublimely explores the environment through material with white white (summer winter solstice) 2017. These minimal looking neon lights reveal cosmological exchanges with space and time. Reflecting the circadian rhythms of the Earth’s movement around the sun the artwork effectually presents levels of daylight within both solstices in graph like form. Through simple corresponding cool and warm neon lights Carmody considers a grander more consciousness reading of empirical data. white white (summer winter solstice) appears distant and otherworldly, Carmody’s abstractly represents the further limits of space and the environment questioning ethereal systems and subjective experience.[4]

Through a series of rhymes, linguistic rhythms and oppositional text Matt Huppatz studies the relationship between language and culture. Solidifying groupings of words, then juggling their ‘normal’ appearance, Huppatz questions the validity of their meaning. Status, gender, class, race, leisure and work are all materialised into ‘objects’ -interchangeable and movable – starkly exhibiting their significance in opposition to one another. The presentation of match-like scoreboards reinforces our shared predilection for value systems, codes and hierarchies.

The exploration of material concern is curatorially explored in the ambitious addition of a performance event to coincide with the exhibition. Artists Lauren Abineri; Celeste Aldahn; Thomas Capogreco; Alison Currie; Ray Harris; Pony Horseman; Henry Jock Walker, Luke Wilcox and Winter Witches will create impermanent work experimenting with materialism in its more transitory form within the body, performance, sound, film and participation. This addition to the program focuses on harnessing and baring witness the possibilities of material metamorphosis. Performance within new materialism communicates a type of embodiment, of networks, of technology and culture. We can focus on non-objects as waves and frequencies, movement and sensation that are free of restriction. The non-representational, through living and active bodies, create dynamic matter vibrantly (albeit briefly) shifting through states of artistic concern.

Ray Harris’ astute curation of Soft spot, Hard feelings illuminates the capability of material matter responding to a multitude of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ concerns. Here we see effect and sureness liquefy slipping from one state to another posing an altered evaluation and understanding of intention. In essence, underlining this thoughtful display are the axioms of human experience – the softness and hard nature of our very being.

[1] McDonald, Ewen (2001) ‘John Barbour: Hard/Soft’, Australian Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide, SA.

[2] Sampson, E.E (1999) ‘To Think Differently: The Acting Ensemble: A New Unit for Psychological Inquiry’, unpublished conference paper presented University of Western Sydney, 1999.

[3] Email from the artist.

[4] Ibid.


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