Ioulia Terizis, Quanta: Sean O'Connell, Suburban Spirits: Sabrina Baker, Failing to Communicate.
Huw Davies Gallery. PhotoAccess at the Manuka Arts Centre. Cnr Manuka Circle and NSW Circle, Griffith.
Tuesday-Thursday, 10am to 4pm. Friday 10am to 7pm. Weekends noon to 4pm. Until June 18, 2017
The three exhibitions at PhotoAccess demonstrate the variety at play within the broad definition of contemporary "photographic practice".
Ioulia Terizis' five works are striking both in their visual authority and in their conceptual bases. The artist is broadly concerned with perception and its boundaries within given and discrete spatial boundaries, here her studio floor. Her interests extend beyond this to embrace how shifting perceptions relate to associated ways of thinking, altered states of consciousness and the possibilities for different ways of seeing and thinking that can result from her aesthetic and epistemological investigations.
Photographs are about light and the artist capitalises on this quality in each of the formidably powerful works on display. The images are derived from her studio – detritus scattered over the floor. These are transformed from passive, cast-off objects to active elements in the artist's aesthetic process. They become the agents of light that Terizis uses to play with normal spatial perceptions and recognition, pushing and pulling geometric forms through and across the picture plane in almost abstract patterns that nevertheless never deny their source in reality.
Despite the angularity of forms the artist imbues an expressive dimension to her images through such devices as textural contrast, the insertion of Miroesque forms and a tonally varied but essentially grey palette. The expressiveness is also underscored by the combination, elision and collision of forms that imbues a pulsating sense of movement throughout the works.
The individual works in this exhibition are special. Each is beautifully resolved and holds a presence that is at once aesthetically, thematically and conceptually intense. Their individual strength in combination however is visually overwhelming in the limited gallery space and the removal of one work would have made this exhibition even better than it already is.
Sean O'Connell's "Suburban Spirits" is a visual elegy to family, memory and place (viz. his grandparents' home). His images are (mostly) composed of images derived from objects with personal significance for the artist. These provide not only meaning but are also starting-points for the series of works that constitute this exhibition.
Real objects are also incorporated and these add familial sentiment to the overall impact of the works. The latter are small (20 x 20 x 8cm) and presented in minimal wooden frames. These reinforce the idea of the personal, the family snap, the remembered moment. While thematically we may be presented with a family history (in a very broad sense) in actuality we are presented with "essences" of the protagonists, their belongings and the places they occupied. O'Connell has no interest in depiction in a real sense he is rather concerned with illuminating traces of memory and experience, the spirit of the people and places he depicts.
To do this the artist uses what to me is a complicated technical process to produce his images. They "are directly recorded without camera, through carefully controlled electrical discharge into objects placed over large format film, x-ray bursts through walls, laser deflections of audio across mirrors, and point-source photograms". Process notwithstanding the final result is a fascinating admixture of colour, black-and-white and negative images that are redolent of the past lives of people unknown to the viewer. The works wind around the three walls of the gallery (two long and one narrow) and as one moves through them the diaristic installation makes sense of the intimate traces that O'Connell portrays. The visible connecting thread of the wires used to illuminate the boxed frames held for me a strong metaphorical sense. It was not only literal but spoke of the familial lines that connected the artist to his subject.
Sabrina Baker's "Failing to Communicate" consists of two videos and 26 signal dresses on a clothes rack. The videos show the artist/protagonist in the first, pumping up a rubber dinghy for eight minutes and 22 seconds, and in the second aimlessly paddling around Lake Burley Griffin in that same dinghy. The dresses consist of maritime signal flags "each garment designed to (symbolically) communicate an individual letter (of the alphabet)". Each costume is titled, the totality referred to as "Costumes to Communicate". Titles include "Keep clear of me – I am manoeuvring with difficulty", "My vessel is stopped and making no way through the water", "My engines are going astern" and "Stop carrying out your intentions and watch for my signals". The titles are about communicating a range of requests from one vessel (read "person") to another. Clarity of meaning in this context is therefore essential. Baker proposes though that meaning is not clear and hence real communication is not possible. Her choice of metaphor is clever, funny and ironic. It also hints at the artist's own frustrations and the placing of her protagonist/self in such an iconic Canberra landmark as Lake Burley Griffin is particularly telling.
These three exhibitions hold a tenuous connection but their idiosyncratic explorations of self and place provide exciting opportunities for viewer exploration.