TRANSFIGURING / SLEEP - DECEMBER 2015
Artists: Tom Borgas, Cheryl Hutchens, Tristan Louth-Robins, Sophia Phillips, Alice Saltmarsh and Carly Snoswell / Kirsty Martinsen
Author – Caroline Reid
Transfiguring – curated by Serena Wong
“It’s a rare opportunity for an artist to be in a show where people touch your work.”
Carly Snoswell, artist[i]
In eschewing visual art’s ‘look but don’t touch’ convention, Serena Wong has curated a show that has more in common with an interactive museum display than the usual static gallery exhibition. But an art gallery is not a museum, so the work of the six artists in Transfiguring occupies a liminal space, as do the audience. To experience Transfiguring at FELTspace Gallery is to be in a place of change and disruption, movement and noise. You are invited to play.
On opening night, children crouch to build a 3D sculpture by connecting plastic sticks and metal screws to magnets. A few adults hesitantly join in. In this way, Tom Borgas’ Postdigital Construction is constructed, art wholly dependent on the audience for its completion. It looks fragile, as if it might crumple at any moment; and a moment later it does, collapsing noisily under the strain of its own weight. “I like that that just happened,” says Borgas.[ii] He talks about this work as testing the limits of the materials and of the importance of failure in order to make discoveries. Postdigital Construction is tactile, an invitation to build. You test the limit of the materials, its fragility and strength. You test the possibilities. And in doing so, you experience what the artist experiences.
A number of works in Transfiguring symbolise the fragility of the human condition. “[T]he definite physical body … is terrifyingly fragile,” writes Cheryl Hutchens.[iii] Using water displacement, Hutchens estimated the weight of the hearts of fifteen people. The weight was then measured out in salt, wrapped in flesh coloured cotton and suspended in a straight line. I hear people remark on the strangeness of 15 Hearts. I watch them photograph the satchels of salt. I see them hold hearts in their hands and hunt for the heart that best matches their own. What compels this seeking of self? Curiosity? Proof of existence? Or is it a more narcissistic impluse? After being handled, each heart sways before coming to a stand-still.
Where 15 Hearts evokes flesh, New Waves, the sound work of Tristan Louth-Robins, evokes blood. “It’s a challenge to have audience interact with my work beyond headphones,” he says.[iv] So he incorporatedhuman detritus found on a beach, inviting the audience to manipulate these pieces which lie on small sensory platforms, and in doing so, transforming the soundscape they are listening to. But what is it you are hearing listening to? It’s subtle. Might be blood flow in a giant’s heart. Might be the dark pulse of The Deep. Here is petrified bone; there is a plastic bottle top, sun-blasted and fragile; here is a small aerosol can; there is a piece of green nylon rope. These are your toys. Transfigure the landscape; transfigure the soundscape. It’s in your hands.
Moving on to Alice Saltmarsh’s Come in and Dry Off, it’s memory’s turn to play. There’s dreaminess to this installation, suspended as it is, like a multi-coloured wave caught forever in its curve, or a weepy, drippy sea monster dragged out of The Deep. Saltmarsh invites you “to take threads away with you and remember hot summer days after running through the sprinkler.”[v] You might remember the smell of coconut oil and salty chips; a favourite towel made of red, green and blue fibres, frayed on two edges; or of being fourteen and having to borrow you mother’s daggy old leopard print one-piece, cowering on the beach, pale and miserable. This is a messy installation because bodies and memory are messy. Stand next to it, in it, cheek to cheek, and tug at the threads of your memory.
To transfigure is to “transform into something more beautiful or elevated.”[vi] An artist obsessed with her material (mass produced tape), Snoswell repeats and layers mass produced tape, this commodity transforming it into abstract figures suspended and shimmering in the gallery window. I can feel three kinds of softness is a luminescent playground of pearly pink, glossy white, silver and gold. The tape may melt under your fingertips, slippery as chocolate on a hot summer day. You remember salty breezes, friends drinking pink champagne on a balcony with their feet up. You are reminded of a corset, a one-piece bathing suit, fish kites on Semaphore beach, limbs. Your mind, again, accepts the invitation to play .
In a different kind of playground, Sophia Phillips underscores the invitation to play the core of this interactive exhibition: “By inviting touch and play I have set out to recapture the magic of playing dress ups, where objects can transform you into someone or something else.”[vii] In Phillips’ pale ceramic playground, the clay pieces might be daggers, jewellery, shark teeth. In your hands they are heavy and threatening. Worn around your neck they are surprisingly light and less intrusive than you think. Bone-like, wear them like a witchdoctor. Might be you feel powerful. Might be you feel exotic. Wear them like weapons. As jewellery, tough and fragile, just like you. See fingerprints in the clay. The artist is present in the work. And so are you.
Wong has done a great job of curating, something she clearly delights in. “It’s a privilege being a curator, being able to handle the work,” she says. “It’s the final stage. Touching the work makes the artwork complete.”[viii] So, it’s over to you.
Sleep – Kirsty Martinsen
Kirsty Martinsen deliberately chose the smaller back room at FELTspace because she wanted the vulnerable paintings hung in an intimate space. It works. Furthermore, Sleep perfectly complements Transfiguring in the Front Gallery. Inspired by Edouard Vuillard’s ‘Le Sommeil’, a painting of a sleeping figure, Martinsen presents thirteen small works on wood in which people are engaged in an act that, arguably, shows them at their most vulnerable–sleeping. Watching someone sleep may be as intimate an act as drying off with a towel, handling a heart, wearing bone, listening to the moving blood of a giant.
Martinsen’s paintings are tender and absorbing, their colours muted and lush. In a number of the paintings the wood remains raw and exposed, an invitation to the viewer, but an invitation to what? To ponder a space in which dreams might exist?
When Martinsen didn’t have a model she painted the empty chaise lounge, and in these paintings the pillows and bedding are as textured and frothy as oceanic waves. In fact, they seem much more turbulent than the peopled paintings, as if the empty sleeping space is adrift and confused. Without people, without purpose. Might the same be said of art?
[i] Carly Snoswell, Artist Address, opening night at FELTspace, 2 December 2015.
[ii] Tom Borgas, Artist Address, opening night at FELTspace, 2 December 2015.
[iii] Cheryl Hutchens, Artist Statement, Transfiguring, FELTspace.
[iv] Tristan Louth-Robins, conversation with Caroline Reid, unpublished, 5 December 2015.
[v] Alice Saltmarsh, Artist Statement, Transfiguring, FELTspace.
[vi] Oxford Dictionaries, viewed 7 December 2015. (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/transfigure)
[vii] Sophia Phillips, Artist Statement, Transfiguring, FELTspace.
[viii] Sophia Wong, conversation with Caroline Reid, unpublished, 2 December 2015.