Saturday, 23 November 2013

Wonder Room & The Forest of Ambiguity

Over the past week I've finally caught a couple of exhibitions I've been very keen to see.  My high expectations were well rewarded in both cases. Wonder Room at Maroondah Art Gallery is indeed very wonderful! The work of five artists - Heather Shimmen, Deborah Klein, Rona Green, Filomena Coppola and Paul Compton - are linked by the idea of the Wunderkammer, the precursor to museums as we know them. These were personal collections of bizarre and unusual objects, mostly from the natural world, but also including architectural artefacts and handcrafted objects, popular throughout Europe from the 16th until the 19th century.

While all the work in the exhibition deals with the strange and exotic in some way, there is great diversity in approach and outcome. This is particularly apparent in the case of Shimmen and Klein, who both work with images of hybrid creatures - part woman/part insect and both work (in part, at least) with linocut prints.  Shimmen's insect women are borne out of the artist's interest in the way in which many people have a largely irrational fear of insects, together with her interest in folkloric stories from the Australian bush. A sense of looking back is reflected in her linocuts that mimic engravings from old books, their fragmentation and distortion adding to the powerful sense of the uncanny and stories obscured by history. Klein's very beautiful, jewel-like Insect Women and Moth Masks have an otherworldly beauty that conjures up the metamorphoses and transformations of fairytale and myth. See her Insect Women here.
Paul Compton's highly detailed drawings of cabinets of curiosities playfully illustrate the range of possibilities to be found in the realm of the bizarre and the wonderful. I particularly enjoyed his teenage werewolf. His work demonstrates wonderful draughtsmanship and humour in equal prortions. I found Filomena Coppola's fleshy, hairy pastel drawings based upon the Australian Orchid - part animal, part vegetable - entrancingly beautiful - not at all as creepy as they might sound. It is a beautifully curated exhibition. Paul Compton's small ink and gouache drawings are never overpowered by larger works, such as Rona Green's feisty anamorphic animal portraits. At today's fascinating artists' talk it was pointed out that this, in fact, was a reflection of the Wunderkammer, where large objects were often displayed alongside smaller, more detailed artefacts and relics. Several of Deborah Klein's works are displayed in beautiful antique timber chests that also add to the aura of the Wunderkammer, as does the inclusion of Shimmen's own collection of curiosities. The work of each of the five artists is not exhibited in a discrete body but rather interspersed with each of the others. In the larger room a diagonal wall divides the room so that glimpses of each of the artists' work can be seen from any point.
Here are some images of Rona's work and the invitation with an image of Paul's work.  The exhibition runs for another week and it is certainly worth the trip to Ringwood!
Wonder Room
Elizabeth Banfield's Forest of Ambiguity, showing in the Little Window of Opportunity at Port Jackson Press is breathtaking in its finely detailed cutting (of both lino and paper) and attention to detail. For some time now Banfield's subject has been the Eucalypt forests near her home in the Dandenong ranges.  The contradictory ideas of the contemplative peace of the towering Eucalypt forest and the danger of bushfires during the dry late summer months is explored through the simple motif of the variety of leaf shapes.  Banfield's books and hanging pieces are beautifully executed, complex in their layering of texture, positive and negative and cut-out forms. More information here.
 In the main window of Port Jackson Press is a larger, very beautiful work, The Afterimage.
Forest of Ambiguities continues until 3 December

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