Down a rabbit hole or into the void, these paired exhibitions by Kate Kurucz and Ray Harris reflect on the madness of human endeavour and the lure of the narratives that go on inside our heads.
Imagine stumbling on Lasseter’s Lost Reef. A large gold nugget is in the palm of your hand. You drop it and it splits to reveal – a perfectly cooked poached egg. Once you jump into one of Kate Kurucz’s rabbit holes, expect the unexpected. It’s all about exploration – of a kind. Not so much the historical version of events surrounding such well-known escapes associated with Burke and Wills and the likes, but quizzical reflections on the obsessive madness of it all. Kurucz comes well-equipped for the task. Her technical control of the oil medium is solid.
Illusionist skills and fine-point realism change gears seamlessly. Her adaption of painting skills to copper sheet surfaces has paid dividends in terms of fluidity and luminosity. All it takes is for the viewer to join in the game and revisit this mysterious human urge to go out and conquer the world. Another image – three oranges and a pineapple set in an icy waste.
This was part of the food cache that sustained Mawson as he made his way back to base – just in time to see his supply vessel sail over the horizon. Despite the risible notes struck by the artist’s mock tributes to various Heroes of Empire, these images are shot through with darkness.
Some of this is driven by a palette of fierce exchanges between dark and light and yellows and reds and icy blues and whites that evoke extreme landscapes and climates. Robust paint handling with wet in wet and hammer blow brush stroking build the overall sense of visual energy and agitation.
It is a curious fact that Kurucz has used a ‘lashed to the mast’ approach to the creation of each image. Once the painting is started, the artist stays the course (like the early explorers), sometimes for 10 to 15 hours at a stretch, to see it to completion. This is no ‘museum show’, the artist points out, no rousing depictions of driven souls pitted against the elements.
The sentiments are entirely personal along with flights of imagination that juxtapose, for example, ant-like lines of ‘we’re entitled to climb it’ tourists snaking up Uluru, with ants devouring a bread roll. The scope of Kurucz’s interest in the idea of exploration is boundless.
Deep space is on the agenda, as seen in a portrayal of Laika the Space Dog, from the dead to speak on behalf of all creatures (like the Pole Ponies) who contributed to the cause. The circle is fully joined in an image of the moon Europa, set against an icy surface bearing the tombstones of the first men to die on the ill-fated John Franklin expedition of 1845. This is highly engaging, mind-warp armchair travelling for those who find the whole idea of conquering the world troubling, to say the least, but, in the end, irresistible.
People don’t dwell too often on the Void. It is nothing after all – that room in the house where the lights are always turned off and no sounds come from within. Yet it has been a very popular topic for philosophers and, more lately, neuro scientists, all seeking to understand the nature of consciousness and self-identity.
A useful idea, offered by American writer Ken Wilber, is that the void is reality before we slice it up into conceptualism. That sounds a little like the Pre-Socratic philosopher Democritus’ idea that the universe was composed of atoms and void. While Eastern world views saw emptiness or clearing the mind as a positive, in the West, the void became associated with negative states of being.
Existentialists pondered how to act in a meaningless world full of anti-heroes running away from the emptiness of their own existence. For many creative souls there is the phenomena of ‘the call of the void’ (l’appel du vide) often associated with the vertigo of possibilities (What would it be like to jump over that edge?) and entertaining intrusive thoughts which some might describe as self-conversation.
The artist Ray Harris has described her practice as exploring “complexities and struggles of the self. This often involves the dualities of inner thought and outer action or behaviour”. That is a very big agenda, giving expression to what Harris describes as “the trauma of being a person”.
Her key strategy is to focus on the idea of yearning or searching. In her current exhibition, Harris invites the viewer to co-operate with a series of small peep shows and experiential booths. As viewers peer through magnifier lenses, small worlds are revealed: a backyard, a forest, a ladder and so on. Some words intrude like graffiti tossed into the abyss. Fans activate elements such as leaves. Harris refers to these structures as “physical representations of psychic structures, psychological spaces, or rooms in the mind. I conceive these diorama installations as mind-spaces, inner thought and belief as a place”. By such means the viewer is invited to vicariously engage with implied narratives that may be saying something about the artist’s self-conversation using fantasy as a translator service. Peeping and poking one’s eyes (and head) into another person’s MeCloud while a-voiding personal contact is the name of this game.
Kate Kurucz: The Inland Sea
Ray Harris: Hunger of the Void
Installation view of Kate Kurucz, The Inland Sea, 2019, praxis ARTSPACE (Photo: James Field)