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Carpet, wood, matchboxes, sticky tape, old wallpaper,tin trays-any of these things could be found around the house or in the garage. While using found objects has been a part of artistic practice since Picasso stuck chair caning onto a painting, it is worth reflecting on how genuinely odd the transformation is from quotidian object to art, and how difficult the ever-present question 'What is art?' remains. 'Transformers', curated by QUT Art Museum curatorial intern Simone Jones, aims to revisit these perplexing questions by juxtaposing established artists represented in the art museum's collection with work by local emerging artists.
In one sense 'Transformers' is a show based on the relationships between the works by the collected artists and those of the emerging artists. It serves both to contextualise the emerging artists' work and also to emphasise certain elements of the established artists' practice. While the use of found materials questions the notion of originality, so do the obvious relationships between the artists-not just the emerging artists' relationships to the collection, as apparent in Rodolphe Blois's and Merv Muhling's mutual use of natural objects such as sticks, but also in the similarities between the collected works themselves, such as the assemblages of Madonna Staunton and Rosalie Gascoigne.
Several Untitled works by Eugene Carchesio use matchboxes as a starting point. Employing cardboard cylinders, cones and rectangles, the artist has created miniature constructions, a play on the so-called building blocks of form. Each of these unique works is inseparable from its matchbox, harking back to childhood treasures kept safe in cotton wool. Where Carchesio creates works that reference art history in a matchbox, in Reference Cerae Mitchell inverts this approach, with a museological display that employs a sometimes whimsical but eclectic cataloguing of discarded everyday objects and specimens. Like many of the works in 'Transformers', Reference foregrounds ideas of preservation, but also encompasses an alternate reading, that of the creation of something new from unexpected or discarded materials.
This second effect is also apparent in Alice Lang's soft sculptures. Suspended from the ceiling, as if in traction, they are both endearing and a little unnerving. The sensual tactility of fake fur and satin is mitigated by the alien forms of the works.
This is the other trajectory of Transformers-it is very much a show about materials and medium. These works escape formalist readings by default. There is always something outside the work itself, the history and memories inherent in the objects themselves. Encountering Bruce Reynold's work, one is struck by the familiarity of elements used. The floor piece Roadshow Garden, created for this show, is a patchwork amalgam of carpet pieces which serves to generate a melange of memories of other spaces, from my grandmother's lounge room to bland and barren corporate offices. In Brilliant #1 Reynolds collages linoleum in a cut gemstone motif raising questions of value of the materials. What could easily be thrown away is captured and put to use by these artists.
Kathryn McSherry's work uses embossed wallpaper stretched over canvas. In Interior 1 glossy areas with deep black-reds and glimpses of gold leaf give a feeling of decadence, but also of decay. The use of bitumen seems to suggest the preservation of the original materials, but the end result is like a dream of luxury compared to the matte reality of the uncoated wallpaper. Interior 2 feels almost like tree bark-as in some of Reynolds' works, and to an extent Gascoigne's, McSherry references the landscape by using materials traditionally found in an interior.
Medium is important to Luke Jaaniste's works, but unlike other works in the show it is not the actual sticky tape or Lego blocks that are significant, but the existing spaces that are activated by the work, the features of the building itself. Sticky taping (on walkway railing) makes the viewer aware of the design of the gallery ramp and balustrade. The taping resembles translucent and ethereal bridge supports. The sticky tape also extends to the covers of the floor based power points, a ubiquitous part of most galleries' design, that when noticed creates an awareness of how ambiguous the line between art and art space has become.
'Transformers' generates many complex and rich allusions, encompassing themes of environmentalism, the relationships between landscape and interior, artist and designer, memory and creativity.