Rosalie Gascoigne and Lorraine Connelly-Northey: Found and gathered. The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne. Closes February 20.
Canberra's Rosalie Gascoigne in her relatively short exhibiting career of 25 years rocketed from a completely unknown 57-year-old, who was exhibiting her art for the first time and who had previously attained some recognition for her flower arrangements based on the Sogetsu school of ikebana, to one of Australia's most recognised visual artists.
By the time Gascoigne died in 1999, she had represented Australia at the Venice Biennale and was the subject of several major exhibitions and dedicated monographs. Posthumously a magnificent catalogue raisonné was published on her art.
The juxtaposing of her art with that of the Aboriginal artist Lorraine Connelly-Northey is a masterstroke. Connelly-Northey is a contemporary Waradgerie (Wiradjuri) woman living on Wamba Wamba Country and as an artist, like Gascoigne, employs found or reclaimed materials in her work. She was born in 1962, when Gascoigne was 45, and started exhibiting just before Gascoigne died.
The bringing together of these two major artists provides a key to the understanding of both artists' works that may not be apparent when viewed in isolation. Both artists scavenge local materials that they employ in their assemblages to make a statement concerning the local environment and which has also a more universal dimension.
Gascoigne was ultimately a landscape artist in whose work we perceive the surprise, vastness and sense of space in the encounter with Lake George.
Her composite works made from the reflective road signs may denote Australia's endless roads, the high horizons and the sense of being surrounded by space and nothingness.
Although sometimes it was possible to read an environmental message into her art or to perceive a sense of bush nostalgia, her art, at least from her perspective, was not ideological. It could be interpreted as being about beauty, meditation and the unexpected arrangement of forms.
Connelly-Northey employs her found raw materials - barbed wire, old metal fencing and rusting iron - not in an act of arrangement, but an act of weaving.
She uses her found materials to weave out of them narrbong-gallang (string bags), kooliman-gallang (coolamons), monumental possum-skin cloaks and lap laps (traditional aprons).
These are ideologically charged objects that comment on occupation and dispossession and ultimately are about reclaiming country. These are cultural stories that are powerful, dramatic, memorable and very beautiful.
This is the most splendid exhibition of her work to date with the bringing together of the four sprawling possum skin cloak installations: A Possum Skin Cloak: Three rivers country, 2010 (Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney); A Possum Skin cloak: Blackfella road, 2011-2013 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne); A Possum Skin Cloak: On Country, 2017 (Murray Art Museum Albury); and the recent A Possum Skin Cloak: Hunter's Duck Net, 2021 that is still in the artist's possession. The impact on an emotional, spiritual and visual level is overwhelming.
For both artists, materiality is a prime concern. They both create very tactile works that appeal to our senses. Both artists employ what could be termed a transparency of means, in other words, we can see the nature of the materials from which the works have been assembled and both artists have the gift of alchemy in the way in which they transform their materials.
This is a significant landmark exhibition that celebrates the work of two of Australia's most important assemblage artists.