Reviews/Perth Festival/Visual Art

The disruption and solace of Olga Cironis

14 April 2021

Woven together with various threads, including human hair, ‘Dislocation’ is an appropriate title for a survey of the works of local artist Olga Cironis, discovers Miranda Johnson.

“Dislocation”, Olga Cironis ·
Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery ·

Unsettling yet familiar, the work of Olga Cironis is the focus of “Dislocation”, a survey exhibition covering 30 years of her artistic practice, at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery as part of the 2021 Perth Festival.

A photograph of Olga Cironis with her mouth stitched shut. She wears a fur coat and a dark green patterned scarf. She stands against wallpaper patterned with forest-like images.
Olga Cironis, ‘Alexandra’, 2013, archival digital print, ed. 2/4, 120 x 80 cm, courtesy the artist and Art Collective WA.

Now based in Perth, Cironis was born in Czechoslovakia to Greek parents and migrated with her family to Sydney in 1971. She has a long-standing interest in challenging political and social conventions to uncover multiple viewpoints, altered states, and lost or challenged histories. The exhibition is aptly titled; over the course of many years, Cironis has created a sense of disruption in her works, while also embracing solace and human connection.

With a focus on gentle materials, including felt and human hair, threads of connection throughout the exhibition provide an insight into Cironis’s ongoing practice, which encompasses sculpture, photography, installation and film.

The first work you encounter when entering the exhibition space is self-portrait Alexandra (2013), featuring Cironis wrapped in a fur coat, staring directly at the viewer, her mouth stitched shut. A political statement borne of her family’s experience with censorship and oppression, it also inserts the artist’s own presence into an exhibition that plays with obfuscation and absence, particularly of bodies.

This presence through absence is shown through wrapping and covering objects, or in sculptures that are deliberately missing key elements to their parts and cannot function in the ways we expect. A child’s cot with a hollow bottom is one example. Rather than appearing as a failure of function, however, these absences often surprise the viewer, presenting an unexpected way out.

A baby's romper, made from camouglafe material, is shaped onto a crucifix shaped piece of khaki material, with a frill around the head.
Olga Cironis, ‘Hollow Desires’, 2016, child’s clothing, hair and thread on military canvas, 111 x 83 cm, courtesy the artist and Art Collective WA. Photo: Robert Frith, Acorn.

Cironis’s play on absence and presence of bodies carries through the exhibition, in outlines of figures in thread or fabric, objects created to contain or cover up flesh and human materials, and the aforementioned remnants of human hair. A strong sense of questioning also pervades her works. Cironis finds multiple layers of meaning in statements that we might initially see as black and white.

These themes are found in examples of her earlier work, particularly in explicitly feminist sculptural works ranging from the lace-trimmed chastity belt Swing (from Wedding Tomb) (1995) to process-driven interventions such as Mountain of Words (2015-2020), a weaving project made from human hair, conducted in the gallery space while visitors looking on.

It’s in projects such as these that the artist’s deep interest in the global nature of human experiences becomes clear. Her appreciation of the connections that can be made across countries and cultures sits alongside her nuanced understanding of the impacts of local systems of governance, religion, power and politics, and how these can fundamentally change experiences or ways of living across different cultures.

“Dislocation” provides an incredible opportunity to witness and reflect on the past thirty years of Cironis’s practice. I was, however, left with a sense of wanting more; a feeling that the works on display here just scrape the surface of a rich and fertile career.

“Dislocation” continues at Lawrence Wilson Arts Gallery until 5 June 2021.

You can also catch Olga Cironis’s worth at Art Collective WA, in the exhibition “This Space Between Us”, plus Art Collective has published a monograph of her work, by the same name.

Pictured top: Olga Cironis, ‘Echo’, 2021, still from single-channel digital video with sound, duration 3:55 min, ed. 1/5, courtesy the artist and Art Collective WA. This project has been made possible with the support of the Minderoo Foundation.

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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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