The Final Ferret - Elizabeth Rankin and Lisa Sharp

The final ferret

This piece of writing is a collaborative venture between the writers Elizabeth Rankin and Lisa Sharp. On this occasion we met in real time, divided the room sheet into crumbs and ferreted out different artists, where we could, to speak with them about their work, and where we couldn’t, we speculated, writing from our own rooms and emailing each other. ER is Elizabeth Rankin and LS is Lisa Sharp.

LS: Over this last week and weekend, the relentless pitter-patter of ferret feet, chatter and activity culminated with the fifth and final exhibition of the FERRET project. The steady rhythm and overlapping steps of the dance have played out - artists have left, works have been taken down, and the drama and buzz have faded. Monday morning comes and presumably the space is now largely vacated, still and silent.

In the imagined silence, a passing observation from the opening night; nowhere on the room sheet yet still flanking the entrance was an errant FERRET work trespassing on from the show before. Isaac Nixon’s OF[f c]O[urse][1] seemed to have prophetically transitioned from function into form, under the spell of the gallery. This prompted questions. What was it doing there still? Was it a row of neatly parked public bicycles? Or art object to be gazed at? When did the objects slip from one state of meaning to another? From the genesis of this exhibition series from FAIR ISLE through to FERAL and now FERRET these underlying questions of slippage have persisted, as artists manipulate their materials and contextualize their works. One moment, the genteel order of knitting, the next, wildness and beasts –a conflated state of transgressive (or aggressive) domesticity that continues to characterize many of the works, where everyday totems are activated so as to reveal or suggest alternate narratives.

Facing the doorway squarely and frontally is a solemn tribute to absent space. Lyn Heazlewood’s work presents a finger tipped, tactile geometrically formed ceramic, set on a plinth. The work explores an expressively imagined (but actually mapped) triangular void-space, as the plaque on the plinth declares ‘remembering the potential missing section of the space’. The marks and moulding of the artist’s fingers over the surface evokes a hand patting and searching in the darkness of a cave.

…And now here comes Liz, in the company of a ferret …
ER: I have revisited the ferret’s run, dear reader and am now guided by this busiest of creatures who takes me on a tour of the new work. An erratic rodent –there is no order to this ramble but a scuttling from one piece to another.

 To begin with we are on the lower level of the project space. There’s a bear there, says the ferret with a quick movement of the head indicating the direction to go. I look up and indeed there is. Embracing a supporting wooden column is a knitted skeleton of a koala. Bone by bone and meticulously crafted. This is the work of Michele Beevors, The Anatomy Lesson; koala, Phascolarctos cinereus.[2] I had seen her work before at Articulate - a large knitted horse, a skeleton again of fine precision. It’s the soft texture of the cream knitting supplanting the hardness of bone that defines these works - the knit reanimating their forms, affectionately caressing the bodies.  And here the little beast curves into and hugs the beam. The care with which this animal is made, its handcrafted nature argues eloquently against the blights of environmental destruction and the indifference of capitalism to this catastrophe.

The shape is oddly echoed in Liz Hogan’s video Spin.[3] If the little bear offers comfort Spin disturbs our sensibilities. Rude, sniffs the ferret. But not much of Liz’s naked form is revealed. Unexpectedly her body sits on a turning potter’s wheel and is being mechanically wrapped by cling plastic, her very self increasingly obliterated. The spinning movement of the wheel references the movement of the viewers moving in the space but no one else is at such risk or so revealed. The identity on the wheel is being sealed in, the life of the woman threatened. She is clay and as enclosed as the lump of clay placed on a stool beside the video. I draw a rapid breath.

LS: A number of works have not been confined to any one particular location within the gallery, but appear in various sites. Caitlin Hespe’s work mind your step[4] uses barrier and netting structures, made small and humbly from again, hand pressed ceramics and intriguingly, the everyday - dental floss and found sticks - to draw attention to the power these trope forms have to direct and dictate our movement. Eschewing high-viz, plastics and mass production these are low-viz, handcrafted, disarming and barely effective ‘barriers’.

Also insinuated here and there among the internal architecture, (even, unsettlingly upside-down among the rafters) is Elke Wohlfahrt’s Wunderkammer Series.[5] These cabinets of curiosities, repurposed furniture drawers, invite a look within, as the boxed specimens appear to contain arrays and collections of objected sorted according to similarities of colour, form or material. Elke explained that the wonders within are sourced from her own collections, family history and supplemented by the donations of other artists in her shared studio.

You could almost miss (but you wouldn’t want to) Helen M Sturgess’ untitled[6], expressions of tension in states of apparently contained eruption from the white walls. In an inversion of the status usually accorded to the white cube in providing a setting for art, these twin white volcano-forms, set into corners extend the walls into the gallery space, either making the walls into the work, or vice versa. The firm presence of a buckle suggests the artist coaxing, even forcing the forms into this dialogue, and hence, this question from the usually rectilinear and stalwart walls.

While we are still on the ground floor, over to ER: Close by Carolyn Craig’s large aluminium book Tomes of Authority: Annunciation: When vowels collide dominates the space.[7] Etched on the surfaces are faces mouthing words and a poem that describes the nature of language and the culturally empowered nature of books that carry the desired and approved values of the society in which they are written to the exclusion of divergent ways of being.  There is something monumental in this large relief sculpture - a tome worthy of Moses but the delicacy of the etching subverts authority with dextrous intent.

The ferret now quickly runs to the back of the space and sits in front of a small print of a dog framed and installed on the wall indicating approval of the subject matter. Oh yes, I think we all love our dogs and here is an affectionate reference perhaps to a beloved pet semi abstracted and neatly wrought. Appropriate in this Year of the Dog. But Sophie Coombs’ work, Dog, is more complex than this and describes the phenomena of the dog as a subject of art as well.[8]

Susan Andrews’ work is carefully made relief sculpture, a small wooden triangular shape on the wall, the action of the eye-a wink, a nudge, an acknowledgement of the joke that is in the ambiguities of meaning in a contemporary world. Blink and you miss it - wink and you enjoy it. Pink Wink expresses a pleasure in it and a knowing smile.[9] And the eye flutters and briefly closes.

LS: The Pink Wink almost seems to be pointing to the works around it, and in Susan Andrews’ description of the ability of the artwork’s ability to ‘act as a disguise to mask real intentions’ there is a reference to the potential for slippage in this and other works. This is played out in the language of textiles, via Eva Simmons’ Switchbox & Grounding[10] and in Joanne Makas’ Crisp and Flow[11]. Simmons’ work takes the form of a generally gender-specific garment; a dress, hanging; or hung, seemingly wired to current; or grounded to earth and two-sided; red / white. Makas’ title appears to describe the qualities of paint though the work itself, defiantly crisp, hangs high from a beam, out of eye level, a bundle of coloured open-weave domestic cloth, playing with the idea of painting.

Similarly referencing the mask and identity is Sienna White’s work Soft.[12]For White (and many others) the pre-emoticon smiley face is emblematic of childhood and she eloquently describes how, after the passing of childhood, ‘The iconic smiley face for me contains within it the idea of a mask; there is eeriness within a symbol that so defiantly represents happiness which speaks to the experience of my own identity being complicated by gender even now.” Covered; or smothered, in pink , the hue of softness and feminity the words ‘SOFT’ float over the field in two different fonts.

From a distance, Tom Loveday’s works[13] resemble a series of hard-edged abstract paintings, but up close they are defiantly not, instead a series of carefully inlaid discs, set within squares, with a superimposed colour card. According to the artist, ‘each “video work” contains a playable video – but only if the work is destroyed’. One additional work, Performance art, features a circular hole cut-out, its placement a prominent removal of the image of the mouth of a well-known performance artist. Videos and books, usually sources of information, available and accessible to all, are here reduced to the purely pictorial by the rigorous application of the abstract-geometric language, inducing a visual agnosia in which we see but cannot recognize.

ER: We stand now in front of Marta Ferracin’s Metamorphosis.[14]  A great scrunch of agar material, this soft sculpted form is semitransparent and mottled with bacterial life that patterns the work. It tumbles in a large space at waist height near the kitchen and the current location of SNO. The ferret has indicated that it might be edible by chewing a small edge of the work but retreats in distaste. I understand the motivation. No, I do not want to consume the work but the urge to touch is irresistible. It is a pliant material and resilient. Marta has harnessed the forces of life to create the piece and revealed the unities implicit in life forms. It is an intersection of the practices of both art and science but its spirit is the creative impulse.

Hot lips, sniggers the ferret in front of Sarah Fitzgerald’s work. Hot lips?  Ah, the colour of the paint that Sarah used on the thin plywood sculpture that licks the wall and floor to ceiling in a long strip. The red strip defines the arch of space and the width of the strip is the same as the supporting beam nearby. Here lies the cleverness of this piece and its self-reflexive nature. This is Bending Moment [15]and the angle at which the forces of weight and gravity will bend the supporting beam. It’s a reference to how the building itself is constructed and its internal anatomy of forces. But metaphorically the work describes the bending of mind and soul under stress and hard won resilience.

Michelle Grasso’s video, Origami Architecture, gently mesmerises.[16] It takes a little time and concentration to realise the sense of the images that appear in sequence. Here are faces and forms, dissolving and recreating, celestial creatures made electronically from distortions of Sydney buildings and architecture, folding and refolding like origami pieces. This is a strange new world in which physical forms are no longer solid objects but creatures of air.

LS: Cranes are creatures of air and upstairs, in Yoshi Takahashi’s work they are an integral component of Eternity[17]. Four strands of suspended origami cranes, tightly compressed, emphasizing their collective and colourful angularity rather than the bird form, rise from; or descend down, into an urn. Four is for seasons passing and a symbol for longevity, also death, turning the fragile and ephemeral assemblage into a reflection on the belief in reincarnation.

ER: The ferret scampers up the stairs and I follow. On the wall at the top of the stairs is Michelle Le Dain’s work, Road Works, best described as an installation or even a wall drawing, given its linear and graphic nature. [18]The work is effectively a long line composed of small overlapping collages from digital prints and card describing a road journey or road works and tracing this upon the wall. The colour of the road works/signs are bright against the grey background of road and all becomes geometric pattern. A thin red taped line links to the taller structure and encircles a power switch. This is road works made child’s play and a fresh interpretation of the genre.

 Jane Gavan’s Lean too, is also on this upper level. [19]The title describes the work’s action. Irregular arcs of linked clear plastic arch and lean towards the wall like curved arms. This is a little like Sarah Fitzgerald’s work in that the curves engage with the form of the building and indeed create a separate space. The curved transparencies are reminiscent of medieval flying buttresses. It’s a mindful repetitive action that invites an imitation of the action. I look for the ferret to participate in this but it has fled somewhere deep into the recesses of the building.

LS: Perhaps it was frightened by the noise, for as we started noiselessly, the collaborative work by Julia Davis and Lisa Jones Who was the driver?[20] evokes the noise, power and belching exhaust of a car. The marks and frottage have been made by the repetitive motion of driving on paper, the materials – black carbon, graphite and charcoal all mired together in a 10.5 metre-long tonal gradient, a work on paper stretching from clean and clear white on the wall to an increasingly agitated, marked and ingrained, textural darkness.

Not as dark however as black velvet, the ground for Kendal Heyes’ Polynesia #4[21], a painting employing the heavy and sumptuous materiality of oil and crushed marble with velvet – white stone brushed on to black fabric with no intervening tonality. The result is a clear-sighted push and pull, balanced by a colour and light-absorbing central void. The artist attributes this work to ‘visual experiences associated with Polynesia, among them the paintings on velvet of Polynesian women by Edgar Leeteg and  Polynesian tapa cloth works, especially the freehand works from Samoa and Niue.’

The resonance found in the slippages between things, the way apparently known things reveal unexpected meanings, these are characteristics of memorable exhibitions and continues to inform and energize this fertile series of progressive shows, FAIR ISLE (2014), FERAL (2016) and now FERRET at Articulate Projectspace. What F will be next, we wonder?

Lisa Sharp
Elizabeth Rankin
February 2018

[1] Isaac Nixon, OF[f c]O[urse]:, steel, rubber and electronics, 2018.
[2] Michele Beevors, The Anatomy Lesson; koala ,Phascolarctos cinereus 2018, knitting and mixed media
[3] Liz Hogan Spin, 2014-18, digital video, clay, wheel, wooden stool.
[4] Caitlin Hespe, mind your step, 2017-18, ceramics, found sticks, dental floss, dimensions variable.
[5] Elke Wohlfahrt, Wunderkammer Series, 2018, 12 wooden drawers, various materials, 51.5 x 40.5 x 6.8 cm.
[6] Helen M Sturgess, Untitled, 2018, plaster, wire mesh, turnbuckles.
[7] Carolyn Craig Tomes of Authority: Annunciation: When vowels collide 2015, etched aluminium, folded ruler, screws, 120 x 80 cm.
[8] Sophie Coombs, Dog, 2017, relief print.
[9] Susan Andrews, Pink Wink, 2018, acrylic on wood, 50 x 10 x 8 cm.
[10] Eva Simmons, Switchbox & Grounding, 2018, linen, cardboard, acrylic string, aluminium and copper wire, duct tape.
[11] Joanne Makas, Crisp and Flow, 2018, cheesecloth and acrylic, dimensions variable.
[12] Sienna White, Soft, 2018, printed vinyl banner, galvanized D-shackles, stainless steel square eye-plates.
[13] Tom Loveday, Video Works 1 – 4, the Real Thing and Performance Art 1, 2018.
[14] Marta Ferracin, Metamorphosis, 2018, agar, microbial intervention, space, water, air, light.
[15] Sarah Fitzgerald, Bending Moment, 2018, plywood, acrylic paint, stainless steel screws.
[16] Michelle Grasso, Origami Architecture, video
[17] Yoshi Takahashi, Eternity, 2018, advertising paper, stoneware urn, 20 x 200 x 200 cm.
[18]  Michelle Le Dain, Road Works, 2018, digital prints, acrylic, card, washi tape 140 x 300 cm
[19]  Jane Gavan Lean too, 2018, thin glass, tape, space and light installation.
[20] Julia Davis & Lisa Jones, Who was the driver? 2018, Japanese hosho paper, car exhaust carbon, graphite, charcoal, 1050 x 45 cm.
[21] Kendal Heyes, Polynesia #4, 2015, oil and crushed marble on velvet, 122 x 91.5 cm.

For a full description of the artists and works please refer to the FERRET 5 Room sheet.

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