The art of relocation

Diana Klaosen

Tasmania is often viewed as an environment particularly suited to artists and many interstate and international practitioners have chosen to relocate here. Their reasons range from the ease of networking, exhibition opportunities, the ‘clean, green image’ and a School of Art that, before cutbacks and closures, was regarded as one of Australia’s foremost.

All the artists in Hiding Places have moved from interstate and the show aims to reflect their responses to Tasmania’s physical and cultural environment and the impact of relocation on their work. Hiding Places “looks at ways in which we experience a ‘place’ where themes of disorientation, dislocation, artificiality, the subterranean and sublimity are referenced in all their complexity” (catalogue). Though this somewhat overstates the achievement, the works, in varied media, are innovative and thought provoking, providing a stimulating, memorable experience.

Entering the Carnegie Gallery, Hobart City Council’s contemporary artspace, the viewer is confronted with a balanced mix of installation, digital prints, photography and painting, sympathetically arranged within the space.

Maria MacDermott’s 2 very different pieces are “drawn from experience where nature takes [her] far…from petty cares…Repetitive processes [are] a means of distilling these recollections” (artist’s statement). While the idea of referencing nature (read Tasmanian wilderness) is tangential to the show’s theme, the works are strong. Moment from the lake of light is a giant floor-based light box of MDF, perspex, wax, acrylic and oils. Comprising 21 x 10 painted perspex panels, each is subtly different in tones of golds and browns; their swirling patterns evoke water as much as modernist patterning.

The purity of this strangely tactile work is echoed in MacDermott’s hypnotic wall-based installation of 16 small acrylics, Skeletal structures of loss. All are variations on tree-branch structures in a vast yet understated range of colours.

Sarah Elliott addresses dislocation and how culture is preserved within foreign environments. Her process of cutting and reconstituting patterning—in this case, wallpaper—evokes the home. Suspended perspex panels are covered with the blue flock of an elaborate wall covering or with background beige cutout elements, painstakingly adhered. This dissection does speak of “dislocation, stasis and loss” (artist’s statement). The piece is labour-intensive in execution and aesthetically striking.

Ben Booth’s sculptural installations metaphorically reference the lifeboat. Vicissitude is a large hollow sassafras and pine cocoon, seductively shaped and meticulously crafted. Unit is a vaguely boat-shaped construction made of dozens of small, sickly-blue pool siding panels.

The 3 medium scale oil paintings by Susan Robson, Pods of Memory, are quasi-abstract, alluring in lilacs and blue-greens. Her brushwork is vigorous and the deliberately repetitive works, with just discernible figurative elements taken from nature, are otherworldly and suggest “longing and the solitary…” (artist’s statement).

Kim Portlock’s night crossing series—12 digital prints—feature close-up elements of the human body; eerie orange body parts under green or black water. Most images in isolation would be unreadable, but in series their subject emerges. Again, the work only tenuously addresses the wider themes of Tasmania’s physical and cultural environment or of relocation, but the artist’s explanation about “alienation and the dissolution of losing oneself” can be read into the work.

I found the miniature-scale paintings by Waratah Lahy, Untitled 1-7, fascinating. Painted on flattened, sanded beer cans, with touches of their original logos retained, they document street scenes during a nationally significant event in Hobart, the funeral of the last surviving Anzac. The artist’s renditions of small moments of this occasion—policemen at-ease, floral tributes with an out-of-focus close-up face mimicking the photographic, a group of deftly rendered onlookers—are like quick paint sketches and capture her topic with a vibrancy and immediacy reminiscent of popular culture imagery. Lahy relocated from Canberra, however these seductive works do not particularly address a change of physical environment—they explore something universal.

The show is co-curated by 2 participants, Robson and Portlock; this is something generally frowned upon, but the overall standard of Hiding Places, its visual impact and rationale are strong enough to overcome suggestions of self-approbation.

Booth is also the latest member of the artist-run exhibition space, Inflight, the first such venture in Hobart for several years, aiming to facilitate both the presentation and discourses of innovative, experimental art. Housed in a former school in North Hobart and administered by 6 or 7 artists, its opening show in February did not live up to the hype, but it could be an initiative to watch.

Hiding Places, Ben Booth, Sarah Elliot, Waratah Lahy, Maria MacDermott, Kim Portlock & Susan Robson, Carnegie Gallery, Hobart, Feb 7-Mar 9.

RealTime issue #54 April-May 2003 pg. 31

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

1 April 2003