There’s something about autumn in Canberra that sees our city come alive, rather than slow…
Say the word ‘mosaic’ and most people would think of ancient walls and floors picturing landscape scenes or abstract patterns.
Craft ACT is showing a number of contemporary mosaic works that turn this idea on its head, and will definitely turn your head.
Transitions is a sumptuous and sometimes cheeky exhibition by five women who are reclaiming old-fashioned conceptions of mosaic work: Kate Butler, Pamela Irving, Helen Bodycomb, Caitlin Hughes, and Rachel Bremner. They have combined a mix of traditional techniques and materials with some very contemporary additions.
Pamela Irving’s wickedly funny Mr Hanky Panky and His Seven Deadly Sins is a series of delightful creatures, monsters crossed with putti cherubs, reflecting contemporary political themes. Gluttony (2017/2018) is a wild mixture of doll parts, old crockery and small dollhouse items, being shovelled into a large gaping mouth with two forks. In Wrath (2017/2018), the little monster looks exasperated, holding a Humpty-like Trump in one hand and a baby Kim Jong-Un in the other.
Kate Butler’s work looks at modern politics and how it affects our ecosystems. Her series of small works, On (the) Edge (2017) bristle with anxiety, all spiky shards of smalti and scales of slate, and but the way their various materials overlap makes us want to hold and stroke them, like small animals.
Caitlyn Hughes uses mosaic to explore psychological themes, building objects as metaphors. Her work has touches of Goth fairy-tale, everything black and glittery, with titles like Twisted Truths, Self Sabotage and Blame (all works 2018). Many of them are shaped like old-fashioned weapons, while others are almost floral rosettes. They are darkly seductive.
Rachel Bremner’s work is strongly informed by music, and she plays with the boundaries between the visual and the musical. A good example is Sanctum (2017), which rises as a smoke-like column of grey tiles, building to an explosion of black. Germination (2017) is a free-standing sculpture of an acorn, its uneven surface evoking the autumn crunch of acorns under our feet at the moment.
All these works so far adhere to the expectations of mosaic: small cut stone, glass and ceramic elements, layered together on a solid substrate, able to be happily transported to a house or garden destination. The final artist, however, Helen Bodycomb, has taken the process to a much more conceptual level, to create a gorgeous installation called The material and the immaterial (2018).
Based on ideas of sound and motion, Bodycomb is drawing across the wall with her materials, which progress from small pinned ephemeral paper shapes to large angular objects constructed from marble tesserae and black fake fur. They are both positive and negative shapes, flocking like birds, almost performing a frozen explosion. It’s a remarkable thing to stand and meditate upon.
Contemporary mosaic is a growing thing, a craft gaining respect and interest around the world. This exhibition is a rare chance to see it in Canberra, don’t miss it.
When: Until 5 May 2018. Open Tuesday-Fridays 10 – 5 pm, Saturdays from 12 – 4 pm
Where: Craft ACT, Level 1, North Building, 180 London Circuit, Civic
Read the online catalogue here