Adelaide Review arts writer John Neylon surveys South Australia’s exhibitions landscape for the month of September.
Julie Reed Henderson: Political Dancer
Lucia Dohrmann : Rethinking the canvas
West Gallery Thebarton, 29 August – 29 September
Power Brit poet Alice Oswald says that “Poetry is not about language but about what happens when language gets impossible.” Julie Reed Henderson’s work seems to function on this principle. It’s all about what happens when thoughts impose more and more silence on events until all one has are intervals are absences held apart from each other by found objects and barely mediated materials, like temporary barriers and makeshift signage. This exhibition has all the hallmarks of an artist who is comfortable in her own skin, spinning coherency out of seemingly casual encounters within a menagerie of found and mediated objects and materials. What matters is the gesture – that sense of things being related ‘just so’ according to the kinds of instincts that one associates with contemporary dance. Henderson, as a dancer as well as visual artist, draws on her faith in the right gesture at the right time, small moments of possible meaning in a world that just doesn’t add up. Henderson says that, “Political dancer is a reference to my own way, my first way of being in the world … To move around and change due to circumstance is to gain another perspective or to become more aware and then there’s just the desire for a life truer to self.” Entry point to this exploded cabinet of curiosities is Testament and Gathering, a spectral image composed of informally pinned draughting paper that threatens to become a figure. In this single work is the artist’s mode of operation – imprints of movement, speculative juxtapositioning and a finely calibrated aesthetic awareness. That language matters deeply in Henderson’s work is evident in For Art Not to Be … a hooked rug ‘runner’ embedded with a halting, stuttering text that warns of subjecting true realities of life to the entanglements of glorious systems. There is slow burn in these deceptively humble assemblages in which the semiotics of the way materials and objects are used and manipulated imply apprehension, even a nervous darting, like a bird on the wing, from one vantage point to another, to get the lie of the land.
Lucia Dohrmann has continued to draw on an admiration for abstract, minimalist painting as she patiently unravels units of canvas and cotton cloth, leaving only the warp or weft as trembling effigies of former selves. The viewer has nowhere else to go but to look at muted studies in colour and pattern. There is a subversive note to these acts of apparent servitude to process as if the artist is challenging the idea of the ‘ground’ as simply the platform on which the real work of art exists. Without these thousands of threads these works say, nothing gets off the ground. The artist comments, “The employment of repetitious handmade textile processes gives these works a softness and warmth, creating tactile surfaces that mark the passing of labored time. Traditional textile skills, such as hand stitching and crochet, were taught to me as a child by my mother and have become part of my visual language.” These shy little panels speak to an inner sense of fragility, tinged with resilience and a desire for beauty
Bridget Currie & Bernadette Klavins: Warm Earth
Adelaide Central School of Art Gallery
18 September – 25 October
If Bridget Currie and Bernadette Klavins’ dream is realised, Adelaide Central Gallery will smell overwhelmingly of earth. They want to take you there – into that dank, dark space, all steaming with ruminating, composting green waste. They can’t wait to show you what they have found, a Composting Camelot, steaming in a crisp North Adelaide Parklands morning. It will be a heady perfumic brew; eucalyptus, dirt, water, plant sap, crushed leaves and woody shavings. Who could resist such a blend? But there’s more. Consider the archaeology, the hugger mugger conflation of plants great and small, zinnias and azaleas, oleanders and confers, gum boughs, box hedge trimmings, palm fronds, geraniums, correas, crab apples and silky oak trimmings – all mooshed together in final embrace before subsiding into a great All-Togetherness from which beautiful, bountiful mulch will emerge.
In a classic demonstration of parallel play, each artist has found something special. Klavins compressed mulch into “forms of a primal nature.” The artist intends to imbue these forms with properties of compression, tension, density, gravity – even the weight of the earth. Currie has been occupying her imagination with the Great Unprocessed such as tree limbs and the like. Her subsequent working of these units is a nod to such ancient crafts as ‘chair bodging’ and green wood building. “I am making a large ellipse of stripped tree branches. This timber has been gleaned from the Adelaide City Council depot and parklands. Gleaning is an opportunistic practice that makes me feel the generosity of the earth. The natural timber is then honed and modified through simple tools and techniques.“ The two artists intersect through a shared interest in notions of transformation – as well as cycles of life. Throw in some metaphoric inflections like mulching as bio-mimicry and this mulch heap of creative incubation is really steaming. This project has been assisted by the South Australian Government through Carclew, and also by the Adelaide Central School of Art.
Claudia Nicholson: Go Gently
Hugo Michell Gallery
29 August – 21 September
Claudia Nicholson’s watercolour drawings exert a magnetic pull on the imagination as close up scrutiny reveals a complex catalogue of creatures and events for which there is no immediate explanation. A baby sleeps surrounded by serpents, there are emblems of death, a woman thrusts at another with a spear, blooms of colour sprout like a mutant virus. Nicholson has said of this work, “In my paintings I reconfigure colonial depictions of the first contact with the Americas, embedding the work with folklore and personal histories in a bid to disrupt colonial narratives.”
The artist adds that the Go Gently works honour several significant bodies of water including Minerva Pools, a traditional Dharawal site for women and children, and Lake Siecha, a sacred site for the Muisca people which has been repeatedly drained in search of gold. One interpretation is that the work she makes “is a type of reverse erosion, an aggregation of symbols, experiences and cultural practices. Nicholson is interested in creating acts of collective remembrance, exploring the ways in which we navigate the complexities of identity in a post-colonial context.” This may be so, but for local viewers unfamiliar with this Colombian-born Australian artist, the starting point should be the intense, Boschian character of the imagery which looks to be drawn from dreams and racial memories of a thousand and one nights. They are simultaneously beguiling and edgy.
Head to our Adelaide Review Event Guide to find out what else is happening around the city
Claudia Nicholson, Unfaithful Dogs (1893), 2018, watercolour, copper leaf, diamantes, foil & pearl pigment on paper, 66.5 x 85.5 cm (Photo: Document Photography, courtesy of the artist)