ArtsExhibitionsReview

Artists’ compulsions make compelling viewing

If you get to see Obsessed: Compelled to Make “live”, a short film of the exhibiting artists is on continuous loop beside their artworks. You put on headphones and hear their voices. You see them at work in their studios, or outdoors on their tribal lands, and when the film is finished you get to examine the fruit of their labours.

Gabriella Bisetto finds glass blowing deeply meditative, physically exhausting, and immensely satisfying (Photo: Angus Lee Forbes)
Gabriella Bisetto finds glass blowing deeply meditative, physically exhausting, and immensely satisfying (Photo: Angus Lee Forbes)

 

If you’re lucky, you’ll meet one of the makers in person at the gallery, too, which is key to the curators’ purpose. They want you to encounter the rawness of these people, their drive, and not just an impermeable end product. They take you behind the scenes to show you how the artworks emerge from an individual (or duo) in situ and from materials freighted with challenges.

Gabriella Bisetto is one of Australia’s prominent glass artists and her cast-glass piece Sustain appears in Obsessed along with works by 13 other Australian artists. Her fascination with the process of glassblowing evolved over decades, she says, as she began “to utilise it as a vehicle for making work that referenced my other obsession – my fascination with the incredible complexity of the body and its impossibility to comprehend on a singular level”.

Making her kind of art, she confides, is deeply meditative, physically exhausting, and immensely satisfying: “In the middle of blowing glass you can’t stop and start – and I like that. You’re totally beholden to the process.”

Lorraine Connelly-Northey is a Waradgerie mixed-media artist known for her oversized woven installations of fibre vessels like Kooliman (Coolamon), an Aboriginal Australian bush bowl, which is showcased in Obsessed.

She scavenges materials – such as rabbit-proof fencing wire and corrugated tin – and transforms them into works that resemble, but revise, traditional cultural objects that are still used in tribal areas.

“While I might make a barbed-wire bag that looks small and cute,” she says, “the idea is it draws you in and reminds you that white Australia does have a black history: To fire you up, to make you angry. That kind of thing gets you thinking about the injustices done to the people.”

“It’s very powerful to be able to source material from your own tribal boundaries,” she says, “because the most powerful thing about my work is that I’m taking back country.”

Obsessed artists James B. Young and Eliat Rich of Elbowrkshp, Alice Springs (Photo: Angus Lee Forbes)

Obsessed artists James B. Young and Eliat Rich of Elbowrkshp, Alice Springs (Photo: Angus Lee Forbes)

Adelaide-based ceramic artist Honor Freeman is inspired by everyday domesticity. Her piece in Obsessed is called Evaporate and it’s made of slipcast porcelain and hand-built stoneware.

Freeman says she loves capturing the minutia of lived experience in her work by taking banal objects and shining new light to them. She fashions household items like partially used cakes of soap, light switches and Besser Blocks out of clay to give them fresh resonance.

She also says her desire to make art was instilled in childhood and modelled by her parents. “My mum’s been a maker, and my dad has tinkered away in the shed making trolleys and trailers and whatever else. So I think it’s just something that I’ve seen and known and been shown – so I can make sense of the world with my hands, I think.”

If you missed Obsessed at the Australian Design Centre in Darlinghurst (February 8 to March 24), the films of the artists are all online and well worth viewing.

The exhibition will also tour across Australia over the next four years – stopping at regional galleries in NSW including the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre (December 2018 to January 2019), Lismore Regional Gallery (March to May 2020) and Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre (August to October 2021).

Whichever way you connect with Obsessed, it should be a mind-expanding experience. You’ll meet some fascinating artists, each zealous about making, whether it is ceramics, furniture, sculptural weavings, jewellery, conceptual art or metal and glass objects. You’ll see the sweat on their brows, the nimbleness of their hands, and the grit and physicality of their making.

You’ll glimpse how their minds work – and it’s compelling.

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