Journey Reluctantly Taken by Marzena Wasikowska. #welcomenotwelcome by Hilary Wardhaugh.
Sprite by Grace Blake. PhotoAccess at the Manuka Arts Centre, corner Manuka Circle and NSW Circle, Griffith. Until August 19.
Marzena Wasikowska’s Journey Reluctantly Taken is a visual meditation on the impact of climate change on our world. Her six images are powerful, disturbing and beautiful. Her message is clear and her total understanding of both form and content imbues this message with an incisive thematic and aesthetic edge.
While the starting point for these works is the inevitable realness of global warming, Wasikowska chooses an 18th-century philosophical precedent for the language in which she visually clothes her thesis. For her the exemplar of the Romantic Sublime as posited by Edmund Burke in 1757 is not only appropriate but absolutely relevant.
The Sublime conjectured that man was attracted to what he could not comprehend or control, by what was indefinable. In the context of a contemporary ecological phenomenon, some visual shifting from the 18th century to the present is obviously necessary and Wasikowska achieves this not only in her choice of medium (inkjet print) but in the immediacy and impact of her pictorial language.
In Earth’s Self Correcting Systems Gold Coast, nos.4, 3 and 2, the ubiquitous high-rise apartments that abut the ever-diminishing beaches of Queensland’s Gold Coast are subsumed by mountainous cascades of water. The apartment buildings themselves are barely visible, their almost inchoate presence absorbed into the overwhelmingly powerful torrents of water.
In all of the images their inherent visual attraction is played off against the hard realities of what is known about climate change and further charged with the immanent possibilities of these man-made phenomena that are the subject matter of Wasikowska’s art. The elision of seemingly opposites creates a marvellous aesthetic tension between visual seduction and thematic tragedy. Other works use a framing device that imbues a Gothic vision of darkness, of a vision of looking at something created and now out of control. The artist’s use of colour is finely tuned and an almost exquisite presence in the disaster of her pictorialised world.
This is an extraordinary exhibition in which the power of individual images combined with their totality in the small gallery space creates a palpable imaginative reality, a vision of a future world no longer so far away. Wasikowska’s Sublime is a mirror to humanity couched in the compelling attraction of her beautiful images and the ineluctable confrontation of man with nature.
According to her artist statement, Hilary Wardhaugh’s #welcomenotwelcome "addresses ironies and contradictions in contemporary life when considering issues like privacy and yet having an incessant desire and compulsion to promote and share every detail of our lives online".
Her means of expressing this is to proffer a set of 13 images, the majority of which speak of precluding viewers from seeing what is behind a range of barriers (fences, hedges, walls). It is a case of what you see is not what I want you to see. The images are beautifully crisp, often carefully divided into layered horizontals that create a form of order that can be read as a metaphor for the superficially bland “order” of the built environment, an environment that holds/hides within it the private lives of its inhabitants. While the premise of the exhibition may appear negative the resulting images are certainly not.
Wardhaugh is a skilled artist with an acute understanding not only of her medium (here, inkjet prints) but also of pictorial composition generally.
I haven’t got a welcome mat because I’m not a f---ing liar clearly demonstrates this. The division into horizontal bands establishes the idea of lateral continuity as well as reinforcing the notion of a barrier between what we see and what lies behind the hedge. The verdant central hedge is prettily enlivened with scattered pink flowers that sit in stark contrast to the ominous clouds that occupy the top of the picture plane. This ominousness is continued with the inclusion of a barely glimpsed industrial structure sitting tightly against the right-hand edge of the composition. In the foreground, two well-tended plant beds indicate that the site of the image is a site of some human activity.
People, however, are noteworthy in their absence in all of the exhibition images. This device allows viewers to more easily elide themselves into the images as well as investing a further sense of unease, a characteristic that runs throughout all the images.
In Stairway to Heaven, an eerily lit stairway leads down into some underground space, a walkway or station entry perhaps. The spare geometries and graphic presentation of this structure stand in contrast to the surrounding (though equally uninviting) natural environment.
Build a Fence continues a similar feeling of disquiet but here the overpowering sky (occupying nearly three-quarters of the spatial composition ) is broken only by the inclusion of two light posts peering up over the once again ominous fence. The images in this exhibition each speak of the ubiquitous and intrusive presence of the built world. They also speak of that environment as a metaphor for the barriers we place around ourselves, even of the dangers inherent in opening ourselves to others. Wardhaugh uses a direct and simple visual language tinged with an element of mystery to impart a sense of threat, a sense of isolation and retreat from the realities of life and the real world.
Grace Blake’s world as evinced in Sprite is one concerned with the interaction of humans with the latest technological innovations. Her's is, in many ways, an otherworldly universe populated by exotic and alien life forms created through technology.
The framed images are placed in three-dimensionally printed plastic frames that echo the forms they enclose. The latter bear close resemblance to the images of the human intestine as filmed by a swallowed camera. The intestines here though seem to have taken on another life form and adopted a plastic rather than a corporeal presence. The “otherworldly” reference above is given active form in the worm-like excrescences. The video (J(_)ingL3 (from series For Electric Objects) sits very effectively on the floor of the gallery showing a rotating image of pulsating, shiny larvae-like forms. It is a disquieting image and reinforces the unease innate in the framed images. Blake’s artist statement says that her work “investigates the possible futures of the post-human body”. Her investigations give up intriguing results that while not necessarily offering aesthetic beauty extend a highly idiosyncratic approach to her chosen themes.