Eveline Kotai Living Forest 2019 (detail) acrylic, giclee print, belgian 76 x 1200 cm Courtesy of Artist and Art Collective WA
News, Reviews, Visual arts

Permission to breathe

Review: Eveline 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 Expanding, Writing 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.

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News, Reviews, Visual arts

Object lessons in memory and meaning

Review: Agatha Gothe-Snape, ‘Trying to Find Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair’ & Nicholas Mangan, ‘Termite Economies (Phase One)’ ·
Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts ·
Review by Claudia Minutillo ·

Forming a deep and rich understanding of the recent past can be difficult. Our ability for retrospection often improves as we travel a greater temporal distance. The two latest exhibitions from Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, however, turn this notion on its head.

Spanning PICA’s Ground Floor Galleries, “Trying to find Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair” is the culmination of a research project into the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art led by Australian contemporary artist Agatha Gothe-Snape.

A rare gem, the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art is Australia’s only public women’s art collection. This exhibition signifies its first public return to PICA since 1995 and creatively re-examines some of the collection’s foundational narratives of domesticity, still-life and self-representation.

The show includes artworks from the Cruthers Collection and new works produced by Gothe-Snape in response, giving the collection breathing room as if it were a living, conscious being. Cruthers Collection curator Gemma Weston, who collaborated with Gothe-Snape on this project, aptly describes the exhibition as “a dream the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art itself might have, if it were able to”.

In this dream-like mode, a viewer can (and should) navigate the space intuitively, first entering through Gothe-Snape’s installation Certain Situations/ EXPRESSION CURTAIN (2013). Previously acquired by the Cruthers Collection, the work is comprised of a large makeshift wall with a cut-out doorway in which a patterned yellow curtain hangs. Among other things, the installation draws attention to the performative nature of engaging with art objects in the show.

Some artists featured from the Cruthers Collection include Elise Blumann, Penny Bovell, Susanna Castleden, Penny Coss, Rosalie Gascoigne, Eveline Kotai, Ann Newmarch, Miriam Stannage and Mei Swan Lim. Their work spans across painting, textiles, print, drawing, sound and media. Within this myriad of expression, layers upon layers of meaning accrue which regrettably cannot be expressed in full here. However, the central feature which must be mentioned is the work from which the exhibition takes its title, and one of Gothe-Snape’s new responsive works.

In the centre of the space, a large platform displays a number of chairs loaned from exhibiting artists – the chair chosen had to be one in which the artist has found comfort. Some torn and frayed, some splattered with paint or just a skeleton of what once was, the borrowed chairs so beautifully manifest the artist’s presence through the object alone. Accompanied by Gothe-Snape’s letters to the artists requesting the chairs, we are invited to see the objects as a symptom of all their experiences. Through this, we immerse ourselves in one large connective web of shared feeling, experience and memory across time and space.

Upstairs, Nicholas Mangan’s “Termite Economies (Phase One)” brings the viewer back down to earth with a less whimsical aesthetic of insects and brown dirt. Mangan’s work is also the culmination of a research project. In this case, the Australian science agency CSIRO investigated termite behaviour in the hope their industrious methods might assist humans in their pursuit of gold.

Nicholas Mangan’s ‘Termite Economies (Phase One)’ re-imagines termite mounds using a 3D printer, plaster and soil. Picture by Bo Wong.

Occupying a much smaller and contained space, nightmarish rather than dream-like, the dimly lit room accentuates the stark artificiality of the bay lights which illuminate Mangan’s earthy termite sculptures from above. The organic forms have been rendered by a 3D printing process and are cross-sectioned to reveal inner passages; human innovation and research meets animal instinct.

These sculptures provide an access point to thinking about recent capitalist pursuit, economic viability and its reflection on society’s behavior and motivation. We may well imagine ourselves as these little termite colonies and speculate on possible futures. Accompanying the sculptures, retro monitors play archival and recorded footage of termite activity, showing the termites at work and also at a cellular level. The juxtaposition of historical and contemporary objects and visuals position the ideas explored as trans-historical, looking at the past in less rigid and more speculative, all-encompassing ways.

Perhaps the resounding point over all is that a focus on the embodied experience of objects and the contested ideas they encompass may provide a deeper understanding the recent past and present moment. These two exhibitions are not to be rushed through and are made all the more meaningful if the viewer is committed to their own participation, thinking and research into the objects before them.

“Trying to Find Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair” & “Termite Economies (Phase One)” are showing until 6 October.

Pictured above: Agatha Gothe-Snape’s installation ‘Trying To Find Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair’ in the PICA main gallery. Photo by Bo Wong.

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Squares in shades of peach, mauve and light brown
August 19, Calendar, December 19, November 19, October 19, September 19, Visual arts

Visual Arts: WA Now – Eveline Kotai: Breathing Pattern

17 Aug – 20 Jan 2020 @ Art Gallery of WA ·
Presented by Art Gallery of WA ·

Over the past 15 years, Eveline Kotai’s interest in material dissolution and regeneration has culminated in the practice and process of cutting up and reworking her own paintings into new works. Her unique technique of reconfiguring pre-existing works into new compositions via invisible thread, and onto new surfaces, echoes a world in perpetual motion, transition and continuation. Like a computer program trying to repair itself or a human mind trying to get to know itself, new paths are found, new solutions forged.

This method provides Kotai with, not only a never-ending source of new beginnings, but also an important meditative practice, a kind of breathing pattern, through the action of cutting and stitching her canvasses anew. The exhibition will include new and recent work with the variety of media including canvas reconstructions and paintings.

WA Now – Eveline Kotai: Breathing Pattern forms part of the WA Now series dedicated to showcasing work by practising WA artists. To complement the exhibition, AGWA is hosting a series of events including a free artist talk on Saturday 14 September.

More info
W: artgallery.wa.gov.au/whats-on/exhibitions/wa-now-eveline-kotai-breathing-pattern
E:  admin@artgallery.wa.gov.au

Pictured: Eveline Kotai Breathing Pattern #3 2019. Acrylic on ply, 120.7 x 270 cm.
Courtesy of the artist and Art Collective WA.

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News, Reviews, Visual arts

Kotai offers material for meditation

Review: Eveline Kotai – Invisible Threads ·
Art Collective WA ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

With a focus on colour, pattern and texture, Eveline Kotai’s work rewards a sustained focus. Her current exhibition at Art Collective, “Invisible Threads” combines recent works with those selected across her 40-year practice.

Kotai’s work spans a broad range of materials including beads, thread, wood, and printmaking. She unites this diverse practice through her deep commitment to pattern and texture, meticulously detailed, and an ongoing experimentation with materials. She is drawn to the relationship between art-making and the natural world, particularly through elements of continual change, or the cycles of life. In her more recent works, she cuts up her paintings and restitches them together in an act of collage that reflects an increasingly fragmented, transitory world.

Trace Elements Expanding 1-9, 2019, is a succession of nine canvases restitched together in this way. As the viewer walks along the wall, the canvases progressively become smaller and more colourful, ranging from large, luminous and pale to a tiny riot of colour at the end. Whilst they initially look like paintings, and in in a way they are, but the canvases have been sliced into strips and stitched together, reordered from their original composition by the invisible threads of the exhibition’s title.

For Kotai, this way of working opens up a space for contemplation, and the possibility of regeneration. This meditative mood is reflected throughout the exhibition, not only in the large collage-paintings but in the artist’s smaller, delicately patterned works that similarly avoid any kind of representation, focusing purely on abstract patterns. Whilst this could be seen as a way to make sense of the world, or create order out of chaos, it’s actually the opposite.

Rather than representative works that try to make sense of or reflect the world around us, Kotai’s methods of working create experimental new spaces and visual languages that don’t rely on ordering or representing the world, but simply exploring it, and creating new possibilities along the way.

“Invisible Threads” ends on June 15.

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