FAILED RESTORATIONS / SHUFFLING SLOWLY TOWARD THE EXIT / YOU CAN SEE ME BUT I CAN’T SEE YOU - JULY 2016
Artists: Ida Lawrence / Shannon Lyons / Kristen Coleman
Author – Kate O’Boyle
I turn onto Compton Street corner, and there radiates the FELTspace window front, spilling out onto the chilled pavement like warm custard. Inside it is unnervingly warm, so full of people the familiar space becomes a distortion. I find the walls, like I used to catch the edge of the swimming pool at the deep-end. I edge my way around, meeting Ida Lawrence’s Failed Restorations there, and the possibility of sanctuary.
Photographs are pinned in pairs along the walls, and it takes me a moment to realise they are duplicates. Single spaces photographed twice. By default, a process of comparison begins to take place. There are differences here, and they demand thorough inspection.
I see others comparing and pointing out differences, additions and subtractions, to their companions. I am reminded of the ‘Spot the Difference’ games played as a child. A game that teaches about seeing, identifying visual nuances and about the weakness for trickery in our visual perception.
You could be mistaken for thinking Lawrence’s photographs are the ‘before’ and ‘after’ documentation of site-specific interventions. The changes, however, are made by Lawrence on the photographs themselves, away from the site. They are part response to the memory of place, part reaction to the photographed image. The interventions carry such authority because Lawrence’s application of gouache and watercolour is flawless. Once my process of comparison has been satisfied, I begin to spot Lawrence’s hand in the works. A mismatched colour, a brushstroke, a broken outline; all rare finds, but worthwhile in discovery.
These photographs were taken by Lawrence while on residency in Japan. Well aware of her position as an outsider, there is respect and celebration in her ‘failed restorations’. Making changes on paper rather than in the space itself, Lawrence is talking here about the possibilities of space, not about changing a space or asserting her authority over one. It is about her narratives, her imaginings and the celebration of the history that has wrought itself upon these surfaces.
Asking why she chooses to alter images rather than space, Lawrence points triumphantly to the three air vents above my head. I realise two appear askew and I have been playfully fooled; they have her hand in them. A subtle shift that reminds me that I may have mastered the photographs, but Lawrence’s interventions are everywhere. Clearly my bearings must be found elsewhere.
I seek refuge in the Back Gallery where Shannon Lyons’ work Shuffling Slowly Towards the Exit assuages me with its apparent simplicity. A two-walled corner, new to the space, sits in intuitional pale green against the far walls of the gallery, an industrial light shines heavily on its surface.
Lyons’ work has me moving; I stand on tiptoe, squeeze sideways and bend forwards, taking in the physical parameters of this seemingly ordinary structure. The walls are familiar in their raw construction, reminiscent of a partially completed renovation. Similar enough to those that house it, but different enough to look awkward, mismatched somehow.
The walls aren’t, but should be familiar; I have seen them many times before. They sit in their original form in Fontanelle gallery, another Adelaide ARI, reconstructed by Lyons and refitted within FELTspace. A space within a space draws attention to the overlooked andunseen.
There is something poetic about this pairing between FELTspace and Fontanelle. Lyons’ fabrication of Fontanelle’s smooth walls encased within FELTspace’s less-polished Back Gallery. Paired back, Lyons’ allows us to inspect both spaces anew. The flawless surface of Fontanelle’s wall draws me into, and highlights, the nuance in the surrounding space. I see the uneven floor of the back gallery, the paint drips and bubbles, the nail scars and the small cracks. The space has revealed its vulnerabilities, and it feels intimate with this newfound exposure.
As with Lawrence’s work, I become acutely cognisant of my lack of awareness. A gallery is after-all, intended to be a non-space, neutral, unobserved. I look to Lyons’ choice of institutional green to provide me with some respite.
The night ended much as it had begun, with the gallery patrons spilling out onto the cold pavement. Kirsten Coleman’s video projection, You Can See Me But I Can’t See You, screened as part of FELTdark, began to unfold from the gallery window. I watched the crowd of faces turn to red as the screen came alive, illuminated as if someone had just sparked a fire.
The tearful, but ever-so-seductive face of Jane from 1984 film Paris, Texas filled the screen, as she faced us from within the confines of a peepshow booth. The claustrophobic cage ironically saturated in pinks and reds, clichéd hues of seduction. A one-way-mirror separates Jane from her customers, she is the ultimate object, consumed with absolute anonymity.
Of all the iconic scenes in Paris, Texas, Coleman choses the moment where Jane is reunited with her husband, who remains behind the one-way mirror; hidden from our view and hers. Space is again at play here, the lovers may be physically proximate, but they could not be more separate. What should follow is one of the most recognised monologues in American cinema, but here Coleman holds the reins. She silences Jane’s husband, and instead we only see her heart-breaking reactions to his words.
Cinematic voyeurism is heightened here by the use of multiple screens. The one-sided mirror, the cinema screen, the gallery window – all separate one site from another, viewer from viewed. We participate in the act of voyeurism through these layered interfaces. Coleman slows the footage to an aching speed and we all watch Jane’s face crumble over and over again. Her eyes fill with tears, her lips quiver and twitch and I am drawn into this intimate portrayal of the physicality of someone’s grief. It is that is agonisingly succulent sadness; the type only made bearable by audiences because it is felt in a way that is so picturesque.
As I make my way home I feel the gravitational pull of Jane’s face, like a bright-pink full moon. The street lights make the wet bitumen glisten as if her tears, set on repeat, spilled over into the surrounding pathways. I see them pool in a gap in the footpath which overflows, pouring between the pavement bricks like a complex microscopic river system.