Many thanks to artist and writer Rebecca Gallo for her response to our ‘Materiality’ exhibition.
17 October – 18 November 2018
The first thing I notice when I look at art is almost always the materials: the stuff that things are made of. The thingness of things. I look for whether materials are made to disappear in service of an image or a narrative, or whether they tell a story through their own texture and heft, through familiar or strange configurations.
In Vibrant Matter (2003), Jane Bennett speaks of “the capacity of things … to act as quasi agents or forces with trajectories, propensities, or tendencies of their own.” Her aim is to decentre human agency with the idea that inanimate stuff might have its own agenda. In ‘Materiality’ at Home@735, materials are not entirely subservient to the artists. Rather, materials are active agents, shaping the work rather than being utterly subjugated to human will.
Attuned to the thingness of things, I cross a road of hot black asphalt and traverse the Bourke Street bike lane with its gummy white and green markings. I walk over large black pavers that would be slick and slippery in the wet, and onto Home’s front stoop. Its Victorian wrought-iron gate and old stone step are coated in glossy dark paint, masking a century of redecorations. I cross the threshold into the house, with its bright old floorboards and warm white walls.
The first work I encounter is deep-bitten copper turned green and orange and black. In Kirtika Kain’s hands the material sheds its skin: it intersects with other compounds, altering its colour and texture. It is copper, but no longer copper-coloured. But for the tell-tale traces of screenprinted text with its visible dot matrix, you’d think it had been unearthed from some mineral-rich soil. In Madeleine Preston’s Intolerable Leisure (vessel) (2018), copper is copper, beaten into a cone shape and cradled by white felt. It is a silent trumpet, its narrow end sealed to a point so it will never utter a sound. Felt insulates, silences, protects.
Hand tools – hard, utilitarian objects – are made yielding in Anita Larkin’s Softly Gently, Softly Quietly (2017). A hammer, chisel, scissors, knife and handgun are laid out: devices for work or torture on a cushioned tabletop. The ‘useful’ part of each tool (the hammer’s head, the scissor’s blades) has been replaced by its labour-intensive reproduction in grey needle-felted wool. Larkin has laboured to make versions of labour-saving devices that are functionally redundant. All these tools in warm soft wool should feel comforting – hard things made soft – but they are oddly menacing, suffocating, like muted footfalls. Something strange happens when materials are so directly at odds with the shapes they inhabit. It feels like sabotage.
In a number of works, the usual materials are replaced with strange alternatives. Alasdair McLuckie swaps paint for beads, like so many hand-threaded pixels making up an image. The support is dark wool instead of canvas, and is pinioned to the stretcher with neat hospital corners. I notice the corners of Dani Marti’s work too, where woven nylon rope gives way to a plywood frame. It rests on a table rather than hanging on a wall, asserting itself as object rather than surface. In Marti’s work, prosaic, mass-produced rope is woven with delicacy and care to create a knobbly, knotted plane. Where one might see coils of rope and think only of function, Marti sees form.
Ariella Friend’s sculptures look like pixels from a distance. They could be chunks of buildings extruded from a digital rendering, or fragments extracted from Minecraft. They resolve into irregular conglomerates of square section timber, painted with bands of bright colour. Friend’s titles combine names of native flora with digital terminology; this fits the visual perfectly. In Ken Lambert’s mesmerising video, a digital black cloud roils over and over itself on a white background. It is billowing smoke, crude oil tumbling into water, folded silk ravelling or shaved graphite curling. It is all these things and none of these things. For all the works in ‘Materiality’ whose tangible materials suggest pixels, Lambert’s digital imaging is slick: not a visible pixel in sight.
On first glance Elliot Bryce Foulkes’ Monument II (2014) and Monument V (2018) look like neat geometric abstractions. But instead of crisp, neat painted edges, the colour blocks are sewn cotton. The fabric pulls slightly at the seams, folded hems create small mounds at the joins, and there are slight lapses in registration. This shift in materiality, from paint on canvas to dyed cotton, is gentle but loaded. Along with the unusual pastel colour palette, these materials are a refusal of the masculine authority of hard-edge abstraction in favour of the domestic, the imperfect and the queer.
A glass cabinet is home to Sarah Goffman’s absurd, joyous version of the ‘good’ crystal and crockery. Loot (2018) comprises a clutch of warped, slumped and silver-painted plastic bottles and dishes. It celebrates the absurd and sensual beauty of single-use plastics, with their facets, dimples, ribbing and curves. Like many of the works in ‘Materiality’, Goffman’s Loot reframes the familiar.
Materials that are not exclusively or immediately associated with art can do strange things when allowed agency in artworks. With all their associations and implications, they create meaning, tension and complexity. They can invite or repel, comfort or disconcert us. Most of all, the way materials are used in art can heighten our awareness of the thingness of things, and the agency of objects as we encounter them in the wild.
Rebecca Gallo, October 2018