Langwarrin is not the first suburb that comes to mind when thinking of Melburnian cultural hubs, however those who make the trek to McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park before September 19 will be rewarded. The latest offering of this sizeable, if remote, institution is an installation of Melbourne artist Sally Smart’s pivotal work Femmage (Shadows and Symptoms).
The work, first exhibited at Singapore’s Earl Lu Gallery in 1999, is a mural of silhouetted beds, bicycles, letters, trees, people, brooms and a host of other paraphernalia. All cut from a menagerie of brightly pigmented felts, floral strips of mass-made fabrics and screen-printed papers. The layered silhouettes create a paradoxical environment, an environment that is at once external and internal, light and dark. Whilst the silhouettes are familiar objects to the world we inhabit, the spatial arrangement, repeating of forms and warping of elements make you question whether this is the world you know or whether you’ve stumbled inside the artist’s psyche.
Tree roots become arteries, letters become thoughts not speech, and from this perspective you begin to notice new narratives within the work. No longer is it the mere warped representation of the external landscape, but a thought stream of the socio-political concerns that plague the artist. There is a strong sense of the feminist roots, and the errors of societies past and present; objects of the domestic environment, Rorschach ink blots, ghostly warped and unheard vernacular and the floral fabrics all hint to this. Collaged forms meet and the joins have not been masked or overly fussed but left to show – “the marks of repair” as the artist refers to them, the scars of the past. Whilst it may sound dark, there is a definite sense of optimism here, a sense of hope that Femmage can bring to light and challenge archaic notion of gender roles. It is the continued relevance of these issues and timeless aesthetic of Smart’s work keep Femmage contemporary despite its ten years of life.
Femmage (Shadows and Symptoms) is complemented by two exhibitions also on at McClelland: Illusion/Illusion and Geoffery Bartlett’s Lumen. Whilst not intrinsically linked, there is a definite dialogue between the three exhibitions. Illusion/Illusion, a group show of Australian artists earlier in their practice also plays with light and shadow, both real and projected. Kit Webster’s video work of projected shapes on a screen of cascading frames causes a Russian doll-like effect that traverses the two- and three-dimensionality the work exists in. Briele Hansen’s projection of rippling water on the top of a bath challenges your sense of perspective. Whilst standing, looking at the top of this empty bath, you can’t help but feel you are in the bath, looking up at the surface of the water. This sensation is extended through another work – a white, wooden stage projected from above with the soft folds and creases of bed sheets – which challenges the tactility of the substrate.
In the McClelland Room at the gallery, Geoffery Bartlett’s light sculptures experiment with the role of light and form to challenge the viewer’s perception. Sculpted organic forms are bathed in a spectrum of light exuding different moods as the colours change, whilst inverting the positive and negative space.
Femmage (Shadows and Symptoms) may not be the new kid on the block but its installation at McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park shows it’s still shining light 10 years on.