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In 2002, Hobart based sculptor Colin Langridge curated Clearing, an exhibition of emerging Tasmanian artists at CAST Gallery. Langridge lifted the term 'clearing' from a theory used by German philosopher Martin Heidegger to describe the process of stripping back cultural and symbolic meaning to reveal the true nature of an object. The show was a curatorial success and Langridge went on to explore similar themes in his own work.
Currently a PhD candidate at the Tasmanian School of Art, Langridge explores the essence of constructed objects in an attempt to dissect notions of physical truth-unhindered by the constraints of language and thought. Working with the traditional technique of steam bending, Langridge manipulates the resistant surface of wood to create meticulously assembled and organically fluid forms that border on the abstract. 'The urge to render artworks symbolic reveals our desire to bring them into the fold of our understanding', Langridge says. 'My artworks attempt to resist this transformation and assert their being as what they are.
The urge to heap layers of meaning onto an unfamiliar object, particularly an artwork, can be difficult to leave behind at the door. In the 2004 solo exhibition 'Snug', Langridge showed a selection of work that begged to be symbolically undressed. Strange wooden forms dangled from the ceiling and erotically charged wall mounts tempted the viewer to penetrate mystery and determine the reason for their being.
The bulbous curves and smooth wooden paneling of Things that you don't know 2004, immediately enticed the viewer into the middle of the gallery. Reminiscent of a fantastical zeppelin, Things that you don't know was suspended by wire from the ceiling, a method that allowed the solid form to appear relatively weightless. Sloping down from a slick rotund belly, the tightly pressed wooden staves dipped to slender tips and curved into puckered openings. Inside was a hollowed tunnel pierced through the middle of the work. Like gazing into the belly of a beast, the smudgy darkness of the hollow let in enough light to suggest an unknown presence lurking at the edge of the blackness. The possibility was intoxicating.
Playing on the idea of comfort, Langridge included the experimental work Snug 2004, from which he took the title of the show. A series of five element heaters were positioned on neat shelves next to the gallery door. Radiating a dry heat that bounced off the white washed walls, the heaters created a cosy nook, yet their reflective metallic interiors and twisted plastic wires rendered them harsh and clinical. Initially, Langridge had proposed twenty heaters for Snug but was restricted to a limited number for fear of shortcircuiting the gallery. The effect of twenty heaters in the small space would have been overbearing: a potential comment on the prickly unease of knowing too much.
The billowing form of the aptly titled Whatever 2004 was a sensual contrast to the detached nature of the heaters and the stocky Things that you don't know. Crafted from the lush materials of Celery-top pine and Tasmanian oak, the wood panelled facade of Whatever languidly heaved in undulating waves-testament to Langridge's skill as a fine craftsman.
Incorporating the malleable medium of fibreglass, Langridge included one of his most suggestive works to date with Things for looking at other things 2004. Hooked onto the wall at eye level was a toy-like, sky blue cylinder. Pressed into the middle of the work was a deep cavity leading into the centre. On closer inspection, one could blurrily make out the glistening outline of male genitalia. Given the concept behind the exhibition, I was left wondering whether this was Langridge's intention or just my cultural-baggage-metre going haywire.
'Snug' was a neat example of Langridge's ability to combine traditional craft techniques with contemporary forms. With only four works included, it had had an experimental edge and lacked the weightier impact of larger scale installations. Although I wanted to see more of Langridge's work, the conceptual framework of 'Snug' was thought provoking and accessible. Langridge's enthusiasm for the sculpted wooden form was clearly evident and his ability to weave a tight thematic web reinforced his place as a daring young curator and skilled practitioner.