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Reviews/Visual Art

A material world

13 September 2019

Review: Joanna Sulkowski, ‘HERE&NOW19: Material Culture’ ·
Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

As the name implies, Lawrence Wilson Gallery’s annual “HERE&NOW” exhibition is all about contemporary art practice in WA, at this moment in time. Now in its seventh year, the exhibition gives an emerging curator the opportunity to offer their take on the subject.

For “HERE&NOW19”, it is emerging curator and artist Joanna Sulkowski’s turn at the helm. Under the title “Material Culture”, Sulkowski brings together a selection of works that both examine our collective cultural obsession with the “material world” of production, trade and business, and reflect upon the ways in which materials themselves play a significant role in the way we comprehend the world around us.

Featuring five WA artists, this year’s ‘HERE&NOW” feels more scaled back than previous iterations; the open gallery space seeming ever-so-slightly cavernous. The exhibition touches upon the broadness of the phrase “material culture”, which most commonly refers to fabrics but also to thread, paper, plastic and yarn; each artist’s work employing a different engagement with the ongoing process of making.

Teelah George, 'Blue Biro', 2018-2019, thread, linen and bronze, 220 x 190cm. Photo: Lyle Branson.
Teelah George, ‘Blue Biro’, 2018-2019, thread, linen and bronze, 220 x 190cm. Photo: Lyle Branson.

This link between the materiality of the object and the process by which this materiality was realised is a notable point of commonality between the works. The repetitive nature of production is emphasised, particularly through stitching but also in repeated shapes and forms – a literal mark-making of the time taken to create the object. We see this in the repetitive stitching in Teelah George’s Blue Biro, the title referring to a different kind of mark-making that also references the passing of time in the endless scribbling or doodling with a pen; and in the spinning of yarn by hand, a line that connects the disparate parts of Ómra Caoimhe’s installation The Sum of the Parts. Deliberately idiosyncratic arrangements of objects –  dedicated to making the fabric – together form a whole.

Central to the exhibition is Marzena Topka’s installation of office clothes, split open and hung to form a maze, reminiscent of office cubicles that function to block people from one another. The clothes, rendered into curtains and removed from any kind of gendered shape or form, remain an oppressive force. Hung above eye height, the garments impress a kind of conformity upon the viewer as they negotiate the maze of beige and cheap rayon fabric.

This response to the oppressive nature of corporate life and the mass-production of impersonal materials finds its counterpoint in Susan Roux’s (un) / fold. Here, the mutable nature of materials becomes clear, as the fabric that spreads and unfurls across the wall is in fact paper, pleated and smocked using traditional production methods to manipulate its shape and form. This labour-intensive way of making stands in sharp opposition to the mass production of most of today’s material objects. It’s a critique of industrialisation that finds a different yet complementary angle in Holly Story’s immersive and mesmerising work The Embrace, a meditation on natural environments that are constantly under threat, an ecological landscape printed on silk and cotton.

Ómra Caoimhe, The Sum of the Parts, 2019, hand-spun tussah silk thread and wool thread, wool cloth, wooden beads, nails, bees wax and oil on curved wooden panel, loom parts and wooden spool, dimensions variable. Photograph by Lyle Brason.
Ómra Caoimhe, ‘The Sum of the Parts’, 2019, hand-spun tussah silk thread and wool thread, wool cloth, wooden beads, nails, bees wax and oil on curved wooden panel, loom parts and wooden spool, dimensions variable. Photo: Lyle Brason.

In our post-industrial globalised world, material culture is associated with questions about labour and production, a deeply political issue that is touched on in this exhibition, but could have been expanded upon. Nonetheless, the works presented in “HERE&NOW19” experiment with their materials in a multitude of different ways, rewarding the viewer’s close attention.

“Here@Now19: Material Culture” runs until December 7.

Pictured top: Installation view, left to right: Teelah George, ‘Blue Biro’, 2018-2019, thread, linen and bronze, 220 x 190cm; Marzena Topka, ‘Geometrisation of bodies’ (suspended animation), 2014-2019, deconstructed office clothing, dimensions variable; Susan Roux, ‘(un) / fold’ (detail), 2019, Canson paper, ink, thread and polish, dimensions variable; and Ómra Caoimhe, ‘The Sum of the Parts’ (detail), 2019, hand-spun tussah silk thread and wool thread, wool cloth, wooden beads, nails, bees wax and oil on curved wooden panel, loom parts and wooden spool, dimensions variable. Photo: Lyle Branson.

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Author —
Miranda Johnson

Miranda Johnson is a curator and writer who has worked for various contemporary arts institutions, co-founded Cool Change Contemporary and co-hosts Fem Book Club at the Centre for Stories. Miranda’s favourite aspect of the playground is getting the chance to meet as many dogs as possible.

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