July 20, 2012

Un:sighted Catalogue essay

Often the question asked about abstract work is where does it come from?

Meaning is so embedded in representation, what can be seen is often associated with what can be known. Art that doesn’t represent anything and only sometimes resembles something we have seen before makes us question our experience. Abstraction generates meaning ahead of naming and posits other means of knowing the world, not as outline or form, equivalence or concept. In thinking about why artists make art and how we engage with it, we also consider why we choose to live the way we do, our mutual relationships and the ways we inhabit and construct our world.

Un:Sighted. The exhibition title alludes to the difficulty of terms; non-representative, reductive, non-objective, non-relational, unconstructed, non-compositional… and to the myriad pathways of abstraction. It suggests an interest in the limits of the visual, and refers to a kind of blindness in historical writing about abstraction in Australian art.

In a way, abstraction cannot be defined. It is not a ‘thing’ to be surrounded or reflected by words. It is a hybrid, in which no one consistent approach or attitude prevails. There is no single history of abstraction, and no fixed inheritance. What these artists have in common with the history of what we call abstract art is the belief that it is not the job of the artist to represent things. They share a desire to address the wholeness of experience; its complexity, fluidity and multivalence.

The concept of the abstract and its creative principles are deployed in various ways in their work. Their practices are founded on a critical relationship to materiality, process and formal structure. Drawing on different models of art practice, each of these approaches exists in the context of the histories and precedents with which they dialogue.

The work is about time and gesture, elaboration and exactitude; the thinking in the making and the process of discovery that happens within the limits of each given practice. Principles of order and chaos are explored, as are the physical and philosophical conditions of making. There is a fascination with the bounded form as well as the unbounded; with the physical reality and the idea of a colour; with the quality of attention and how we experience change.

Instances, intensities, frequencies… thoughts, systems and subjectivities… These are enunciative practices in which abstraction develops itself within its own order for itself. In the gaps where logic is unanticipatable and artists have allowed things to happen, elements of chance, spontaneity, doubt and interference become an intrinsic part of the language. These artists are revising and expanding ideas of making and how we project meaning onto experience. Theirs is a fluent relation to process ‘drawn in an indirect way from both the imagined and concrete… the passage of life into language. The real that is abstraction.’ (1)

So where does the work come from?

In a way it doesn’t matter. It is more interesting to see and feel where the work goes, how it behaves, what it is thinking and how we choose to engage.

Martina Copley, 2012

(1) [Endnote: Catherine De Zegher, ‘Drawn to you’, Whitney Biennial 2004, exhibition catalogue, 2004.]