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…..you 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.

PLAYGROUND

Playground is an exhibition of seven multi-disciplinary artists who consider themes of innocence, fantasy and nostalgia whilst referencing the imagination, notions of utopia, the real and unreal. Through a collection of works that explore the nature of playfulness, Playground reveals our shared experiences with childhood sentimentality through the lens of visual art and contemporary craft and design.

The playground is considered a communal space where ideas, experimentation, fantasy and the imagination rule. It is a place where we gather material, action and fables whilst sharing experiences and fostering new collaborations. Here, we can delve into the depths of utopian worlds; we can playfully abandon reality and reimagine the ordinary. It is a stage to ponder and contemplate spaces and the objects around us.

History recounts that art, predictably, is most inclined toward the uninhibited imagination: fantasies and nostalgic memories are sometimes the starting point of people’s engagement with the visual arts. The Fluxus artists of the 1960s committed to ‘playful’ art by valuing simplicity; unifying art, life, and participation through Fluxus ‘work’ – an ethos that was valued by the movement as a whole. Fluxus art valued models of creativity that offered communal, participatory and open-ended alternatives to traditional, rigid forms and functions of art making. Their simplified engagement was open to all – a social act that was transformative and inclusive. Although it may not have always been considered serious or a critical part of art, it did play a fundamental role in framing an ideology around the collective, collaborative approach to art-making.

Playground’s exploration of this transformative ideology is investigated in the utopian environments of sculptor Amy Joy Watson and craft artist Ebony Bizys. Here, we see art as a platform to transcend realities and a medium to explore the uncanny. Through a site-specific ‘build your own adventure’ installation, visual artist, Jessie Lumb and you, the audience, will create a space of foraged reimagined objects, questioning functionality and focusing on the art of mindfulness. Billie Justice Thomson’s large-scale mural Peaches & Dreams conjures the curiosity of story-telling in a painting valuing simplicity and technique . Jeweller, Peta Kruger, configures maps of meaning using delicate beads, crystals, rings and pendants evoking memories of people and locations whilst connecting meaning with object. This study of space and time is further experimented through its interaction with the wearer. Designers Evie Group (Alex Gilmour & Dominic Chong) present a series of works that playfully explore elements of object memory and sentimentality through lively and whimsical homeware pieces.

We can see in the works of these artists and designers elements of art history, popular culture, geology and the environment intersecting with youthful, childlike sentiment. Each work explores the thresholds of dreams and reality, fact and fable. These manifestations encourage the viewer to rethink the ordinary and participate in imaginative thinking both individually or cooperatively.

Rayleen Forester
Curator

The Extreme Climate of Nicholas Folland

Selected as feature artist for the 2014 South Australian Living Artist Festival (SALA), Nicholas Folland presents a collection of works spanning ten years alongside a specially curated suite of South Australian works by other significant local and international artists. The curation of this exhibition not only recognises Folland’s established career, it acts as a platform to broaden the conversation regarding what informs and inspires contemporary artists working today. Curated by the Art Gallery of South Australia’s Project Curator, Lisa Slade, this exhibition creates a new dimension to Folland’s older, well-recognised works and brings into perspective the historical and cultural influences that have shaped his practice.

At the centre of Folland’s practice is a reinterpretation of the ordinary and banal. By utilising common domestic materials, repurposed furniture, natural fibres, taxidermy and ice, Folland manifests fables of historical reference, exposing cultural differences and tapping into our individual and accumulated sense of identity. By marrying his sculptures with natural elements (ice and heat) the artist gives agency to these objects offering an opportunity for continued action and reflection. Captivated by his own family’s historical journey to Australia and referencing the extreme climates and sometimes ill-fated journeys of explorers, Folland’s work has a significant place in contemporary society. These themes and contemplations are a part of ‘our everyday’; social and cultural unrest are longstanding debates in Australia and although not explicitly intertwined here, a thought-provoking connection can be found.

The piece Am I missing something…. (2014) is a transformative sculpture that will morph in size over the course of the exhibition. Resting in the basin of a vintage timber cabinet we see a lit chandelier engulfed in ice. In what AGSA consider Folland’s ‘signature material’, the ice conveys a tremendous weight consuming the chandelier’s delicate framework. As a motif for the punishing climates endured by explorers, the ice will expand and decrease (ever so slightly) depending on the temperature changes within the gallery. This reliance on the external environment and its constant transformation within the gallery space is a key element in reading Folland’s work.

Domestic glassware like decanters, bowls, goblets and vases feature prominently throughout the exhibition. Doldrum (2005) is a magnificently quiet and menacing piece that consumes the central space. A large sail boat is ‘anchored’ in the middle of the gallery immersed in reflected light from the installed glassware in the body of the boat. A reflection of sea-blue and bright light is omitted from the base of the structure powerfully gleaming throughout the space. Doldrum is surrounded by the AGSA’s collection of historical works by artists and explorers such as Charles Alexandre Lesueur, Frank Hurley and Colonel William Light, as well as contemporaries like Sera Waters and Ian North. Each of these artists’ work reference colonisation and exploration generating a new sensitivity to Folland’s piece originally created in 2005.

The study of taxidermy and use of natural fibres form a selection of more recent works in the exhibition. Will it fit in the lift? (2013) is an abstract wall-mounted sculpture of zebra hide installed in a series of angular forms. Referencing the Russian Constructivist Kasimir Malevich’s influential Black Square (1915) and White on White (1918) works, Folland here acknowledges this critical shift in visual arts history and highlights the importance of the experimentation and reinterpretation of form and object. Installed within close range to Untitled (study) (2014); a taxidermy deer head shrouded in crystal jewels, Folland creates a new visual dialogue between these past, and perhaps, future iterations of this established form of process.

This exhibition is a clever presentation of Nicholas Folland’s established career as well as an appropriate opportunity for the AGSA to create a broader conversation about the relevance of their collection and its influence on contemporary artists. Nicholas’ practice is an important example of sculpture’s transformative qualities both in materiality and ideology.

Joe Felber: Kontaktraum Ausländer

The Contemporary Art Centre of SA (CACSA) has undertaken a number of spatial and experiential projects to highlight the capabilities and limitations of their heritage cottage gallery in the residential suburb of Parkside. Previous projects have seen works squeezed into the confines of their unique ‘white cube’ or have been painted from floor to ceiling utilising every crevice of the space. These exhibitions have forced gallery visitors to engage with the physicality of the gallery as well as the depth of each artist’s practice on a different level.

Joe Felber’s presentation is no exception with guests invited to walk over his site-specific, floor based painting while participating in a sonic component triggered by floor sensors throughout the gallery. A collection of works that span a thirty year career culminate in an exhibition that explores nomadic experimentation, human identity, and his experiences as a ‘foreigner’.

While the Australian government deliberates over its policy on immigration and multiculturalism in both a historical and contemporary state, Felber’s exhibition is a timely example of an individual interpretation of this political debate. Felber immigrated to Australia in 1980, bringing with him a number of influences and interests that have been developed and realised through exhibitions in Australia and beyond since the 80s. Felber’s practice focuses on assemblages of materials, painting, performance and music.

For CACSA Felber has focused on the human interaction with sound in the public space. The floor painting offers layers of information interconnecting and overlapping; a geometry of shapes, colours and text is strewn on the floor uniting cultural dialogues through images and text. The convergence of imagery is an investigation and mapping of Febler’s artistic interests and many travels. Echoing throughout the gallery you can hear an edited score of Luigi Nono’s avant-garde compositions -another influence of Febler’s – further expanding the enquiry into human experience through art, sound and space.

Migration, displacement and homeland have been articulated in this exhibition through the eyes of an explorer. Although not politically driven the work reveals a deep connection and concern for shared experiences and understanding. The use of installation demands that you participate in reinforcing the notion of the work as transitory and presents only fragments of a much larger composition.

This exhibition is an experience-orientated, multi-sensory and carefully curated show. Viewers can engage with numerous musical and philosophical influences in Febler’s work highlighting the possibility of a shared spirit in both space and culture.

Roy Ananda: Slow crawl into infinity

In 2010 a group of Star Wars fans raised roughly $12,000 to restore the fictional home of Luke Skywalker in the barren desert of Tunisia where Star Wars was filmed. Over 400 people donated to the cause; the site became a destination for die-hard fans as well as a quasi-memorial for the deteriorating props of the film. There’s a performative and artistic quality to this bizarre project; the repurposing of an art object which was originally conceived as an artefact of our future.

The future has been presented in numerous ways in cult films and while technology at the time was unable to create the realism we see in feature films today, its charm and craftsmanship is still well respected and coveted. The original Star Wars films were produced on what would now be considered a modest film budget and were realised through experimentation with process, materials and space. The films retained a two dimensionality (which is still much loved by audiences) and overtime gave reign to legions of fans to recreate, reproduce and rearticulate George Lucas’ original vision.

From one act of Star Wars fandom to another, Roy Ananda presents an ambitious site-specific sculpture that replicates the opening rolling text made famous by the Star Wars film. ‘Slow crawl into infinity’, is an homage, a sculpture, and an example of history, popular culture, and contemporaneity cunningly colliding all at once.

Roy’s practice is process and material driven; it’s calculated and ram shackled, while referencing both high and low art. He utilizes popular culture icons – film, science fiction, and video games as a source of reference and wittily embeds these objects or ideas into his sculptures with precision and effect. The use of space and scale is fundamental to understanding the work, exaggerating the limits of the gallery or the stability of the form itself. We see weightlessness and sheer strength straddle against each other, precariously balancing while you navigate around the work.

Commanding the gallery void, the text rolls down from one level of the gallery to the other. The scale is compounded by the use of rough wood and exposed bolts; a tool of Ananda’s to position the artist within the work and retain a sense of DIY.

The ‘flatness’ of the Star Wars opening scene is transformed into an incredible three dimensional work that wondrously brings life to this iconic set of text. Ananda has cleverly and lovingly created a tangible scale to Star Wars fandom, making infinity feel that little bit closer.

Sarah CrowEST: A Serious of Objects

Making, un-making and re-making are fundamental processes in Sarah crowEST’s practice. Her work has always been on the move – packing and unpacking ideas of formation and transformation whilst humorously commenting on social and environmental agendas. Her assemblages of blobs, lumps, found objects and textiles exemplify Sarah’s multidisciplinary practice and commitment to process. A lot is left to chance; focussing on exploration and experimentation, haphazardly stumbling on an appropriate and concise outcome.

A Serious of Objects at the AEAF is a collection of crowEST’s sculptures and ‘non-paintings’. Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the gallery, Sarah’s solo exhibition is not only a fine representation of her current practice; her materials and documentation offer a little insight into her own history with Adelaide and its artistic community. Lining one wall hangs a series of large pieces of unfinished Belgian linen repurposed as ‘canvases’; strewn over the surface the artist has hand-stitched remnants of cloth leaving exposed marks of paint or aerosol paint – signs of its previous function, and a cue to Sarah’s commitment to sustainable materials and recycling. Similar to an heirloom quilt full of history pertaining to one’s family, crowEST has hoarded (and continues to collect) donations of fabric from friends, family, and influential types. crowEST considers herself a bit of a social recluse believing this to be her attempt at ‘networking’ and documenting her community. The pieces are titled with a list of names who have contributed to the piece, cataloguing their relationship with the artist whilst sharing ownership of the work without being overly sentimental.

Cycles, processes and experimentation is consistent across the exhibition. A catalogue of images pinned to the wall relay Sarah’s on-going investigations into materiality and highlight some of locations, interactions and influences Sarah has felt over time. Again, this piece continues to morph, much like her sculpture, increasing or decreasing in scale. The images are both documents and artworks in themselves, some have been tampered with, and others are records of people and surroundings. Whilst experimenting with ideas of the unknown Sarah has created a cyclical narrative that exposes a kind of energy which can only be produced through constant exchanges of movement.

Sustainability plays a significant part in Sarah’s oeuvre. She believes in re-using materials and wasting nothing. Her sculptural pieces are constructed from a collection of discarded materials and endure a process of rearticulation with every public presentation. Her piece accomplished naturally without effort (2012-14)is a testament to her philosophy; her lumpy mound sits quietly with wide glass eyes looking out at the exhibition inhabiting the space almost like a gallery invigilator. These sculptures are curiously funny and quirky and are reminders of Sarah’s process driven practice. These forms have an embedded history within them – beaten, crafted, and carved into every dent of their surface.

It cannot be denied that the artist’s hand is at work in this show. A Serious of Objects is a fine example of Sarah’s determined practice whilst being both playful and critical. Whether this show is an introduction, continuation or finale for some of Sarah’s objects, there is certainly an abundance of possibilities on show here.

Sam Songailo: Digital Wasteland

Sam Songailo’s Digital Wasteland is an absorbing experience. From the floor to the ceilings of the CAC Songailo has crafted an immersive, painterly, ‘digital’ environment. The gallery is separated into a series of installations, including video and sculpture, widening your interaction with the work whilst challenging the traditional mores of painting.

Whilst meandering around the space you sense that the walls have a certain hum, order, and syncopated rhythm. Your eyes dart, weave and refocus confused by the UV light and scent of settling paint fumes. This chaotic array of colour and lines morph and transform as you travel from room to room. Installations like these are wildly popular and engaging but sometimes run the risk of being a carnival-act as opposed to ‘artwork’; here Songailo toes the line – he wants you to experience the work, enjoy yourself, whilst investigating his own ideas of painting and installation art.

In the accompanying sculpture(s) we see remnants of forms sitting awkwardly within this experiential and hypnotic digital scape. The title, digital wasteland, would imply that The Digital Age has been and gone, but, what Songailo has created here, is in the thick of its animation. In perhaps a formal nod to contemporaries like Jim Lambie the puncturing of this environment with the inclusion of sculpture is necessary in reading anything other than a fractal pattern of monumental scale. In the front gallery a small stack of thin strips of wood lean up against one wall ushering you towards them; shaman-like and a visible sign of the artists labour. In the back gallery a boulder-like object, weightless, yet sizeable, precariously balances on a formal plinth taken over too by the digital pattern. These sculptures (and the video work in the middle gallery) are examples of Songailo’s extended practice and assist in creating a few points of reference when navigating the installs. They sit lifelessly as if their function has already passed; visible remains of once animated objects.

Animism and subjectification are clear criteria in reading contemporary sculpture today. Critics spend a lot of time looking at the way objects are made and examine how they are fixed within a particular order of knowledge. But how do we retain this process/perception in the age of technology? We now exist alongside networks that create an abundance of data or devices, and a voluptuous amount of digitalised material. These advancements are causing artists, to look further back; to reflect, and retain some of the fundamentals whilst properly addressing the totality of our current landscape in both a tangible and intangible state.

Songailo has created a series of moving networks that involve ourselves, these objects, and the environment around us. Digital Wasteland is an immersive experience that is engaging without recourse or critique; you can empathize with it on a whole other level. What Songailo has made here is something vital and mortal, emerging from something that could be read as cold and lifeless as code.