'Heavy Jelly', 2012, gel wax, sound component by Home For The Def (Nigel Koop).
My show ‘Heavy Jelly’ opened this week at Firstdraft Gallery. The install was really hard and by the time the show opened I was completely exhausted and kind of emotional.
My ideas for the show came out of the work I made last year for my Honours degree, and how people reacted to that work. I was interested in how people approach experiences in the gallery. Do we expect to be able to have some sort of transcendental private communion with the work, or is it an inherently public, social way of connecting? Sometimes I feel kind of self-conscious in the gallery - as though I’m not sure what I’m allowed to touch or what I’m meant to be feeling. I like the idea of being able to lose that hyper-awareness of myself by being absorbed into the work, but I’m not sure if the gallery creates a conducive environment for that.
So the biggest work in the show, ‘Heavy Jelly’, is kind of an experiment. I wanted it to feel as though it could be an absorbing experience - something you experience by yourself, with the headphones on. But also possibly a public, self-conscious experience - you’re in the centre of the room, under the spotlight, having this ‘experience’ in front of everyone else. It was really hard to make this work, I chose a difficult material to work with and a challenging form to cast. I chose to use a track by Home For The Def (Nigel Koop) called ‘How Are You Going’ in which Nigel asks ‘How Are You Going’ over and over for seven minutes. It’s pretty funny but it can also be impressive/annoying/relaxing. The reactions people had to the work were varied - some people saw stepping into the circle as humiliating, others were afraid to step in (especially if they hadn’t seen someone else do it), some people said they felt like it was almost psychedelic or that they felt connected to something else and detached from the other people in the room.
I had a pretty good time coming up with the ideas for this show and making the work, and a lot of that had to do with working completely outside the university institution for the first time. I made most of it in my backyard and I felt more relaxed, which was really good because I wanted to engage with the materials and disconnect from a totally cerebral understanding of how they worked. Most of the works were things I felt compelled to make, without much logical reasoning. Well, I guess I can’t come up with much logic to justify the way they look anyway. I want that ‘sensory’ aspect of my work to play off against the self-consciousness it might make people feel.
Lastly, for people who couldn’t make it on opening night, the work ‘East St’ - a cluster of nine small sculptures - was used in a performance or an ‘action’. I use the work action because it was just something I did, and what I did wasn’t conceived of to make other people feel a certain way (like a performance might) but to make myself feel a certain way. Anyway, the action happened once an hour during the opening. As people moved throughout the space, if they stopped in a spot and then kept moving, I would place a sculpture where they were standing.
I did this because I wanted to make myself more accountable for the work’s life in the gallery. My experience of presenting work previously has been a bit unbalanced. Although I make works for the specific environment of the gallery, and often specifically to operate in a certain way during openings, by the time all the hard behind-the-scenes labour is done, I’m completely disconnected from the work by the time of the opening. Given how interested I am in how people feel and what they experience in the gallery, this doesn’t 100% make sense - the work should be an experiment not a product. So I wanted to make myself accountable to be present in the space and to observe the reactions of the ‘audience’. If there was any ‘affect’ I was interested in, the movement and reconfiguration of the sculptures throughout the space attracted me. I was inspired by Louise Haselton’s way of talking about movement in sculpture (although I took a very different tack to her). Check out the 2011 CACSA book about her for more on this.
Anyway, the ‘action’ went really well. I didn’t expect this to happen, but people seemed to feel encouraged by my presence in the work to discuss the show with me and to ask questions. This was really great - I’m not used to getting feedback or having candid discussion about my work with strangers. The conversations felt pretty natural, and I was able to be more honest and relaxed than I might be in an artist’s talk situation. Speaking of which, I will be doing an artist’s talk in the space on March 10 if you should happen to be in Sydney.