An essay commissioned as part of First Site Gallery's CRITICAL writing mentorship program.
Ok ladies, now let’s get in FORMATION
OR Precisely 6.5 lists, with some articles in between
“A visceral palette of muted fleshy tones. Expulsion. Protrusion. Skin making way for new skin. Pushed, stretched, hung, squashed, squeezed, pulled, draped, folded. Edible, fetishistic, playful. Delicate. Collapsing inward. Complicit with being. Celebratory.”
Charlotte Dayman: “ Undisclosed, honest, unified”
Zamara Lee Robison: “Inquisitive, transitional, cathartic, gestural, sympathetic”
Zoe Bastin: “Surface, process, compromise”
Stephanie Granlund: “Transformation, delicate, surface”
This is a write-up about an exhibition. The exhibition is over now. It was called Formation. It was a group sculpture show with works by Charlotte Dayman, Zoë Bastin, Zamara Lea Robison and Stephanie Granlund. The artists made one sculpture together, and the rest individually. The objects had never been exhibited before. Formation had the same title as a Beyoncé song. The two forms have nothing to do with each other, but were both creative outputs of intelligent females.
Achieving a sense of coherence in a group exhibition can be a delicate and complex process involving a to-and-fro between ideas of material, display, message and perception. Speaking with the group of artists in Formation, it became apparent that verbal language and the language of sculpture was a key element in drawing diverse elements of the artists’ respective practices together. There’s something to be said about strength in numbers; the subtle differences between areas of interest for the artists manifest in a way which strengthens individual elements of their solitary work and draws out elements that may not otherwise have been noticed. Collaboratively deciding on a set of key words to guide the overarching themes that would draw their practices together achieved a highly developed, coherent visual translation. Rather than acting as a limitation, the physical act of list-writing-as-critical-reflection aided the group to mould, shape – sculpt if you will – an exhibition that provoked an understanding of the tensions between playful and critical, the abject and the domestic, materiality and its perception in institutional, domestic and educational contexts. See below for a list of words I aggressively scrawled in a notebook punched into my iPhone when I first visited the exhibition. (yeah, I’m a millennial).
Nine Thoughts You Won’t Believe You’d Have When Standing Idle At First Site Gallery:
- Gentle lavender coral pus
- Continuous wave corrugated iron formation
- Steaming tin roof in Queensland Summer
- Cross-section of a lamington preserved
- Fossilised marble cake sandpit
- Phallic butcher’s meat-hook worm, long dong
- Spider-gorilla gangly Kapoor wall protrusion
- Domestic hybridity
- An intentional accident
Feminine without falling into a sort of heavily aestheticized, Petra Collins-like,(U.S. Photographer and Gucci femme sweetheart) deeply internet-spawned pinkdom, the group abstract, analyse and extend forms relating to texture and skin through sculptural means- works like Robison’s Sebum doing this in quite a literal linguistic sense. Exaggerating and aestheticising the bodily abject, Robison proclaims joyously the universality of gland bi-products through close-up, temporal intervention and visual documentation. Robison’s fascination with notions of the internal/external paradigms of the human body and its functions are genuine: perhaps most notably celebrated in a kind of excremental, cathartic way in her creation of a sort of corporeal-space age-udder-like-marshmallow-beer-gut oozing from the white wall as if were a self-sustaining organism.
Each work shows a comfortability with the process of their interactions with other surfaces in comical, nonsensical combinations : butter and the bleached walls of the white cube, feathery soap and hard-edge besser block concrete, Xanadu-lycra and silver chains, residential brickwork and reflective Perspex. Sculptures trap these points of conversion at specific points in time; their interactions sometimes clinical and distant, other times highly complex. The works make a strong point that this togetherness is ephemeral – they are understood as precariously secured despite being nailed to the wall: dangled and stretched over glossy, resistant materials. Of the works in the show, the most evocative brought out a certain combination of reluctance, fear and desire : uncanny, shapely forms- highly tactile, edible, glossy and precarious combinations of material and installation method. (see: Granlund’s butter painting, soap used as structural support in Dayman’s sculpture). Bastin’s gestural Carrying you with me traps the performed act of bundling domestic sheets and crushed velour with a canvas strap. The object reminds me of the trope in film convention of one’s possessions together in a cloth sack; the sculpture highlights the delicacy and observed textural patterns created in the mundane task of gathering sheets : ingrained with nostalgia, theatrical and loaded with human impact.
Formation dealt with all manner of complex ideas, without taking itself too seriously. The way in which the exhibition drew out the humour of corporeal functions, the intrigue provoked by its combination of materials made it thoroughly enjoyable to walk through, revisit and remember. A powerful Formation it was.