An entry to the Chippendale New World Art Prize.
Excerpts from my artist's statement:
"Chippendale New World Art Prize theme of the notions “Utopia”, and “New World” have long been present in my work and the following words and phrases extracted from the creative brief make up poetic description of the piece I made in response to this.
Beautiful, a brief moment of serenity.
A mesmerising mirage, sensuous, surreal, spectacular. The warm kaleidoscope of a dusk sky,
The gold scent on the breeze, of reverie
nourishing, the evergreen pristine Edenic vision, a New World of dream & imagination
In the depths of Utopia."
I'd been thinking about the brief for this prize since I read it a couple of months ago, thinking it over in my head, working it out with my hands. I did a lot of thinking in those weeks. I worked on a lot of bits 'n pieces, here & there, but it wasn't until the final week that the piece above almost made itself.
It seemed to me that in making a piece specifically for entry in this prize (terms of entry: "only original artworks created specifically for this Art Prize will be accepted"), I needed to make an artifact that described a spiritual dimension; to make a thing made of thoughts. The piece would be an object of translation, an illustration of a concept.. Further, the artifact would need to transcend the illustrative - to be my "joyous vision, adorned with the jewels of effortless energy and purity of heart", to quote the brief.
As for the aesthetics, Utopia is a highly charged notion and it is unique to each person who imagines it; the furnishings of unique inner worlds are upholstered by life experiences, by where one had come from, to where one would ideally like to arrive. From the beginning, I regarded Utopia as a personal refuge, not a global destination.
For me, landscape is the realm of nostalgia. My internal pastoral scene, fostered in early childhood, a territory of the soul, a bucolic, fertile, organic and beautiful place.
So I compile my Utopic landscape with sweeping generalizations, panoramic vistas, and gold tinted light. I make my own home, a fantasy to which I wish to return, intermittently, when my spirit is low and lonely. As an antidote to daily life, my Utopia is indispensable, a critical factor in maintaining my ability to parse the vicissitudes of a workaday existence; to get through the traffic. It is indispensably useful and always available. Even as I know its all a fantasy from beginning to end, and perhaps because it is.
"If the most intensely felt landscapes are the ones we walk through as a child, my childhood spent in South East Asian colonial societies has left me enchanted by a tropical landscape. These are soaked in nostalgia; a longing for a world that no longer exists or perhaps never existed anyway, a New World fantasy as represented here in a digitally collaged print, complete with palm trees and hazy skies. The emotive aesthetic is enhanced, the colours are saturated and the focus bleeds into a soft extravagance of mood. A dream world that is strong and persistent and the bedrock of my imaginings, both comforting and slightly sinister. These are my decaying tropical Utopias. This was a world that was crumbling in its own heat, a New World fantasy, a lush frontier. For me, they embody a need, a dependence on a promised peace, on a power greater than ourselves. Remnants of paradise; fantasies masquerading as proof of a promised, ultimate arrival in some unknowable land where all is good and right and the climate temperate, seen through a haze of humidity which reassuringly blurs all hard edges."
"Layering over this is a slightly warped Arabic geometric pattern; what began as a mathematical geometry, predictable and symmetrical in its progression, now expands and retracts like distances through time: lines to trace through time." The lines shudder, slightly; there's a trembling and uncertainty, they are so tentatively tethered in space, but they remain, boldly present, conducting the currents of memories through time.
"The image is pierced by a pattern taken from traditional Indonesian batik work, similar to those seen in Wayang Kulit theatre. The light streams through the landscape, confined within a religious or a 'worshipful' arched shape. The frontier panel, facing the outside world, is shaped like a façade of a building, devotional architecture shown in a dream-like perspective, representing the way we frame our world, taming it and customising it to shapes we can control. Structures of our own devising, these are castles made of air, castles in the sky, perhaps a portal to another, deeper plane of understanding."
"The light streams through the landscape, confined within a religious or a 'worshipful' arched shape. The frontier panel, facing the outside world, is shaped like a façade of a building, devotional architecture shown in a dream-like perspective, representing the way we frame our world, taming it and customising it to shapes we can control. Structures of our own devising, these are castles made of air, castles in the sky, perhaps a portal to another, deeper plane of understanding. The sum of these parts speak to an everyday desire for order & reliability, for comfort, a stab at a spiritual understanding in a failing and unstable world. The world of past/present/future is fraught with structural modifications, bound by lines of tension and prayers."
As for the figures, my 'cognitive angels', as they were once - 25 years ago - successfully named. it had been many, many years since I last saw these, since I last made these. They first came into being, in my hands, at the time when I realised that relief sculpture was going to be the naturally occurring framework/format for my artwork. A long time ago and still true. Making these again was a pleasurable, almost automatic task, although quite time consuming despite the small scale. So much in this piece felt effortless and I'm experienced enough to know that that's a rare and wonderful thing. Its a thing called "the flow", which is to truly, completely work. As in, it all just works. Its the best. Whatever else comes from this piece, I know I had it here.
"Into my world, there comes my own gilded cognitive angels, the wing-ed Venus’. These figures have manifold identities; the archetypical procreating Venus; the Greco-Roman Victories; the crescent like angel’s wings, messengers from the Divine. They guard and venerate throughout time, heralds who cast one’s mind into the contemplation of eternal things. The greatest fear: loss."
".... Materially, there is a contrast of frugality and grandiosity, a high/low technological mix: home printed images, recycled $2 shop photo frame and hardware store scraps of MDF, against gilded sculptures and LED backlighting. "
For sure, my work touches on an array of old and new processes and techniques: modelling in polymer clay, making silicone moulds & plaster or gelcoat/fibergalss casts, tried & trusty old skool gilding, basic carpentry & MDF (processed 'wood'), a laser-printed image of a digital collage, a LOT of detailed hand cut scalpel work on polypropolene sheet and the wonderful, way cool LED.
The LED. That's really cool, I've nudged up against lightbox application for years & am delighted LED is now so available and easy to incorporate if it needs to be. One must remember to use it responsibly; its so easy to want it everywhere because its so cool. I found a font of LED know-how at Jaycar Electronics, such a great store, all kinds of goodies and the fellas are so nice. Thank you for your help, fellas.
Here's another tandem piece in progress also using LED.
So many glorious mutiplications of LED opportunities....
Plenty more where that came from. As usual, critical editing is my weakness.
I've got a better handle on Sculpey than when I made these ponies and I really like it now. I'm so happy to be making things like this, it feels so right. When I drove away from Barnes with a box full of silicone & plaster, I had this feeling - suffused is I think the right word - I was indeed suffused with a warm glow of contentment. Like yessss, I'm doing what I'm here to do. Sometimes it feels so easy, effortless and right, that thing called 'the flow'.
Mind you, I made a disgraceful mess of my silicone mould. The years are not kind; I felt the lack of technical proficiency and it shows.
I cast in Sculpey too, learning from this excellent blog, by a master modelmaker, David Neat. I did take the precaution of reinforcing the leg sections with some thick cotton thread as these figures are quite small and fragile. I cast several in sculpey and stone plaster with only two breakages, quickly sorted out with Zap-a-Gap. Now THAT is a find. Zap-a-gap fixes anything, even the kettle*.
The metal fixing rods are cut lengths of knitting needles. I buy them at charity shops & its amazing how often they come in handy. Pressing a lace pattern on the back was just because, just for me, no reason needed really.
"Utopia: a precious, emotive thing. We invest in it so much responsibility and purpose, as if there is redemption there to be mined & celebrated, even as our fervent, deeply seated need for it diminishes it in return.
No moment is lasting and our most fantastic structures will crumble, but the divine is all around us.
In the space between experience lived and experience remembered, between the unrealized dreams of the past and visions of the future, we dream our own Utopias."
* Obscure reference to Iris Murdoch's The Sea The Sea. Nobody ever gets this.
Recommended reading: Svetlana Boym, "Nostalgia And It's Discontents" published on Agora8, 2006-2009. Extracted from her book "The Future of Nostalgia" (New York: Basic, 2001)
Finalists in the Chippendale New World art prize are announced on 29 April. We will never speak of it again. Ever.