It’s Saturday afternoon at ACCA, and something strange is happening.
The vast hall is spartan and pale blue. An assembly of mirrored walls half-form a room in the middle. In one corner, a man sits behind a crate and some speakers, tweaking drum samples, arpeggios and discordant tones on a synthesiser. Up the back, two dancers writhe on the floor – one in gold hammer pants, the other holding a rusty scythe.
Visitors mill around the performers, who seem to be just getting on with something we can't quite comprehend. Their movements activate the space, as if they're imbuing it with some kind of energy.
This is all part of Claire Lambe’s new solo exhibition, Mother Holding Something Horrific. Clearly, it’s a bizarre experience. The usual slickness of ACCA has been replaced with a hodge-podge of sculpture, found objects, photography, sound and performance. Ideas are freely pilfered from Freud, Gaudi, Pasolini and Duchamp.
Lambe, who is well known for her abject sculptural forms, draws on her fascination with Freud by including a replica of his reading chair, an oddly shaped, custom-built piece designed to accommodate his unusual posture.
“I’ve fetishised his chair forever,” says Lambe. “It’s like a person.” And, I point out, sort of phallic. “Yeah. It’s quite sick,” she says excitedly.
The artist, who was born in England but is now based in Melbourne, says cinema has been an important influence on her work: “It brings the past, present and future together,” she says. “You can perfect the past, construct the present and make an imagined future.”
But, she’s not interested in reflecting the manufactured surfaces of the film world in her work. “I’m more interested in the accidents that happen … and the thinking that goes on during the process.”
Visually, this approach leads to anarchic and messy work. It’s not pretty … which is a refreshing change. There’s a photo of Lambe giving birth, and several shots of her son, now a young man, covered in chocolate. There’s a live mic propped on a stand in the middle of the room; unexplained photographs taped to the back of the mirrors, and an uneasy feeling that the space is somehow incomplete. If you’re looking for simple answers, you won’t find them here.
Ultimately, it’s the mirrored room that’s key. Like a stage-set, but you can’t help catch your reflection when you don’t expect to.
“I didn’t want it to be a hall of mirrors,” says Lambe. “So I’ve left gaps between the walls. I wanted it to feel incomplete. I was trying to make objects I could re-use. I want the pieces to be living.”
Her commitment to re-use isn’t merely in the spirit of sustainability. Lambe is as interested in the process of making work as she is with the work itself. This show is about stripping back the veneer of what is supposedly “finished” and showing you something continually under construction.
The performances happening throughout the space are a large part of the show’s impact. Lambe has collaborated with dancers Atlanta Eke and Annabelle Balharry, and musician Daniel Jenatsch, whose weekly performances tie into her ideas about process and the incomplete, if in an even more abstract way.
“I don’t exactly know what they’ll do,” says Lambe. “We got together and talked around the topic. I have complete trust in them. Atlanta’s work is about physicality, sexuality, abjectness. Hopefully she’ll find the beautiful parts of the show and bring that sense of … bleugh.”
Lambe revels in ugliness. This makes the sculpture in the back room all the more startling for its beauty. The golden form of a flower (based on an illustration from a postcard Lambe has hung onto since the ’70s) is being sung to by four speakers, directly targeting the centre of the flower. The music, also by Jenatsch, has a bassline that slows you down and hits you like a heartbeat: repetitive, gentle and slightly menacing.
As with much of her work, Mother Holding Something Horrific is about that tension between the past, present and future. The flower is constructed from an old image. The music has roots in the present. And it’s as if, coaxed by the music, that flower is about to grow into something new.
Claire Lambe: Mother Holding Something Horrific is at ACCA until June 25.
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