Transitions – mosaics by Helen Bodycomb, Pamela Irving, Rachel Bremner, Caitlin Hughes, Kate Butler. Functional Shadows – work by Marilou Chagnaud. Craft ACT, Civic. Until May 5.
If you have an interest in history and archaeology you will be familiar with the art of mosaics. Mosaics have survived from the ancient world when so much else has perished. In the Jordanian desert, sand was swept away by our guide and Byzantine mosaics as bright as the day they were made were revealed to our amazed eyes. Mosaics fell out of favour with the introduction of new materials and new styles of decoration. However, the art of mosaics is not extinct. In Canberra extensive mosaics by Napier Waller (1893-1972) can be seen in the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial.
In Transitions, Helen Bodycomb, Pamela Irving, Rachel Bremner, Caitlin Hughes and Kate Butler use some of the traditional techniques of making mosaics but adapt and renew them in the light of their own art practice and contemporary sensibilities.
Butler in her assured and confident work uses the traditional skills of making mosaics. Her free forms are constructed from small tesserae cut from slate but instead of laying them as a flat surface, she subverts the traditional process by placing the slithers of stone on their side with their edges protruding sharply like overlapping fish scales. The soft grey of the slate constitutes a subtly changing surface lit by iridescent highlights provided by strips of small coloured glass smalti. In her wall piece (On (The) Edge) Nos. 2-13, 2017, several of these free forms are arranged together. Their soft looking surface is seductive and tactile yet the reality is of a cutting edge sharpness.
Irving uses mosaics as part of an overall decorative scheme blending ceramics and mosaics in conjunction with "found" objects such as plastic toys and parts of dolls. From this collection of disparate elements she constructs her small comic figures that each play out one of the seven deadly sins. A teapot spout is cleverly and wickedly used in Lust and Gluttony and with his tongue covered with an avalanche of sweets is an image hard to forget.
Bodycomb's wall installation also subverts the way mosaics are traditionally used by combining them with fur so that the wall of star- like shapes appear as ambiguous motifs – the fur blurring and distorting the hard edges of the tesserae.
Hughes' intricately constructed free forms are made from black shiny glass and stone. Enigmatic in meaning the forms resemble symbolic talismans from another age.
Bremner uses tesserae in more traditional ways to make pleasing patterns of shapes, textures and colours. The inclusion of shells provides a pleasing contrast and is a reminder of the way fossil shells are often found in cross sections of stone.
Functional Shadows is an exhibition by Marilou Chagnaud, a French-born artist working in Canberra. Chagnaud is Craft ACT's 2017 artist-in- residence and spent her residency at Gudgenby Ready-Cut Cottage in Namadgi National Park as well as a period of research at the Australian War Memorial. The work in this exhibition charts the artist's journey between these two places. Chagnaud is intrigued by the art of camouflage, which was developed during the world wars to disguise troops as well as war machinery. Camouflage breaks up or disrupts forms using a complex art of deception. The concept can be linked to the use of camouflage in nature and even to art such as cubism.
At first impression this body of work that the artist developed at Namadgi seems disruptive in its transition from the physicality of the nature of objects to its abstraction. The series of prints Lost Traveller have an affinity with the camouflage nets the artist studied but also an abstracted pattern of the walks that the artist did to familiarise herself with Namadgi. Their network of white lines on a black background traverse the surface of the print breaking it up into different shapes while still maintaining its integrity.
In other works pleated blue paper is strung like screens between pale wooden frames. The arrangement of screens Divided, 2018, and Fan out!, 2018, reveals intriguing glimpses of opposing viewpoints, interesting alignments and possibilities as there is no one central view point. The concept relates to the razzle-dazzle camouflage used on war ships to break up the shape of the ship. In the series of prints The Shade of Flowers, 2018, the patterns of floral shapes are cut across by black lines like shadows that change the way the images are to be read and suggest the complexity that lies beneath nature's patterns.
Chagnaud is also cognisant of the art of concealment. Her work is beautiful, thoughtful and although outwardly serene there is the implication that beneath its surface lies another world of complexity and reflection.