Growing art, shaping perception

Diana Klaosen at Hobart’s Inflight

Alicia King, I’m growing to love you

Alicia King, I’m growing to love you

Two very different works featured recently at the new and improved Inflight gallery, the popular artist-run initiative which launched its second gallery Project Space a few months previously. This new space is intended to allow Inflight to showcase more artists, both local and national.

Alicia King is artist-in-residence at the University of Tasmania’s School of Medicine, where she is learning tissue culture techniques for growing semi-living sculptural forms from human tissue. She is interested in the potential of biological technologies to influence the human perception of ‘self’ within the natural world.

Her fascinating installation clearly draws on these concerns, but can be profitably viewed or ‘read’ without an awareness of them. A large, approximately door-height, white fabric lair (to use King’s word) has been positioned at the entrance of the main gallery, effectively blocking it off and seeming to grow from within the gallery itself. It’s a a mass of white protrusions extending and dangling from its uneven ceiling and curved sides like stalactites or fingers, all of the work a mass of organic shapes suggestive, to this viewer, of some rogue body part or internal growth.

A wall panel advises the viewer to spend some minutes within the several metres deep brightly lit space; 2 movement-sensitive heat lamps switch on when this occurs and large, copper-toned globular masses within the work turn green. I thought the white lair, with its meticulously sewn walls and dangling finger-like growths, was almost a significant enough resolved work in itself, but I was intrigued and engaged by the addition of this nominally interactive element.

A colleague observed that the heat lamp-globule component of the installation might just as successfully have been exhibited on its own and this is arguable, but I enjoyed the physical and visual sensations experienced in the context of the wider work which is a real testament to skill, patience, vision and research in its creation.

King explains, “As new developments in biological technologies occur, our ability to interact within these and other spaces, to generate growth and life in the most unlikely of circumstances, is greatly enhanced … [The installation addresses] the possibility of life to manifest itself in unexpected ways [which] has significant potential to enrich our perceptions, experiences and relationships with the natural world and the spaces we inhabit.”
Ada Henskens, Blackstream

Ada Henskens, Blackstream

Quite different in format if not in some of its concerns is Ada Henskens’ experimental video Blackstream, one of a sequence of experimental works using digital image in conjunction with 2D works to explore constructing concepts of reality we can live with. The work deals with the dialogue between light reflected off surfaces and the visual cortex—with flux, light as wave and particle: things in the moment of becoming, with an element of fantasy creeping in.

A seemingly simple 5-minute loop of abstracted black and white curvilinear visuals, Blackstream really does offer more than first meets the eye. The piece is silent and this works in its favour, as the viewer is neither distracted nor seduced by sound. My first impression, on looking at the bubbling, twisting, dissolving black lines, was of the prosaic idea of knitting spontaneously unravelling. Don’t laugh, I know it’s not a very high-tech interpretation, but Henskens is out to let the viewer catch glimpses of things before they vanish. I next saw hieroglyphics and assorted other semi-figurative shapes, only again to see them disappear. The curved lines and irregular spaces between them constantly change and evolve and this flux is exactly what Henskens is aiming for. One viewer neatly called the image ‘space-time foam’, while another revelled in trying to decide what he was seeing and in concluding everything was left wide open.

Certainly, I found the work hypnotic (perhaps unsurprisingly) and for such simple (but not simplistic) art making, very engaging and seductive. As one fellow commentator noted, Henskens, a mid-career artist, certainly makes unselfconscious use of effects, such as zooming in and out, that the grainier and grittier work of emerging practitioners generally eschews as a little cringeworthy. Interestingly, in Ada Henskens’ hands, these techniques work and serve a purpose. For once, the uninformed gallery-goer could voice the old anti-Modernist mantra, ‘What’s it supposed to be?’ and feel confident that it’s whatever he/she chooses.

I’m growing to love you, installation, Alicia King, March 4- 24; Blackstream, experimental work, Ada Henskens, Inflight Gallery, Hobart, April 7-29

RealTime issue #73 June-July 2006 pg. 48

© Diana Klaosen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2006