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common domestic materials, repurposed furniture, natural fibres, taxidermy and ice, Folland manifests fables of historical reference, exposing cultural differences and tapping into our individual and accumulated sense of identity.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.

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.