In Belle Bassin’s video It’s Easier to See Your Skin (2013), we encounter what Bassin calls a wandering sculpture. A pair of human legs visible beneath a bouquet of umbrellas meanders through the underground walkways of the Paris Metro and up onto the streets, as described in the introduction to this exhibition. We might think of André Breton who in his book Nadja (1928) describes walking through the side streets of Paris, a city he believed to be haunted with bizarre, never-before seen objects. In the same novel Breton writes: ‘Nothing that surrounds us is object, all is subject’, suggesting a blurring of distinctions between animate and inanimate things, but also between dreaming and waking worlds.
Shapes with legs and arms protruding from them are recurring motifs in Bassin’s drawings, merging objects with bodies. Her wandering sculptures are often developed from dreams and psychic visions, she says, and her new body of work I Can Eat Glass (2016) further elaborates this theme. Hovering between sculpture and performance these works arose initially out of an intuitive geometric drawing that grew into ideas for sculptural and then wearable forms that she imagined ‘dancing around peoples’ bodies’. Constructed from sewn fabric and wood, these ‘animate sculptures’ as Bassin calls them, are each enlivened by the slow movements of a performer from within them, making perpetually changing formations. ‘Visually the work plays with the tension between body and object and constructs forms between the two’, Bassin says. Three types of abstracted patterns—floral, wavy and crystalline—have been digitally printed onto the fabric, each again originating in the artist’s drawing practice. While making these works, Bassin dreamed she was lifting the shapes from her drawings and jigsawing wood off her own body, in order get out of bed in the morning.
Bassin’s interest in the transference of energies between objects and bodies is an instinctive part of how she perceives and understands the world. It also relates naturally to the way she conceptualises her practice; working simultaneously across a range of mediums, she translates shapes and ideas across two and three dimensional modes, and across still and performative images, so that rather than fixed in one state, her forms are always evolving and interconnected—much like living things. Bassin has taken inspiration from Sophie Tauber’s translation of constructivist painting into Dadaist forms of dance, and from Pierre Huyghe’s use of living forms like bees or plants as material for his work. Recently her work has been informed by her reading on animism and its concept of objects as living entities. In particular, Bassin is drawn to Tim Ingold’s description of animism as ‘a way not of thinking about the world but being alive to it’, as characterised by a heightened sensitivity to an environment that is ‘in perpetual flux, never the same from one moment to the next’. During a performance of I Can Eat Glass, Bassin’s sculptures, like Breton’s dream objects, will wander not through Parisian streets, but through the Heide landscape. Their choreographed movements take them from one appointed location to the next, eliciting new ways of being within this living, breathing place.
 Tim Ingold, ‘Being Alive to a World Without Objects’, in Harvey, Graham (ed.), The Handbook of Contemporary Animism (2013), Routledge, London and New York, 2014, pp. 213–235.
Dancing Umbrellas review: diverse interpretations of brollies at Heide exhibition
by Robert Nelson
When people behave oddly in the street, it’s so reassuring to see a camera filming the act. Knowing that they’re making an artwork, you neither have to confront the excitement nor cross the road to avoid it. The camera dispels your fears of a prickly encounter and invokes your faith in fiction.
Belle Bassin must have excited moments of apprehensiveness in the Paris Metro when she clambered up and down stairs and escalators with an armful of umbrellas, so numerous and dense that you cannot see the artist except for her lower legs.
As viewers of her video, called It’s easier to see your skin, we never witness the instant of comfort experienced by the public when they recognise the camera. In the video, we are that camera – because we only take in the scene through its lens – but we never get to reassure the perplexed onlookers.
The underground sinuses of any rail network are corridors of haste and anxiety, where people fly down tight declivities, racing through the rush routes without any expectation to contend with an unseen performer behind a barrage of brollies.
We sigh on their behalf: it’s only art; there are greater embarrassments. It isn’t a crazy lady but an artist looking like a crazy lady, brandishing her bouquet of brollies, a prolific posy of parapluies, to ward off the shower of ennui in daily life.
In an adjacent video at Heide, the brollies escape from their custodian and flirt with the breeze of the boulevard. They do their own performance, liberated from the artist in the same way that the artist is detached from the tedium and stress of commuting in the underground.
Bassin’s strangely metaphysical brollies plod and skip around in an exhibition at Heide called Dancing Umbrellas. Umbrellas are not the keynote, however, which is given in the subtitle An exhibition of movement and light.
The best works have a hypnotic quality, where movement within the artwork paradoxically slows you down. Leslie Eastman’s conceptual suspended tableau is a beautiful example, consisting of a plate of reflective metal, cut into concentric squares, except for a small shaft of continuity at the top and bottom where they all connect.
Each of the 22 planes has been progressively twisted by about 4 degrees, so that they fan out successively until the last sits at right angles to the centre. For such a serene and contemplative work, your perception of the geometry is dislocated, because all the surfaces mirror one another, reflecting nearby works and your own image.
For the time being recalls the kinetic tradition from the 1920s and also optical works by Jesus Rafael Soto and Yaacov Agam. Similarly historical and also visually spellbinding is a work by Damiano Bertoli in his ongoing project called Continuous Moment, where a revolving disc has a combination of concentric and eccentric circles that give the illusion of rolling around within one another’s orbit.
Another work of great wit and technical prowess is Taree Mackenzie’s Slinky live feed. Three video cameras film three toy springs against beds of blue, green and red respectively. The image that they see is one of the RGB colours intercepted by the springs, which move upon simple armatures. The pulsing projections from each camera are finally overlaid on a single screen to yield scintillating patterns.
The electrical work of Giles Ryder is similarly animated, at times hard to look at for long but full of clever circuits. For many decades, our commercial streets have been ablaze with flashing lights; but now movement and light dance in more intimate circumstances through social media.
As if referring to the flashing new promiscuity of images on Snapchat, Minna Gilligan responds to the rapid movements and quaint narcissism of suggestive moments in a vlog.
There are 10 other artists or groups in the show, which is well-curated by Sue Cramer. They don’t all have the hypnotic grandeur of Eastman nor the humour of Bassin, including works with potential, such as the performance of Gabriella Mangano & Silvana Mangano where the artists poke and toss around a flimsy bright cover without a compelling poetic rationale.
A Brolly Good Show
February 19, 2016
by Andrew Stephens
Belle Bassin was in Paris exploring the street life when she became aware of an underground duct on the pavement venting huge gusts of warm air out of the Metro subway system.
Locals, of course, were familiar with this site – but unsuspecting visitors such as Bassin could be caught unaware: walking over the large vent, their clothes would flap upwards, a la Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch.
And any umbrellas popped open in the rain would be sent gusting high into the air, to touch down in the distance, sending their owners scuttling after them.
Bassin took video footage of the vent as part of an abiding interest in the idea of how personal discomfort plays out in the public realm – losing your grip on a brolly or having your skirt fly up being perfect examples.
With all this in mind, Bassin then made an extraordinary video of herself travelling about the Paris subway system – on escalators, travelators and walkways – dressed in one of the most attention-grabbing outfits you’re ever likely to see, even in Paris. Made from a swag of about half a dozen raised umbrellas, the brollies concealed her head, arms and torso, leaving just her naked legs and feet exposed.
Encountering Parisians on the Metro while dressed this way, there was much consternation, amusement and mystique – and, clearly, some discomfort for the wearer. In the two-channel video, called It’s easier to look at my skin, we see commuters staring as she floats along, or trying to squeeze past her as they go about their business.
Bassin, who was on a residency in Paris when she noticed the vent and started work on the video, says she was also generally aware at the time of how Parisians tended to have very beautiful umbrellas.
It was raining a lot then, she says, and for the Nuit Blanche (White Night festival), many of the citizens carried them above their heads for the drizzly night. “I loved those umbrellas,” she says – something clearly evident in her videos.
When Heide Museum of Modern Art curator Sue Cramer saw Bassin’s work, she naturally thought of various cinematic depictions of umbrellas, such as the famous French musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), in which the central character Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve) works in an umbrella shop.
There are, of course, many umbrellas paraded by during the film’s central love theme, and it is all filmed in and around a Cherbourg that director Jacques Demy depicted as fantastically colourful – even surreally so.
Likewise, Bassin’s video is rich with colour, and when Cramer saw it, she began to reflect on ideas about movement, light and colour and how they appear in the visual arts.
Her mind ticked over with these themes and she began to cast about for other artworks of a similar ilk – not necessarily related to umbrellas, but to the rather inventive spirit of Bassin’s work.
I wanted it to be a mixture of luminous moving images alongside still images.
Sue Cramer, Heide Museum of Modern Art
While the leitmotif of “dancing umbrellas” is a fanciful idea sparked by Bassin’s work, Cramer says the strangeness of her video, with the “bouquet of [wearable] umbrellas”, created a sensibility that sparked her own ideas for the show.
Many of the artists she has invited to show, or who have been commissioned to make work, draw not only on theatre and performance but make references to early dada and surrealist theatre in different ways. All the works come together to create a new entity.
“It is the sum of the parts in my mind that makes it all happen together,” she says.
Cramer says that when we walk into the Heide gallery, we will see a variety of imaginative worlds, with much movement, light and colour. In creating these, the artists reference cultural artefacts and ideas as various as a surrealist play by Picasso, 1960s and 1970s counter-culture and fashion, shamanic spiritualism, internet “selfie” culture and the romantic sublime as depicted in Japanese anime.
“It is a very interdisciplinary show and I wanted it to be a mixture of luminous moving images alongside still images. As a curator, I have intuitively brought them together.”
Other artists include Melbourne’s Damiano Bertoli, who has made a “spatio-temporal” collage that brings together many varied references from across time and space.
Cramer describes it as a sensual juxtaposition between diverse elements that partly takes its inspiration from a 1941 play by Pablo Picasso. That play was produced twice – once during the war and then in the 1960s as a stage performance in the style of a “happening”, the sort of psychedelic event popular in that decade.
Bassin, as well as the umbrella video, is also creating a new, related work for which she has been making a series of wearable collage-sculptures that look somewhat like painted canvases. They connect to form an unusual shape enclosing the body.
Performers will don the sculptures, interlink with each other and engage in a choreographed dance, to be presented in a section of the Heide gardens that abuts the Yarra River.
As with her earlier work, this performance piece deals with the idea of how we negotiate discomfort when it is experienced in a public place. She does not perform in the work herself, but she says dancing with the sculptures on is an intuitive process. It’s likely they will project a certain awkwardness – but also there will be an element of grace.
In doing her research for this performance, Bassin became fascinated with Swiss-born dadaist and surrealist Sophie Taeuber-Arp – and Cramer, in curating the Heide show, has noticed a general penchant for surrealism among some of the 17 artists she has selected.
This is why Minna Gilligan’s work includes a mix of self-portraits and collages in an installation using small windows cut out of a false wall built into the gallery. The self-portraits are “gif”‘ (moving, repetitive) images and in them she makes weird repetitive movements – very reminiscent of dada or surreal artwork and performance-based installations.
Gilligan says that by presenting herself in this way, she becomes the protagonist within her own psychedelically painted and drawn backgrounds, amid surreal imagery, all of it conveying a certain element of magic and joy.
“I want my work to convey a lightness of being, but not an entirely uninhibited one,” Gilligan says. “The subjects of my collages, including myself, are subtly self-aware, staring, often appearing caught in moments of quiet reflection.
“I want this installation to hypnotise people, for people to consider every gesture, albeit small – to look at every collage and consider the narrative at play.”
Little wonder that Cramer describes the many works in the show as “speaking” to each other and evoking a sense of the quirky, the surreal, the performative and theatrical.
“When you walk into the space you will see a lot of movement and light and colour – and so it is an attempt to create an immersive environment and look at elements of video, installation, kinetic and light-based works, all mixed together,” she says.
Dancing umbrellas: an exhibition of movement and light is at Heide Museum of Modern Art March 5-June 5 heide.com.au
Dan Rule: ‘What to see in Melbourne galleries this week’
Featuring five artists who reside or work in the City of Glen Eira, the curatorial missive for Locale might have benefited from a tighter logic. Some of the works that feature here seem to point towards the architectural interior or a sense of place. Linda Wachtel’s understated photographic prints minimise architectural details to create a syntax of shadows, abstracted forms and shifts in surface texture, while Natasha Manners’ collaged drawings transform domestic settings into unnervingly odd scenes, imbued with a psychological and self-reflective dimension. Rosemary Hyde’s compact abstract paintings and Tom Parsons’ sculptural and video works – which take the form of faux-marble plinths and fabrics sprayed stiff with paint – deal with allusion and illusion respectively. Belle Bassin’s video work, screening alongside a vast painting installation, proves the highlight, as a figure (digitally erased from the frame) holds a clutch of colourful umbrellas above a grate in a city street, until the draft eventually blows them spinning into the air. It is form and disorder, control and malady. That which is beautiful is never far from chaos.
Until April 26; Glen Eira City Council Gallery, corner Glen Eira and Hawthorn Roads, Caulfield, 9524 3333, gleneira.vic.gov.au
See what you wanna to see Do what you wanna to be Be where you wanna to be
– Geneses Breyer P-Orridge, Alien Brain
Belle Bassin’s work comes from the folded, affective logic of dreaming. To consider the work in Feminine Masculine is to give thought to how we are visited by images in the 21st century and where it is they come from. Are they an ingression or egression? And, if it’s a case of both, how does this double movement function?
Andre Breton, author of the Surrealist Manifesto, called for the creation of what he termed ‘dream objects’. These were portable manifestations of the unconscious, largely in the form of image/object/text collages. Breton called for such objects to be widely produced as part of a practice that would connect waking life to dreaming. These objects would not be considered artistic in themselves, quite the opposite. Rather than existing in the suspensive mode of art, where life in the world is reflected upon and refracted into an artistic work; the dream object was intended to allow the inhabitants of a modernised, industrialised and rationalised Western hemisphere reconnect with a more primitive way of being.
Historicism aside, the ‘dream object’ is significant in its attempt to allow one sphere of being to pierce another. They act as the tip of a needle that enters into the sphere of rationality. These objects hang, from one domain into another, on the horizon of both.
Breton’s proposal, of course, never became instilled as the cultural practice he imagined. One factor to consider here is that during the post-war period a change occurred in the dominant conception of where ideas come from. By the 1960’s the ‘medium’ had become ‘the message’, meaning that the individual was no longer primarily subject to missives from a subconscious reality that had been edited out of modern life. Instead there was subjection to an exterior ‘medium’ that spoke through and moved the individual. The idea of a reality below us (the ‘sub’ of the subconscious) is now accompanied by a new inverted subconsciousness above and around us, now manifest in the ‘cloud’.
The richness and tactility of this exterior has thickened with the technological progress from radio, television and now the Internet and its networked devices. The Internet being such a potent medium it has come to be considered a ‘5th’ domain of warfare alongside sea, land and air by the US military and the Pentagon.
This 5th domain seems implicitly psychedelic (psychedelic comes from Greek and translates to ‘mind’ (psyche) ‘visible’ (Delos)); we are now invited to project our desire for outwards into a domain that can receive our desires and return to us our desires actualised. Just about any image you can wish for will have some analogue on a Google image search.
Here we find a double movement: in one direction we project outwards with a desire that comes from within (a within that could be conscious or subconscious or both) and in another direction an anterior and exterior of moves towards the interiority to meet its projection.
The discussion up until this point posits ‘mind’ as normative fundamental that, although placed in an evolving dynamic, is in and of itself a constant subject to updating variables. Belle Bassin’s work takes this conversation one step further, in that it expresses a will to go beyond the mind itself. This is a difficult proposition to assume easily. If the works are composed by the artist, of materials that make up forms that enter through the senses and are synthesized into unified experience in the mind of viewers, full of associations, memories and interpretations; how can a mind go beyond itself? Is it possible to go beyond the mind if you need to use the mind to do it and be aware of having done it? How can the mind become alien to itself?
The folding doors in the eponymous work Feminine Masculine bring us towards this position. Feminine Masculine and The Folds use architecture to suggest that a passage through the limit of mind will structurally alter both what is around and in the traveller. The doors will not open – but fold, inverting the relationship of inner and outer; like the tangled hierarchy of the Mobius strip – a plane with only one side.
This twisted singularity is an expression of the affective logic of the psychedelic, where the waking world is reconciled with its other in a constant energetic emanation. The feminine and masculine fold into one another, reminding us of Walt Whitman’s Poem Unfolded out of the folds:
Unfolded out of the folds of the woman’s brain come all the folds of the man’s brain
Once folded, the differential of Masculine-Feminine, Mind-World become obsolete. And, further more, to be able to adopt this position as a perspective, it could be argued, gives access to the possibility of an alien mind; a perspective of pure hybrid differences. This maybe an avenue to overcoming the contradiction of how a mind, once alien to itself, could still be conscious of its own condition of existence.
The works Masculine Feminine and The Folds give a context for It’s easier to look at your skin. In this Video work we see a living sculpture navigating Paris streets and metros. This entity (inhabiting the video as a city) is part animate and part inanimate matter, part human part umbrella. What is the mind of this entity? From what perspective does it view its exterior? Is it human? Probably not, is it alien?
Belle Bassin would like to acknowledge and thank:
Dario Vacirca, Anna Tweeddale, Whitney Lorene Wood, Kate Scardifield, Melissa Bamford, Mila Faranov, Andrea Jolley, Evan Lorden, Jess Hewett, Pete, Teresa Tweeddale, Angie Manifavas, Renato Vacirca, Rose Mastroianni, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Arts South Australia, Cite Paris and Fehily Contemporary.
The exhibition Ode to form took Romantic Conceptualism as it’s departure point, working against the notion of the ‘conceptual’ as a closed system controlled by intellectual heroes, whilst spoiling the sublime of Romanticism itself. Ode to form attempted to explore and encapsulate the tension between the two opposing but prevalent assertions in contemporary art; that a conceptual, cool, depersonalisation is a precondition of an art that makes itself checkable and revisable, whilst celebrating the repositioning of the “artist’s hand” within the conceptual framework of contemporary art itself. Ode to Form light-heartedly acknowledged of the pitfalls of romanticising—in that sense, rendering sublime—that single individuality, the “artist’s soul”, itself, aiming to strip away any pretension that the artist’s soul is a medium of the otherworldly or godly (while allowing a sense of tragicomic mourning for that secularisation to linger on).
Excerpt from Simon Maidement’s essay:
There is a question though, and this is directly related to considering this man Belle presents us, as to whether the understanding of the self is similar. He embodies an intense sense of self, that much is clear, and in considering these works by Belle I do have a sense of a rejection of any universalising system – both by the subject and author of the works – with instead movement and individuality coming to the fore. Again, in reference to the exhibition’s field of enquiry, we can ask whether this subjectivity has been forged in the intense exploration of the radical individualist spirit we associate with the Romantic movement and philosophy, or one entwined with, and in relation to, a community of others, still engaged with the world(s) of others.
THE TERROR OF N
By Mila Faranov
In both style and content Belle Bassin’s recent solo exhibition, The terror of n, has a strong resonance with the work of 19th-century spiritualist artist Hilma af Klint. Both artists employ geometric abstraction, meticulous grid work and esoteric symbology that belie the formality, order and control implied by such approaches, instead quietly moving toward an unknown coda and potentiality that suggests a sort of transcendence.
Theosophy refers to systems of speculation or investigation seeking direct knowledge of the mysteries of being and nature. John Golding called theosophy ‘a world of vast, intangible and amorphous ideas’. In a sense, both artists attempt to portray enigmatic elements of parallel and invisible realms. Af Klint was considered a clairvoyant, claiming that her work was guided through a psychic connection on another plane. While Bassin’s work may not have been created in this way, it certainly speaks (albeit mutely) to interpretations and connections with and of multiple dimensions.
Nostalgia pervades Bassin’s work. There is a graphic sensibility that recalls the era of psychedelia and esotericism. In particular, The terror of n is reminiscent of a Luis Buñel film from the ’60s; the spectral O is a potential gateway to an elsewhere in which a gentleman appears as a sort of guide, cut from the books of another era. The work’s paradox implies a vacuum; the suspension of time and suggestion of movement.
Bassin’s work is an exploration of semiotics. The idea of mute language—a forever not quite narrative—is a central theme. Obscured movement and the frozen gesture reinforce the idea of semantic flux. The artist has created a world of limbo and potential where symbols are at once more than what they seem, yet not quite what they appear to be. Complicit font, an almost-alphabet of pictograms, seductively plays with this notion.
The exhibition itself is a tableau that simultaneously diverges and digresses to create a multitude of possibilities. In this way Bassin inspires the need for an interpretation but then disables one. It is precisely this disruption of flow that enables the viewer to search for a new one.
Belle Bassin, The terror of n, Fehily Contemporary, Melbourne, 9 February – 3 March 2012.
Drawing is often and frequently misguidedly referred to as a precursor to other mediums. As a process it is variously considered as provisional and to a degree temporary; it is a preliminary stand in for a grander gesture which will succeed it. Drawing is both a process and a structure for a process.
Disruptive Peach discounts an approach to drawing as a provisional structure for something else. The drawings here are not pursuant of a definable further end point but a process through which a structure is interpreted through its own development. In this instance it is a strategy toward the invocation of what may lay in wait, as an illustrated prophecy that is perhaps necessarily manifested intangibly.
The palette within the works is disconcertingly lurid, as if the logic of the colouristic scheme and interrelations is deliberately being withheld. The extremities within the colour range are employed, those outside the realm of discernment, the outsiders. The peach hue the work collectively elicits comprises a cacophony of colours spanning the highest and lowest ranges of the spectrum. It is the almost jarring relationship between the tones that signals a cryptic coding within the production of the work.
The composition of the elements, both internally and in relation to one another, implies the articulation of an altered state. It is not offered as something readily assayable, operating instead within a realm of frequency rather than meaning. Disruptive Peach is intersensory but most persistent is an attempt to address the sixth sense. The perplexity within the work lies in this process of connectivity, as a conduit to present an abstract warning of a non-specific threat; the disruption of that which awaits us.
It is a landscape, if such a term could be broadly applied, of an unconscious terrain, one that exists outside of the realm of the topographical and determinable. It charts the course of a memory recollected and rendered yet as something heretofore not unencountered.
What is proffered is a discordant topology that has existed in a subliminal state or will exist in an indeterminable future. It illustrates an organisation of objects on a fractal level with a logic that is at once its form and content. This is either what lost languages look like or a historical account of what has not yet transpired.
The work, like previous works by Belle Bassin, presents as having been channelled rather than created. It implicates what needs to be believed rather than known, as it overlays narratives upon lost and forgotten histories and futures. Within this, it is difficult to determine where truth determinedly lies, and where shamanism is infected by charlatanism.
The disruptive occurs through the collective of incongruous tones, but crucially, by what is being disseminated. It avails a world–view that possibly threatens how we presently and unquestioningly construct our perspective of the world and the way we conceive our individual and collective course within it. The risk of such perspectives is their capacity to destabilise systems through their challenge to existing modes of interpretation. They seek out the information that is omitted to elucidate what we cannot fully comprehend but cannot afford to ignore.
The notion of windows onto another reality appears often in Belle Bassin’s work, and so when viewing the delicate network of pencil lines in her recent drawing Vesica Pisces one immediately thinks of the tracery of a stained glass window, particularly the circular rose windows commonly seen in Gothic cathedrals, although in Bassin’s drawing the window has been bleached of colour and taken back to its bare bones. These medieval Christian structures developed directly from the round oculus windows present in classical architecture, most famously in the dome of the Pantheon in Rome, and the main function of these apertures was to draw worshippers’ eyes upwards to encourage contemplation of spiritual matters beyond the visible world.
The oculus, or eye, may seem an unlikely symbol to choose as a portal to the divine, as the act of looking is the foundation of empirical science and in our secular age it is not thought to be rational to believe what cannot be observed. It is curious, then, that spirituality has always found such a strong expression in visual representation, and that the practice we know today as visual art evolved from ancient cultures’ attempts to illustrate the ethereal realms of religion and mysticism – it reveals a stubborn inclination in human nature to embody the immaterial, and to set eyes on what remains invisible.
Belle Bassin’s drawings hinge on a similar contrast between reason and intuition; on what can be seen and what cannot. The rational organising principles she implements when she begins a drawing provide a framework for imagery generated by the irrational compulsions of the sub-conscious. The drawing Vesica Pisces begins with logic and order – a grid and a circle – upon which Bassin has then applied patterns in unstructured clusters that contrast with the strict geometry of the grid. The patterns are loosely based upon a hexagonal form known as the ‘flower of life’ – a symbol which has appeared as a decorative element in art and architecture in many cultures throughout history. The possible variations on this 6-lobed form are infinite, allowing for an accumulation of flower-like combinations of circles, squares, triangles and dots, which the artist describes as developing organically as she draws. Although the drawing process is meticulous and time-consuming, it is also meditative, allowing the artist to clear her head and draw without a final image in mind. Upon finishing a drawing session for the day, she is often surprised by what she sees.
This process has a performative, ritual quality that is closely connected to Bassin’s practice of meditation and her self-described “hybrid” belief system, which draws on a number of esoteric disciplines. Bassin’s recent drawings display her interest in consciousness grids, diagrams that derive from sacred geometry and the belief that particular mathematical ratios and proportions can embody the universe and the divine. It is not surprising, then, that her recent drawings bring to mind mandalas, geometric compositions that in Buddhism have a dual function as symbolic maps of the universe and as tools to guide meditation. Paradoxical though it may seem, following the patterns of a mandala with the eyes is thought to assist in focusing the mind beyond the visible world, and thus the mandala acts quite literally as a map or pathway to spiritual enlightenment – a journey that begins visually but ends in realms which cannot be seen or quantified.
There are many cultures and belief systems in which visual schemata employing strict symmetrical organization and geometric forms mediate a transcendental experience that defies rational explanation – from mandalas and consciousness grids, to Navajo sand drawings and the powder diagrams used in Haitian Vodou rituals. This slippage between the logic of mathematical structure and the less chartable territory of spirituality is also present in Belle Bassin’s work, and is what gives her recent drawings their tension – what she describes as a “push and pull” between the discipline of the grid and the spontaneous mark-making through which she develops the patterning. The structural contrasts in her drawings serve as a visualisation of the seemingly contradictory human urge to make order out of chaos, and to harness the ineffable through the organising principles of myth, ritual, and symbol.
WHATGertrude Studios 2009 WHERE Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, 200 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, 9419 3406, gertrude.org.au
As you would at least hope was the case, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces end-of-year studio artist show proves keenly dynamic. Drawing on Gertrude’s 15 in-house artists – including Ash Keating, DAMP collective, Geff Newton, Ardi Gunawan, Kate Just among others – the show traverses painting, drawing, collage, sculpture, video, found objects and installation, with some thrilling results. Belle Bassin’s vast, geometrical graphite-on-paper drawing the eye and the flame, Richard Lewer’s wonderfully wonky paintings of sporting disappointments and Jackson Slattery’s brilliant watercolour series, Great White Hypes: New Minorities – which features portraits of white American former basketball players – and Nathan Gray’s trans-space assemblage Permeation are some particular highlights. It’s a refreshingly immediate show to close out an at times abstruse exhibition calendar. Tues to Fri 11am–5:30pm, Sat 11am–4:30pm, until December 12.
Catalogue essay to accompany exhibitions at West Space, Melbourne from 25 July – 2 August 2008 and University of Southern Queensland Gallery, Toowoomba from 8 August — 28 August 2008.
And sweet things
Trying hard to change your luck
And mean things
Living for today or maybe even yesterday
Do the right thing
In this world you’re just a guest
Do it now
‘Devo Has Feelings Too’, Smooth Noodle Maps, Enigma Records, 1990.[i]
Evolutionary theories garner attention from numerous opposing perspectives, be they from scientists who construe them as a logical understanding of heretic development, or the religious right who vehemently refute them. Central to both positions is the adherence or dismissal of a higher organising mechanism, most notably, a god. To maintain a position that incorporates a Darwinian based principle of evolution, in that species develop over time to more ably adapt to their environment, dismisses the creationists’ belief that we are now, as god created us then, at least in so far as our physical manifestation is concerned. Thus one side maintains we are the product of an almighty miracle that is scientifically impossible to qualify, or the product of a long evolutionary process of adapting to our changing environment. Of magic or ape.
Following a presentation explaining his theories pertaining to black holes, the eminent scientist Stephen Hawking was asked in a pre-prepared question how he reconciles his scientific theories with his religious beliefs. The response by the oddly American accented gentleman from Oxford was succinctly: ‘That is why I am not a Christian.’[ii]
The Emerging Church or Emergent Church movement is a recent religious movement of the late 20th and early 21st century. Its agenda is to cater to disillusioned Christians of the post modern world, modernising the faith so that it may attract a more youthful congregation or those disenchanted with the stasis and institutionalism of traditional Christian denominations. Dr. R. Todd Magnum, Associate Professor of Theology and Dean of Faculty at Biblical Seminary notes: ‘Emergents’ seem to share one common trait: disillusionment with the organized, institutional church as it has existed through the 20th century (whether fundamentalist, liberal, megachurch, or tall-steeple liturgical).[iii]
In this context, the term emergent is used as a source of opposition to the current structures of power and influence, rather than as defining an early stage of trajectory towards becoming integrated within such institution. To filter the usage of emerging within contemporary art through this reading places an emerging artist as one opposed to the established structures, institutions and perceptions of importance rather than artists in the infancy of their artistic practice.
Theories of emergence, as used in disciplines such as systems theory and epistemology, also describe the way emergent behaviours are often formed when individuals interact as a collective. Though to notice them as they start to appear, ‘the emergent behaviour may need to be temporarily isolated from other interactions before it reaches enough critical mass to be self-supporting.’[iv] As a collection of younger artists, those presenting works as part of this project, this temporary isolation, conflate the idea of ‘emerging’ as a defining term through the regressive influences permeating their practices. Progress seems redundant as a linear development, as the works favour antiquated technologies, historical positioning and psychological primitivism. Modern technologies are cast aside as both means of production and implication on the subject matter within the works. Their concerns are located with various historical contexts, not always determinedly specific, as a departure from a pointed contemporaniety towards something verging on more eternal and universal concerns. This blurs both a sense of now and a sense of then to envisage a future affected by multiple and possibly conflicting narratives of temporal development.
Not only is historical temporality reorganised within some of these works, but also the perspective of how narrative is established and executed in a physical and conceptual form. Some of the shamanistic and conspiratorial agendas at play here use outmoded and redundant methodologies to decipher current concerns. As if deeming the failings of our current existence are the result of adopting the wrong evolution of thinking processes and the mistaken direction with which our societies are developing, The propositions here are not necessarily resolved nor definitive, but studies of how we may have diverted from a tangible concept of evolution, or indeed whether to evolve is a positive outcome in any sense. A series of regressive experiments in altering our course, or at least, confusing our assuredness of forward, of progress, of development, of future.
The works engage with alternative art historical cannons and methods of understanding, as if alluding to entirely different referents and value systems. Excavated histories to indicate different trajectories that differ to our understanding of logical development. Thus, the idea of the ‘emerging’ becomes something entirely different to its parlance within contemporary art, as youth metamorphosing into something presumably held to be more fully fledged. This would suggest a natural course that is predefined in its hierarchy and the direction in which art exemplifies a progressive development of conceptual and physical thinking and manufacturing. As each step seems a logical predecessor towards the next, what can we make of gestures that encourage us to walk backwards, or in an entirely different direction, or to simply not walk at all? If this could be considered a process of devolution, or at least a stasis of evolution through non compliance, then where to from here? Or perhaps a multiplicity of evolutions can exist simultaneously, as certain elements progress in one way while others progress in opposing ways, creating a symbiotic relationship between evolution and devolution in a perpetual oscillation that can only be interpreted as change, rather than ever regarded as development.
[i] In 1973, Devo played their first gig – as a sextet. This line up performed only once.
[ii] Stephen Hawking presentation, The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival, Cheltenham, England, 7 October, 2007.
[iii] Q & A with Todd Mangum (6 October, 2007). Catalyst for Missional Leadership at Biblical Seminary, www.c4ml.com