Reviews/Perth Festival/Visual Art

The nuts and bolts of showing art

24 February 2021

Installing an exhibition is an artform in itself, Jaimi Wright finds out at the Perth Festival show, ‘A Forest of Hooks and Nails’.

‘A Forest of Hooks and Nails’, Perth Festival in association with Fremantle Arts Centre ·
Fremantle Arts Centre, 16 February, 2021 ·

Tyrown Waigana, ‘Painting’, 2021, wire, aluminium, polymer clay, acrylic paint, fabrics, 32 x 27 x 27cm. Photo: Rebecca Mansell

Towards the end of my visit to see “A Forest of Hooks and Nails”, curator Tom Freeman came in to change a lightbulb in the gallery. Half-kidding, I asked him if this was part of the exhibition, to which he laughingly replied that it wasn’t.

This Perth Festival exhibition, at Fremantle Arts Centre (FAC), is all about the art that goes into installing an art show – so much so that I couldn’t see where the exhibition ended and real life began.

For most people, looking at an art exhibition means looking at the final product; on opening night we marvel at what is before us, but rarely do we even think of the painstaking behind-the-scenes work that goes into an exhibition’s installation process.

“A Forest of Hooks and Nails” examines the art of putting an exhibition together, through work by regular FAC install staff, many of whom are practising artists in their other lives. For this show they become the artists on display, creating work about the building, and chosen because they are the FAC’s most experienced installation crew.

Through a range of media these 10 artists demonstrate their intimate sense of what it means to install at FAC, their knowledge of the building and its details, and the process at large. Distinctive multi-media vignettes tell the human stories of preparing an exhibition, beyond repainting walls and hanging artworks.

Take, for instance, Phoebe Clarke’s ethereal pieces, Prior to (2021) – with its ghostly textiles draped from the ceiling; and A Breath Felt (2021) – a gothic fireplace that seems to breathe on its own. They draw attention to FAC’s underlying architecture and also its spirit, leaving the viewer feeling as if they are being watched.

In his liminal work, Mineral Rites (2021), Rob Kettels paints an entire room, including windows and fireplace, in unsettling dusky tones, and he has covered the floor in a thick layer of rock salt. The salt symbolises WA’s greed for minerals at the expense of our natural landscape. To walk in this room feels as if you are at the end of time.

In the second area of the gallery, Maxxi Minaxi May’s works collectively show a practical yet beautiful approach to understanding installation. They draw on the most essential tool in an installer’s kit: the ruler. Via repeated geometric patterns made by shining light through a ruler, May creates a kaleidoscope that sizes up the gallery and conjures a sense of calculated elation.

“A Forest of Hooks and Nails” is an immersive collection of meticulous work examining the installation process and skills honed by FAC staff. It is observational art at its very best.

‘A Forest of Hooks and Nails’ runs at Fremantle Arts Centre until 14 March, 2021.

Pictured top: Maxxi Minaxi May, ‘The light crystals’, detail, 2021, FSC wood and plastic rulers, glue, 33 x 11 x 198cm. Photo: Rebecca Mansell

An empty room, with two sash windows and a fire place opposite. The room is lit pink and the floor is covered in a thick layer of salt.
Rob Kettels, ‘Mineral Rites’, 2021, salt, lighting gel, audio, acrylic paint, 437 x 890 x 539cm. Photo: by Rebecca Mansell

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Author —
Jaimi Wright

Jaimi Wright is your friendly neighbourhood art historian. She has just completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) at UWA and dabbles in curating, local arts writing, and 19th century French history. Her favourite piece of play equipment is the roundabout even though her stomach should know better.

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