Reviews/Visual Art

Sustainable artworks yield poignant results

15 March 2021

In keeping with the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra, ‘on REvolution’ is an exhibition that embraces the concept of upcycling, in ways that Jaimi Wright finds both joyful and thought-provoking.

‘on REvolution’, Elizabeth Kelly et al. ·
Gallery Central, North Metropolitan TAFE ·

What does environmentally responsible art-making look like?

Gallery Central at North Metropolitan TAFE WA answers this question with “on REvolution”, a collection of fascinating works exploring environmental consciousness. The artists within this exhibition have embraced found and upcycled materials as keynotes in their work, and in doing so prove that engaging art can be sustainably minded.

Canberra-based artist Elizabeth Kelly leads a group of like-minded artists for this exhibition, in her role as artist in residence at North Metropolitan TAFE Creative Industries in March. Kelly’s sculptural practice takes inspiration from geometry and growth systems in the natural world, which makes her body of work a natural departure point for approaching environmental concerns.

The title of the exhibition “on REvolution” refers to the act of spinning and change, as well as responses to our impact on the natural world and our experiences with the pandemic. Collectively the artworks produce both an insightful examination of the different facets of human impact on the natural environment and a plea for action through an inspired use of materials.

Kelly’s work Remanoir III (2007) – old French for “to remain” – is a half sphere of double ended white bottles, held together with zip ties and stainless steel split rings. The work is a breathtaking, almost intergalactic shape made with materials that we would recognise as litter. It’s poignant in its beauty, but also in its ability to make the audience think about the mess we leave behind.

Nien Schwarz’s Clearance (1998 – 2001, reworked 2021) is an imposing totemic structure of sample bags she has constructed out of salvaged survey maps from the National Map Library in Canberra. An Honorary Senior Lecturer at Edith Cowan University, her work materially and poetically explores salvaged geography, drawing attention to the destruction of natural habitats through her construction of the paper habitats she saved from Canberra.

Sharyn Egan's work 'Our Babies' is comprised of rows of open sardine cans, each containing a blanket, covering a small fabric doll.
Sharyn Egan’s ‘Our Babies’ (2019) is a reminder of the comfort First Nations children sought after being forcibly separated from their families.

Both Sharyn Egan and Dr Leonie Ngahuia Mansbridge explore their respective heritages through their use of found objects, to touching effect. A Noongar artist, Egan was removed from her family at the age of three and placed in the New Norcia Mission. In her work Our Babies (2019) she has recreated the toys she made as a child in the Mission. Dozens of small cots made out of sardine cans, rags and gravel with little makeshift children inside are lines in geometric formation as a reminder of the comfort the children would try to find in one another after being forcibly separated from their families.

Mansbridge explains that her work Cloak Series – Portrait of Rewl, Reputation Cloak and Rangatiratanga Cloak (2017) represents her experience as a Māori person who has been colonised through assimilation. Her series of found objects attached to her ancestor’s cloaks are both anthropologic documents and a profound social statement.

In very different ways, Phil Gamblen and Ric Spencer both get to the bare bones of their mediums through their playful pieces. Gamblen’s stripped back contraption Prototype for a machine (drawing machine) (2018) constructs wire drawings for the viewer to take home at the press of a button. Made from bits and pieces he found around his studio, Gamblen is able to produce pure delight out of the simplest of materials.

Spencer explores the structure and organics of gumnuts in his work Gumnut Study (2021). A graduate of NMTAFE School of Art, Spencer makes paper out of the gumnuts and has juxtaposed this paper next to a hand drawn study of the seed. These two creative deconstructions prove that artistic inspiration can be found as close as your backyard.

This exhibition is such an imaginative reworking of found materials and a joy to behold. To catch this thought-provoking collection while it’s available is well worth your time.

“On REvolution” runs at Gallery Central until 26 March 2021.

Pictured top is Elizabeth Kelly’s breathtaking ‘Remanoir III’ (2007).

Ric Spencer's 'Gumnut Study' contrasts a piece of paper made out of gumnuts with a hand drawn black and white sketch of a seed, The paper on the left is brown and rough looking.
Ric Spencer’s ‘Gumnut Study’ (2021).

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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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