Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Pinning down the Intangible: Bronwyn Lace

Detail of Collapse (White Passage Out)

It’s a curious phenomenon that compels dancers to explore conditions that limit the body, writers to gravitate towards articulating states that cannot be verbalised and visual artists towards capturing things that escape the eye. Perhaps this is how artists test the boundaries of their respective disciplines, but it also tends to be the reason they have chosen them as tools of expression; if you are interested in what goes unsaid it seems logical that you would pursue a career in writing.

This theory may explain why the artist Bronwyn Lace is so interested in the invisible; that which the naked eye cannot detect, and, given she is a visual artist, bringing invisible matter into view. In other words, in her pursuit of tracing the invisible, she automatically creates situations where the unseen becomes visible. In a way, the quality she is chasing is transformed through her obsession, into the very thing that interests her the least. It’s a contradiction for sure, but presumably one that holds her attention because she can never be released from it.

This may be why her latest exhibition, Resuscitate, seems partly concerned with not only shedding light on the invisible, but her idiosyncratic mode of arriving at this point – and toying with it. Underscoring Lace’s pursuit of the invisible is her vocabulary of invisibility, which includes her opaque materials; see-through perspex boards, fishing gut and light. A light fitting may be quite tangible, but light itself, particularly in relationship to the fishing gut lines that she characteristically suspends between the perspex boards, is an intangible “material”.

These materials cunningly create the illusion that her pursuit of the invisible doesn’t result in material objects, but ephemeral ones that seemingly don’t exist either. This may allow her to avoid the contradiction her obsession may entail at least superficially because, ultimately, it is the visual substance of her work. However, because the structure to hold the invisible and map it out is the only thing we can see, it becomes the object/subject of her work; in other words, the invisible/visible structure ends up |serving as a substitute for what the naked eye can’t see.

This exhibition presents installations that have been collapsed. The perspex boards are sandwiched together and the fishing gut lines that would have been tautly suspended between them are crumpled into an entangled mass that protrudes from the perspex in the works Collapse (White Passage In) and Collapse (White Passage Out). In the works Collapse (Ascension) and Collapse (Golden Tunnel), Lace enacts the reverse process by “stretching” out the construction so that the fishing gut lines are suspended between the ceiling and the floor of the double volume of the Nirox Gallery.

The “collapsed” element here are the fishing gut lines which are wavy and loose, not taut as would normally be the case with her |installations. In this way, it seems as if Lace is “letting go” of her meticulous modus operandi; she is “releasing the structure”. She does so in a controlled manner that allows her practice to appear more transparent, by allowing viewers to be privy to the works in a “collapsed” state.
Make no mistake, these are not works that have been chaotically dismantled; she seems to pay as much attention to their construction as their deconstruction, which is presumably why she chose to expose this part of her practice.

She can’t but work methodically and she does hold on to the inherent theatrics of her aesthetic in the sense that the gallery must be dark – like a theatre – so that the lights can work their magic on the fishing gut lines. As a result, the work on this show is not about deconstruction, or even collapse: it is not about exposing the mechanics; seeing what exists behind the “red curtain”, so to speak – the curtain here remains firmly in place. It’s a |formal experiment, though her |ideological pursuits remain to some degree intact.
These concerns are about invisibility too; the kind of faith required to believe in that which we cannot see. This would extend to religious paradigms or even scientific belief, which demands faith in rationality and logic. This is evoked in the subtitles – “white passage in” and “white passage out” –  that allude to life and death, respectively, depicted via a circular haze of fishing gut threads. Ascension invokes a biblical reference, but the clean clinical construction of the installation and the white column of light that exudes from the light box on the ground evokes a laboratory setting and the visual rhetoric of scientific discovery. At heart, Lace seems interested in the ephemeral nature of life itself, though she is equally fixated with death, possibly because it has no visual trace. It is the great invisible territory that stretches out beyond our sight or even comprehension.

Lace is not exactly in the throes of an existential crisis here; in fact her ordered, methodical and almost mechanical rendering of invisibility is so pleasing and comforting it allows the viewer to hold on to the idea of infinity or the unknown in such a way that’s not overwhelming. This is an aestheticised experience primarily, a sensual evocation of invisibility under the guise of accuracy – the square boxes and perspex boards are dotted with pins spaced equally apart, implying some level of mathematical logic at work.
Lace doesn’t attempt to picture or explain mysteries of the universe because she can’t – she doesn’t have a clue. In the absence of this, she delivers a sensual (the works are tactile and visually arresting) engagement with an|unknown quantity that is only|temporarily expressed and visualised through her installations.
The pins securing the fishing gut to the perspex glass create the illusion Lace has fleetingly captured a quantity which evades being pinned down. Or, at the very least, expresses the methodical act of attempting to do so.  The act of collapsing these structures and props that engender this illusion thus implies she is gradually letting go of it. It’s a very gradual process; Lace hasn’t allowed a complete collapse to occur; her |methodical and ritualistic dismantling of her work suggests that she is even unable to let it disappear between her fingers.
She wants to hold on to the magic she has created, because everything she does is about the magic, not the banality it might conceal. It’s a struggle for sure; it’s as if she wants to get beyond her own language and its theatrics, but she is too seduced by it to do so.

Resuscitate is showing at Nirox Projects at Arts on Main until September 22

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