This essay by Celia Winter-Irving describes and analyses the works shown at the Irving sculpture gallery for Perspecta '85.

You can access other essays by Celia Winter-Irving and critiques by others on Perspecta ' 85 in the Library (accessed by the Library button below). The other buttons will take you to alternate spaces in the gallery.


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Is The Gallery Really Necessary?


The three dimensional focus of Australian Perspecta '85 is particularly relevant at a time when sculptors are shaking continuum by the scruff of the neck and restructuring sculptural values in accordance with cultural practice rather than deferring to sculptural precedent. While painting is locating itself in past history, there is a sense of sculpture moving on and creating its own future. The idea, not the means or the material has emerged as sculpture's driving force, and process predominates.

Sculpture no longer marches in movements and wears no uniform. Indeed the act of sculpting is no longer essential to sculpture. There is now no necessity for sculpture to be something or somewhere. The plinth is no longer necessary. Within a gallery space, sculpture performs gymnastic feats, flinging itself on the floor, hanging from the ceiling, parading on the wall. Installations are relocatable, public sculpture has ceased to be site dependant.
Artists who fled from the object during the 1970's have reached the end of the tunnel and seen the light. They are turning back to reconsider the object not only as something to be made, but as a pre-existing entity which when placed in an art context assumes a new identity. We are witnessing the advent of the bricoleur, the artist as scavanger, who disposes of an object's original function and creates for it a new disposition and a change of context. The cool anonimity and detachment of the worked object of the 1960's and early 1970's has given way to a richness of association, and content, meaning and narrative are its recognisable properties.
The works exhibited in the Irving Sculpture Gallery's Section of Australian Perspecta '85 though disparate in notion, demonstrate that sculpture is being carried into areas marginalised from established practice. The artists represented seem to refuse any limitation on the nature of sculpture. Although the works were not selected on the basis of a theme, and a theme cannot be imposed upon them, they do possess a collective unconscious. Without wishing to subvert tradition, these artists seem unaware of its existance, their work is not an extension of sculptural history, but stems from personal experience and cultural values. There are not quotations, and there is no sense of revisionism. The works do not possess the volubility of much current sculpture's shrieking statements, they do not clamour to be heard but wait to be discovered. With the exception of Arthur Wicks and Michael Snape, there is little evidence of the artist as raconteur or showman.

These artists extend the properties, potential and parameters of abstraction, conveying meaning without recourse to referential image. Except for Heather Dorrough's figurative comments, none of the artists are concerned with figuration.

The women artists represented are concerned with their personal feelings about being a woman, their private notions about feminity, sexuality and stereotyping. The works of Heather Dorrough, Noelene Lucas and Bronwyn Oliver conceal rather than reveal, they are a pleasurable retreat from the current desire of some women sculptors to reveal all with total lack of embarrassment. These three artists seem to share a mutual existence. While externally provocative, each of their works has an internal presence, unaffected by circumstance and placement in the gallery space. There is evidence of a new puritanism among women sculptors. Heather Dorrough through only hinting at her bodily self makes a statement of some personal modesty. Noeline Lucas removes herself from the emotionalism of her previous suggestive blood and dome sculptures to display a personal reticience. Oliver's creatures exhude a whiff of sexuality, without innuendo or explicit sexual images they speak a sexual language of cries and whispers. What takes place takes place behind closed doors and posspossibly in dark. We appear to be invading the personal privacy of these artists, with their suggestion of interior spaces with curtains drawn, furnished with memories and experiences. It is only Marleen Creaser's swanky baubles swaying provocatively from the wall which demonstrate the dazzle of external allure, and make direct eye contact.

Whereas Dorrough, Lucas and Oliver make sculpture which is enclosed and protected from literal interpretation, Arthur Wicks' work is externalised, residing within the presence of the artist and the events he imposes upon it. Wicks is a roving bricoleur, a falsifier of identity. Always on the move, Wicks' objects never become naturalised, they have no sense of place and no homeland. It is through the presence of Wicks that the objects become readable, the viewer literate.
Similarly Geoff Miller emerges as a manipulator of meaning rather than a maker of art. Exercising a tight control of his objects which zero in on each other but never meet, Miller becomes Ringmaster. Like Wicks, Miller has a background in performance art and is reluctant to leave the stage. Yet eventually he steps aside. The meaning of the work lies entirely within the viewers' perception. There is no apparent reason for the direction they take, thus we interpret them in terms of the direction our own lives are taking, the new encounters which are blocked by an established history of obligations, responsibilities and allegiences, and thus become non events. Like Wicks' tent and boat these objects demand participation, they comment that life's events are a series of repeat performances. Yet despite their strong affiliation with human behaviour, Miller's pieces are autonomous they make their own past and dictate their own future, like the psyche, they are masters of their own destiny.

Michael Snape is one of the few sculptors currently working in constructed metal who is directed by his outlook towards relationships, society and the way the world is shaped. Snape's shape of the world is defined through cut out metal sculptures of hollows and sockets, mocking expectations of steel sculpture. He parries accepted notions, gleefully makes his material perform outside its expectations and laugh at its own jokes. Snape is capable of making spare and elegant steel constructions, but it is commendable to see a sense of release being offered to a material with such good effect. Snape's works exist because of their meaning and not their means, and in so doing, they develop an association with the other works shown.

The fact that this Section of Australian Perspecta '85 is shown in a gallery committed to the exhibiting of serious sculpture will hopefully enhance its presence and attract an enquiring public. But in a sense this placement seems incidental to the existence and purpose of the works. Arthur Wicks' tent will be pitched once more, his boat will be rowed again on some deserted railway line. Oliver's creatures will again be washed up on some exotic shore. The works seem oblivious to their surroundings and to the viewer. The life of these objects will extend beyond Australian Perspect '85 to survive relocation, possession, destruction and oblivion.

Celia Winter-Irving
Irving Sculpture Gallery, Glebe, Sydney

Perspecta 85; October 1985













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