DS8_970x90-Web-Banner.jpg
Reviews/Visual Art

Permission to breathe

14 October 2019

Review: Evelyn Kotai, “Breathing Pattern”

Art Gallery of Western Australia

Review by Lydia Edwards ⋅

“Breathing Pattern” is tucked away in a corner of the ground floor of the Art Gallery of Western Australia, and it took me a moment to locate it. I soon realised, though, that this peaceful placement is more than appropriate for the aim of Eveline Kotai’s work. As she eloquently puts it, “We don’t have space in our lives. It’s getting harder and harder to find space … I want in my exhibition to achieve ‘a moment between two thoughts … it’d be nice if I could achieve that’.”

This is certainly accomplished with the exhibition’s biggest and most imposing piece, Living Forest (detail pictured top), which takes the viewer on a trajectory of the seasons with bold colour and confident lines. As you meander down the length of the canvas, the lines gradually thin out into an emptier space, threaded with elegant autumnal patches of colour. Reach the end and these have vanished, the lines now muted and fading into winter. The sense is that the work has stopped short just before a void, and other pieces – White Noise Remix amongst them – continue that theme of neutral shades, a calmer or lonelier space (depending on your interpretation) sometimes interrupted with tiny splashes of colour that are shown either in a dot of paint or dash of pen and take the viewer by surprise.

Eveline Kotai White noise remix I 2016 acrylic, canvas and nylon thread on linen 91 x 91 cm Courtesy of Artist and Art Collective WA
Eveline Kotai, ‘White noise remix I’, 2016;
acrylic, canvas and nylon thread on linen; 91 x 91 cm, Courtesy of Artist and Art Collective WA.

Kotai’s method is intertextual and interdisciplinary. Described as “idiosyncratic” by Art Collective WA, part of her technique involves cutting up paintings into slim strips and rearranging them across a new surface, with each piece attached using a sewing machine and invisible thread. This process recalls deconstruction and raises connotations of regeneration and transmutation, but appears meticulously planned – perhaps even obsessive. Kotai acknowledges this, describing her practice as labour-intensive but, for her, calming and therapeutic in its repetitiveness. It helps her to spend time in the moment and it is this gift that she fervently wishes to pass on to her audience.

To some extent this could be compromised by the artist’s statement, which prompts visitors to enter neutrally, suppressing an ingrained and perhaps conditioned desire to search for deep meaning in the works. As Kotai poignantly remarks, “a reliance on text … caus[es] a crisis of confidence … we are now in the habit of going straight to the didactic before looking at the work, not trusting our own ability to see … It’s always a relief to me when it just states the name, title, date and medium”. In common with practitioners like Yoko Ono, who famously remarked that artists are used to controlling how much the audience “takes”, Kotai’s statement makes us aware of how damaging and demoralising this endless power play and contextualising can be, not just for the viewer but for the artist too. Because of this, it is surprising that the works’ titles are sufficiently enigmatic to invite speculation. Key examples are Trace Elements ExpandingWriting on Air and the show’s title work  Breathing Pattern. These works hold beautiful titles that are hard to dismiss without examining further.

Eveline Kotai, 'Breathing Pattern #3' 2019, acrylic on plywood, 120.7 x 270 cm, Courtesy of Artist and Art Collective WA.
Eveline Kotai, ‘Breathing Pattern #3’ 2019, acrylic on plywood, 120.7 x 270 cm, Courtesy of Artist and Art Collective WA.

The work Breathing Pattern embodies another approach favoured by Kotai, that of using acrylic on plywood to produce what, from a distance, appears to be a set of blocks akin to the work of Mark Rothko or Sean Scully. Close up, we can see they are composed of tiny meticulous lines of paint, leaving just enough space and transparency to reveal a shadow of the wood grain skeleton beneath.

As with Rothko and Scully, along with Kazimir Malevich’s famous white and black canvases, first glances belie the depth and intensity of tone and texture. Perhaps this complexity and variety of technique is what Kotai wishes us to focus on, and wants us to let speak for itself. A lack of supplementary text in an exhibition can sometimes cause an audience to panic. It can impose expectations that threaten to move art back into the ivory tower.

The faith Kotai puts in her audience is heartening, and her encouraging plea to “trust our own ability to see, our own desire to make what we can of the artists’ intent” allows the exhibition to be an accessible, communicative and collaborative space. Breathing Pattern gave me permission to take my time with the works, to discuss or to muse silently, to analyse or to internalise.

I think Kotai would be pleased with that.

Eveline Kotai: “Breathing Pattern” runs until 10 February, 2020.

Pictured top: Eveline Kotai, ‘Living Forest’, 2019 (detail); acrylic, giclee print, belgian 76 x 1200 cm; Courtesy of Artist and Art Collective WA.

Loading spinner

Author —
Lydia Edwards

Lydia Edwards is a fashion historian and author. Her first book How to Read a Dress was published in 2017 and its follow up, How to Read a Suit, will be out in February 2020. She lectures at ECU and WAAPA, and her favourite piece of playground equipment is the expression swing!

Past Articles

  • Heart-warming tale delivers wisdom and warnings

    AWESOME Review: Windmill Theatre, Beep · Octagon Theatre, UWA, 12 October · Review by Lydia Edwards · On the day we were due to see Beep,…

    Loading spinner
  • Old-school entertainment

    AWESOME Review: Bear With Me ⋅ State Theatre Centre, October 7 ⋅ Review by Lydia Edwards⋅ It’s not every day you see bears entering an auditorium on…

    Loading spinner

Read Next

  • A singer holds a microphone, with a trumpet player, trombonist, pianist and drummer in the background COVID the catalyst for songs of freedom
    Reviews

    COVID the catalyst for songs of freedom

    18 September 2020

    The pandemic has had an enormous impact on jazz and Garry Lee says there was an atmosphere of joy and relief as WAYJO musicians returned to the stage last night.

    Loading spinner
    Reading time • 4 minutesMusic
  • Reading time • 5 minutesMusic
  • Brad Rimmer, Nocturne Eiger Glacier 1, 2017-2020, archival digital print, 75 x 100cm, ed. 3 The image is bleak, monochromatic. A glacier drives between two rocky outcrops. Terrible beauty in exhibition trifecta
    Reviews

    Terrible beauty in exhibition trifecta

    17 September 2020

    Craig McKeough steps into a series of unsettling and chilling worlds in neighbouring exhibitions by Merrick Belyea and Brad Rimmer at Art Collective WA, and Jacobus Capone at Moore Contemporary.

    Loading spinner
    Reading time • 6 minutesVisual Art

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio