A progressive and overlapping show in which groups of artists come and go, overlap and then replace each other in a series of generational occupations of this unique architectural space on Parramatta Rd in Leichardt. One of the curatorial ideas brought out in the show is encapsulated in its whimsical titling – it is ‘feral’ as it arises out of a similarity in pronunciation with ‘fair isle’ – a type of cosy Scottish knitting (and the title of the 2014 show). So, like a wolf in a hand knitted vest, many of the artists interrogate the tension between a transgressive or surprising element clothed within a familiar domesticity, resulting in works that meld these dualistic Feral/Fair Isle tendencies, using a wide range of media and spatial approaches.
Starting in the middle with FERAL 3. At last Friday’s opening night a crowd had spilled onto the pavement, but pushing in through the heat and crowd runs you right in to a confrontation with Veronica Habib’s work, I Love What You Have Done With Your Hair consisting of suspended female underwear. In a reversal of expectation, the lingerie wears hair – long, strands of unruly human hair – emerging from places on the female body it is usually banished from social sight. It is an elegant statement that raises issues of social expectation, hygiene, taboo and conformity, underlied by a sense of wry fragility and humour. Veronica talked about adding more hair as the show progressed. A keen sense of ironic commentary also underpins a second work in the show, Doubling in which Veronica Habib is used as a pseudonym by another artist, Melissa Maree. Circular holes are carefully cut out from two ‘doubled’ McDonalds-issued work shirts and the cutout circle forms appear, confetti-like on the floor beneath. The circle as symbol of repetition and routine suggests the serial monotony of menial work. Mel explains, “the cutting of the uniforms served to create holes to acknowledge the space outside of the uniform”.[i]
Undulating on the floor beyond is Sue Callanan’s work, In the space of a breath: device for circulating air. This piece is activated by its occupation as performance by the artist during Friday opening nights. The ducting is, again, a familiar form whose function is transformed. Insinuating herself within the confined ducting, Sue’s body movements within cause the green, shiny form to pulse and undulate in a slow organic dance that is quite mesmerising – particularly when viewed from above. The moving form evokes the interactions of human activity within built space.
Marta Ferracin exhibited in the Feral 2 show, and her works also have this quality, of enshrining the domestic. In Domestic totem brightly coloured scouring pads placed on white gallery walls are reconfigured three-dimensional paintings. In a keen attentiveness to the space of the gallery site they are also seen between stair treads, curiously animating the physical flow of the show as well as the space of the site. In another engagement the scourer pads take on the energy of animated character vigorously engaging with another artist’s work.
This leads to another element to the exhibition – its call for experimental responsiveness to site as well as toward other participants. 497 Parramatta Rd Leichardt had a previous life as a smash repair workshop. Within the gridded trusses, exposed beams and elongated ex-mechanic’s space artworks nestle, hang, project and declare themselves in relation to the structurally defined interior.
Helen L Sturgess has a suspended work consisting of cascading flesh pink tulle, which utilises the verticality of the double storey drop to dramatically insert this delicate, feminine fabric and its distinctly bridal connotations into the brutal brick and concrete gallery space. The material contrasts between pink tulle, Mel’s holey McDonalds shirts, and Nicole’s re-contextualized striped fabric also allude to a feminist dialogue activating the multiple and loaded meanings of materials.
The colour blue as a saturated screen-blue, derived by digital projection rather than pigment is an ephemeral yet the memorable aspect of Jannah Quill’s work, Virtual Bricks: Amplification of a Blue Space x 4. Its blue rectangular virtual form hovers just above floor level, close to the tangle of wires that feed it. Jannah talked about choosing this low position deliberately as it is at once a frustration of the traditional hang as well as an emphasis on its connections.
Glimpsed from below Julian Woods’ video work, Spirit: Life through Breath is fragmented by the triangular interstices of the exposed roof trusses. The slow, rhythmic expansion and contraction of the black and white balloon-like image is timed to the exhalation of our own breath in a curious episode of self-awareness of oneself as a viewer in the state of viewing. Bianca Burns’ abstract painting Spatial Study No.2 includes a tilted plane which projects into the gallery space however the placement of the work with its restrained palette within the site enables a new space to be activated in which architectural features echo the edge of the canvas and the painted linearity within.