I could have been Canadian / White Out - JuNE 2014

Artist - Jenna Pippett (I could have been Canadian) & Zoe Kirkwood (White Out)

Author - Zoe Freney


The Dictator of an unstated state stares sadly into space. An androgynous figure in an immaculate uniform, polished buttons blazing, commands respect and something else... something that feels like. Sympathy? Staring beyond the window, beyond a grey Adelaide laneway, beyond the viewer, the 'boy-man'1 looks instead into a distant past, trying to fathom a lost homeland. Cast adrift from context or belonging, his defiant stare fills up the white space at the centre of the gallery. Leader, 2014, is larger than life size but the cap and epaulets don't disguise the vulnerability of this figure, who is the artist herself, playing at being master of an imaginary land. Or at least a possible land. The Leader is out of reach, alone in the world and isolated in history, in this sense, like the refugee.

Leader is flanked by the flags of lands lost and possible homelands - Czechoslovakia and Canada. Flag made by my mother (Czech), 2014, is a symbol of the home Pippett's grandparents fled, with their daughter and a suitcase. Flag made by my mother (Canada), 2014, symbolises the chance and possibility of history. When you leave behind the life you know and forge a new one in a place that is just an unfamiliar word and the rumour of clement weather.

The walls of the gallery stand in for a domestic scene. A living room, peopled with knick-knacks collected like the puzzle pieces of identity. The Czech dolls, the chunky earthenware stein, the delicate lidded pots and framed photographs -little gestures that build an idea of one's place in the world. Dust on surfaces, a patina of permanence, a testament to staying still long enough. The photographs are hybrids, forgeries.2 inhabiting the possibilities of her family's history, searching for the best of all possible worlds.

A wide screen TV dominates the wall opposite all this homely clutter, only incongruous in the way it would be in an old lady's lounge room. And from the TV, speaking into the vacant space of the Leader's steadfast stare, can be heard a conversation between Pippett and her grandmother. Learning to Count with Again and again Pippett inserts herself into the past, Cher, 2012-14, quietly collides the old and new, the intimate and the worldly spheres, mediated by mass media and pop culture. In this video Pippett explores her own experience of gaining identity and an understanding of her family inheritance. Dialogue between the two women affirms a matrilineal connection, at the same time acknowledging gaps and disconnections. There is confusion as the two women speak across cultures and generations and meaning is gained and slips away. The empty space in the centre of the gallery becomes full of meaning and misunderstanding. Whispers about belonging, or not. To a country, to a family, to a culture. And the blank white space is full of possibilities, depending on which way you turn.

Now take off your shoes, slip on the white scuffs (provided) and enter the chaotic confection of Zoe Kirkwood's White Out. Kirkwood transforms the back room at FELTspace into a sugar mine, a bright cave where moulded stalactites and mites cling to walls and floor. A white world, as tiny or as vast as imagination allows. At once empty and yet full of forms that stack and huddle. Shapes look like wheels and cogs and frozen whirligigs. Everything is still, yet poised for movement, like the coil of a marble serpent. With the exuberance of a Baroque wedding cake. Smooth plaster forms that could be sugar sculptures, they jostle and dissolve into the white floor and walls. Simultaneous stillness and activity, forms like fractals expand and recede in the small room and yet it seems they could turn and multiply forever into the white space beyond the periphery.

In here the outside world is forgotten, but it is not a place for repose. White in this case isn't minimalist but a bustling field of Baroque excess. And in an inversion of logic, the only still point in the white churn is pointed out in fluoro pink. Kirkwood speaks of her struggle to create a work completely devoid of the bright colour of earlier pieces.3 the one axis of colour, an oasis for the eyes.

Finally, the themes of excess and extravagance remain when you take off the white slippers and step back into your own shabby shoes. Somehow, after the brilliance of White Out, the world looks less colourful. And yet the drab grey evening outside the gallery comes as a relief. Kirkwood herself seems to revel in the opulence and intensity of ornament, and yet reminds us that such excess is ultimately unsustainable.


1 - Sera Waters, Jenna Pippett: I could have been Canadian,' catalogue essay, FELTspace, Adelaide, 4 June - 21 June, 2014

2 - Jenna Pippet, Artist's Talk, I could have been Canadian, FELTspace, Adelaide, 4 June - 21 June, 2014

3 - Zoe Kirkwood, Artist's Talk, White Out, FELTspace, Adelaide, 4 June - 21 June, 2014