light dance

victoria carless: beth shorter, peripheral

Peripheral (video), Beth Shorter

Peripheral (video), Beth Shorter

Imagine drifting contentedly through an afternoon in your cosy home. Your eyes are half closed. You are on the periphery of consciousness. Particles of light leak through your eyelids. Colours swirl in the room like dust motes until you're breathless and dizzy. Shapes arrange themselves in some sort of strange celestial dance.

Some artists strive to be at the cutting edge. Beth Shorter’s mixed media works in Peripheral, however, explore this notion of being at the edge of things in an ephemeral, rather than an in-your–face way. Her subject is the nature of light in domestic spheres—the ordinary spaces or “non-places” that, upon closer inspection, reveal little worlds full of pattern and colour.

In Ambiguous Highlight, a slide image on paper, amoeba-like spheres rendered in baby pink and blue float in a field of ink and midnight. An ochre crescent grounds the work, although this sensible colour is mostly relegated to the sideline. Ambiguous Highlight’s companion piece, Accentuated Light, sees the same pastel orbs morph and multiply—are they engaged in a courtship dance or fighting to each outshine the darkness? These pieces owe something to clever out of focus camera work and have a shifting, transitional quality.

Their digital sister work, Unobserved Objects, delivers a more heady rush of colour with traffic light red and green, that iridescent blue particular to insects and Moroccan mosques, and variations of lilac, turquoise and aquamarine, all afloat in the night sky. This work makes me think of driving at night through the rain, where city lights take on the quality of a hazy, enticing carnival. But then, another viewer might see something entirely different.

This exhibition, comprising both digital and slide prints on bamboo paper, oils on canvas, short film and installation, invites interpretation while celebrating ambiguity. The oils, interesting technically, also contribute to the overall ephemeral effect, although occasionally they tend to concretise the subject that elsewhere dances in everyday spaces.

In the short film, Shorter initially draws us in with indistinct green shapes. You may just make out some organic matter—is that a lacy palm frond stirring in the breeze? Once recognition has taken place the work assumes the feel of a balmy night in the tropics. Then, a segue, and we gradually see more literal objects as the camera moves in and out of focus. We contemplate various surfaces in the domestic space, such as a brick wall, a timber fence and ridged heavy fabric, although these items are never precisely placed. It is more about textures and their collective effect on the viewer.

The celestial notion of the images on paper is continued in the installation titled Shadow Play. Comprising movable ceramic disks suspended from the ceiling like a children’s mobile, this is an interactive piece that invites the viewer to enter the artist’s realm. By moving the disks you are able to manipulate the interplay of objects, and observe the resulting shadows on the blank canvas of the gallery wall. Once again we see the interconnectedness of objects and light create beguiling patterns in space. This time it is the viewer and not the artist who manipulates the medium to see the light.

In her artist’s statement Beth Shorter writes briefly about the specific spaces she has inhabited, three separate houses in Far North Queensland, and how her work is specific to the light, foliage and interior details of these environments. While it is true that delicate palm fronds at the edge of things evoke the tropics, and that light may be particular to place, in the manipulation of these elements Shorter has also created other worlds. In these familiar “un-spaces” are other meanings all our own.

These gentle and intriguing works have the effect of winding one’s mind down, a lovely thing in our increasingly frenetic world. Meditative, experiential and intimate, take the time to allow these pieces of everyday magic to come to you.

9 July 2009
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