Alex Asch, Pat Hoffie: Timeline. Canberra Contemporary Art Space. 44 Queen Elizabeth Terrace, Parkes. Until January 16, 2022. ccas.com.au.
Timeline is a visually powerful and thematically embracing exhibition. It is premised on the adage that history informs and repeats itself and this is integral to the continuum of human history and to the relevance and impact of the exhibition.
This didactic stance is delivered through two finely tuned aesthetic languages (from Alex Asch and Pat Hoffie) that in their individuality and markedly different visual approaches provide a rich composite of opposites that I found intellectually intriguing and pictorially enriching.
The works in the exhibition are dispersed around the gallery walls in a form of dialogue: the work(s) of one followed by, or interspersed with, those of the other. Visually the high-key palette of Hoffie's works provides a marked aesthetic contrapuntal to Asch's black-and-white collages. The empty space with its quiet presence offers another area of physical and metaphysical contrast. It cannot be dismissed as simply "space". Its emptiness plays a significant role in the overall mise-en-scene as devised by the exhibition's curator, CCAS director David Broker.
Hoffie's works are watercolour and gouache on architectural drafting paper and date from 2019-20. On first sight, there is an almost "vintage" quality to (some of) her images, a quality quickly subverted on closer examination. The poster-like colours belie the darkness of scenarios (bodies being dug up, buildings collapsing, for example) presented by the artist. Some works have TOMORROW plastered over the imagery. It is in upper case and in an opaque white (the images beneath easily read), with an inchoateness to each letter that imbues a sort of "not quite there" quality to the full word. "TOMORROW" may not be what we think or hope?
Other of her works have an epic quality, subtly alluding to the vainglorious history paintings of the 18th and 19th centuries. The artist's post-apocalyptic fairy tales employ an aesthetic of seduction to generate disturbing images of humanity's fallibility in a chaotic world created by ourselves. Hoffie's ways of making are important to the efficacy of the presentation of her themes. The fugitive qualities of watercolour allied with the inherent fragility of architectural paper as used by the artist is a profoundly clever ploy, a subtle and quietly present metaphor for the present, past and future state of humanity.
Asch's photographic collages reinforce the strength of his singularly incisive and broadly sourced aesthetic language. His language is often tinged with wry humour, ambiguity and witty pictorial elisions and coalescences, but there is always an insistent presence of the artist's societal engagement and his deep reflection of our multifaceted societies. Asch's language, although highly individual, evokes universal relevance and resonance.
In the current work, the artist's individual images are sourced from original editions of the Time-Lifeseries of photographic annuals illustrating the year's key events. The range of "events" illustrated was wide and varied and this aspect of the publications suited Asch's aesthetic. The use of collage also has particular relevance. The selection of images as seen in Timeline sees a number of images used again and again throughout the exhibition. This is not simply repetition but each time an image is used it is a reiteration of that image with different associative possibilities expressed through the different pictorial relationships encapsulated in each of Asch's intriguing collages.
While initial meaning remains, it is sometimes a shadow of itself, reflecting not so much different realities but different experiences of the same realities. The lost histories brought together by the artist hold the same message that permeates Hoffie's pictorial tales. Broker writes in his catalogue that "the stark visual contrasts between Hoffie and Asch's work initially made Timeline a risky project". I am very pleased that risk was taken.