The Peculiar Library, ANCA Gallery, 1 Rosevear Place, Dickson. Closes November 29, Wed to Sun 12-5pm.
Famously, Stéphane Mallarmé declared "Everything in the world exists in order to end up as a book."
In the 20th century this almost came true, but in the 21st century it all ended up on the internet. Artists are notorious for using old technologies to create new art and in this instance the humble book, or more precisely, I gather a couple of different humble books, were suggested by the curator Narelle Phillips to a dozen artists, who were invited to respond to them through their art.
The participating artists are Alex Asch, Reid Bedlington, Rachel Bolton, Jacqueline Bradley, Di Broomhall, Tom Buckland, Mariana del Castillo, Rebecca Hanrahan, Nicci Haynes, Ray McJannett, Kendal Murray and Paul Summerfield. Respond they did with urine-soaked pages, wired musical scores, oil paintings, crisp architectural photographs, watercolours, blue velvet cloth, decapitated ceramic figurines with cactus growing in place of heads, spiders and old and unlikely kitchen utensils.
Curatorially, this is a high risk strategy, where the conceptual backbone of the book is a very fluid metaphor, while the artistic realisation promises a diversity that destroys any sense of unity in the exhibition. There may be little unity, but it is interesting to see how each artist responds to the challenge and translates the idea into the idiom of their art. Alex Asch builds a house in which we catch glimpses of birds through windows. His books, Slater's ornithological guide and a Robert Lowell anthology mentioning birds, prompted him on a journey of exploration where he questions the role of birds in our lives. For him they "represent the fragility of our environment" and so he titled his piece The canary in the coalmine. Effective, slightly haunting and hinting at other realities.
Nicci Haynes, Canberra's wire-obsessed printmaker, presents an intriguing altered state book, where from the pages of Alan Marshall's These were my tribesmen leap wired-up photocopied images of Indigenous figures in her Dis Located. It seems to be a work about absence with little Aboriginal figures spectre-like, owning the space without really existing in it.
A knockout piece is by the sculptor Mariana del Castillo, The arrival of the Ferals' series. A book on doll collecting led to the association with porcelain figures who have now been decapitated and have cacti and other plants growing out of their gaping necks. As with much of her work, these are quite disconcerting totem-like figures where the artificiality of their former life is married with their new role as organic potholders. They are memorable in their weirdness.
Another creative play with vegetation and porcelain is Kendal Murray's Miss Bliss, Reminisce, that expands on the artist's existing repertoire of quirky dreamscape miniatures. Here objects of desire inhabit a secret garden that is delicate, intricate and unattainable, despite being tangible and present. Murray evokes the spirit of the art nouveau and creates a world where Sidney Long's unlikely spirits of the bush can emerge in three-dimensional form.
The book has throughout the ages been a place of refuge for the imagination and in this exhibition the imaginations of a dozen artists have blossomed.
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