Suzie Bleach, Andy Townsend, Harry Townsend and Rose Townsend: Wandering between the past and the future. Canberra Contemporary Art Space Manuka. Until October 13.
The Townsend clan consists of Andy and his wife Suzie Bleach and their children Harry and Rose. All four are professionally trained artists, who for the first time are exhibiting as a group - to some extent collaboratively.
Artists are the conscience of society and frequently take upon themselves the role of prophets. The message that emerges from this exhibition is that the world is out of joint, climate change is a global threat that endangers our very existence, and that we cannot sit around twiddling our thumbs while the world drowns. The prevailing mood in this exhibition is apocalyptic and the dominant theme is eschatological, in the sense of dealing with the end of time. It is a dark show where humankind, through its greed and avarice, is facing extinction and while many people are about to sink under the waves, others flee as huge crowds of refugees who face difficulty in finding a safe harbour.
The main creative principle for the Townsends is bricolage - improvising with materials at hand. In their sculptural pieces, all sorts of unusual elements are welded together, while in their two-dimensional pieces, elements are frottaged, collaged and spliced together. Whereas many artists embrace Photoshop and its ability to seamlessly splice things together creating a new uncanny entity, the Townsends love seams. Seams appear like a mark of authenticity to show how things are brought together to give birth to this new breed of mutants. Scars are sometimes a badge of pride - mementos of the struggle. Not infrequently, truth resides within these seams, where knowledge of the individual parts is greater than the knowledge of the whole.
The whole exhibition appears as one giant dark cave-like installation, simultaneously sinister yet defiant.
The whole exhibition appears as one giant dark cave-like installation, sinister yet defiant. As you enter, on the left are 16 emblematic figures by Andy Townsend that have been collaged, printed, drawn and painted, titled A rising tide. It is like a deck of large eccentric tarot cards or snapshots of a sinking world to which its victims respond differently. These are memorable "accidental" images.
On the end wall are two large and defiant panels by Andy Townsend titled Monument 1 and 2 of heroic archetypal women who stand up to save the world. They remind me of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and, through the clever use of collage, each figure is a composite of many elements - like a universal portrait. The strange painted masonite panels on which these figures are assembled are the old family dunny doors.
The right-hand wall is dominated by a large sculptural diorama on which Suzie Bleach, Andy Townsend and Harry Townsend all participated, sometimes creating individual figures, on other occasions as an intense collaboration. Again, it is figures fleeing a submerged world.
On the other end wall, there are two impressive prints by Rose Townsend, the etching Matriarch and the large, tormented and sombre etching with monotype and collage, Incipient. This last piece is again of a heroic woman who has suffered everything and has emerged strong, defiant and proud in her being.
Some will find this a distressing exhibition, but it does reflect the distressing times in which we live, where despite the unfolding catastrophe, the keepers of power choose to ignore reality while they sit on their carpet of lies.