Black Box: Life, Walls and Houses: Glass by Judi Elliott and Embracing Innovation: Volume 6 by various artists. Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre. Canberra City. Until August 27.
Judi Elliott's solo show at Craft ACT is full of visually attractive and lively works. The artist makes irregularly shaped geometric designs in kiln-formed moulded glass that are displayed on the wall like abstract paintings or as sculptural objects. A long career in the visual arts has not dimmed Elliott's obvious pleasure in working with glass and highlighting its material properties of colour, light and malleability.
Elliott began her career as a ceramicist – at one stage in the late 1980s teaching at both Goulburn TAFE and the Canberra School of Art. Sometime during this period she felt the lure of glass at a time when studio glass did not have the popular appeal it does today. Elliott studied at the Canberra School of Art where she was one of the first students to graduate from the Glass Workshop. She then went on to study overseas notably at the Pilchuck School of Glass in Seattle in the US.
Elliott creates visual explosions of colour. Wonderful deep lustrous reds, velvety blacks, intense oranges are just some of the colours in her repertoire. This use of the highly expressive power of bold and bright primary colours is tempered and brought into focus by the introduction of darker tones. Patterns of free-flowing stripes, zig-zag detailing and irregular surface textures as well as added ornaments such as glass hearts also liven up surfaces.
The works in this exhibition are from the 2016 Black Box series joined by a selection of glass works referencing Elliott's expression of the home as a metaphor for safety and security. Other three-dimensional forms from the My Home is My Castle series and the Once Upon a Time series are made from cast glass to form sculptural pieces that reference the walls and doors of symbolic homes. The focus on three-dimensional forms in real as well as illusionary space reflects Elliott's long-held interest in constructing architectural configurations of what the artist calls walls and doors.
Elliott's distinct signature is apparent in the way she moves away from the two- dimensional surface plane to create an illusion of the three-dimensional "box". The effect can be stunning. It was Elliott's recent entry Black Box, 2016, in the 2016 Hindmarsh Prize that was particularly impressive and for me really brought this artist into focus. Equally impressive in this current exhibition are the larger works – Lives Merging No.1, 2016, and Black Box with Rainbow No.19, 2016. In the past year Elliott has been taken by the idea of the black box, the electronic device that charts the life of an aeroplane. In this device Elliott sees parallels with our own lives that can also be charted from a form of "take-off" to "landing". Elliott creates these illusory three-dimensional forms (the black box) so cleverly that the viewer is enticed into the work almost like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. Smaller attractive works also play with these concepts as well as ideas about home and security. However, it is in the works on a larger scale where this concept of space can be fully experienced. Elliott is perhaps undeservedly not as well known in Canberra as she is overseas. This life-enhancing exhibition celebrates one of our notable artists and brings a feeling of welcome humanity to these sombre times.
Embracing Innovation 6 is part of the Craft ACT series of exhibitions demonstrating how design, technology and industry can work together in mutually beneficial partnerships. In many ways it is a contemporary version in miniature of the great exhibitions of art and industry held in Victorian times. There are many interesting concepts within the works of this small group of designers, academics and technical creators. Application to reading the wall texts is rewarding as the designs are not always indicative of the research and indeed relevance of each project.
James Mazengarb from the University of Canberra is the recipient of Craft ACT's 2015 Emerging Contemporary Exhibition Award. His project Coles One illustrates clearly the brief for "a better shopping experience" and charts a complete design concept for the supermarket from the entry to the exit of the store. If only good design like this was part of our everyday experience.
Another clever sophisticated concept (Proto3D) uses small interconnecting building blocks like Lego to construct phrases in Japanese – a project designed to provide an enjoyable learning experience for Australian children. This collaborative concept was developed by academics from the ANU, the University of Canberra and Kobe Design University in Japan. The brightly coloured and attractive blocks will only join together when the right grammatical structure is chosen.
Jennifer Robertson, a well-known local textile artist, has begun working with stainless steel and silk which is hand-woven on a digital loom to make long wraps that envelop the body in sculptural folds. And the same interest in the sculptural potential of textiles is found in the collaborative effort of Israeli designer Tamara Efrat, Moran Mizrahi and Dr Amit Zoran to design smocked and felt Lazer cut hand bags – their design and creation the result of computer technology.
In addition to the above exhibitions, Craft ACT has responded with a heartfelt tribute to the recent tragic death of Robert Foster, an accredited professional member of Craft ACT since 1993. A small exhibition in the new Lightbox Gallery of items made by Robert Foster for his family and friends shares a place with a display of iconic F!NK + Co items of water jugs and beakers.