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Assisted by the British Council and the Australia Council, this is Michael Brennand-Wood's first solo exhibition in Australia, although his artistic involvement has already been very significant. Residencies in 1984 and 1988 followed the controversial and stimulating exhibition Fabric and Form: New Textile Art from Britain, which was curated by Brennand-Wood and toured throughout Australia by the British Council in1982. This exhibition was the focus of much debate about the new freedom of expression in textile art.
He sees his own work as mixed-media based, "a recycling of both materials and influences from the world of art",1 acknowledging both his textile and painting backgrounds. Despite actively contributing to the dissolution of textile categories, textile references and quotations continue to inform his work.
The current exhibition is important since it traces the development and progression of Brennand-Wood's work over a number of years, covering work characteristic of his early wooden grid formulations (c.1982) and moving into the more recent dynamic, circular forms. The scope and richness of ideas make for a rewarding and exciting exhibition as each series of explorations moves into another. He has achieved a compelling synthesis of sculpture, collage, assemblage, painting, drawing, and embroidery.
The early wooden grid structures are indicative of Brennand-Wood's innovatory approach to technique and materials. As a painting student drawn to the potential of textiles, he applied a concern with structures to the idea of constructing a rigid canvas - the wooden grid - into which he could "stitch ", treating embroidery as a mark-making medium like drawing or painting.
Part of the fascination with Brennand-Wood's work is the density of visual detail and information carried in these earlier pieces. The saturated polyphony of colour conveys the energy of the mass of detail, which coalesces into the rhythms and beat of the whole. Intrigued by notions of relativity, of worlds within worlds and part/whole relationships, Brennand-Wood's interest in micro photography, and the macro imagery of landscape, aerial, and satellite photography is echoed in his work.
Beyond the visual relativity, there are resonances of personal and human experience. It is as if the mass of information is a metaphor for periods of experience which can only be interpreted at a distance or in retrospect, when the noise of simultaneous data has died down. Heightening this impression is the incorporation of text in some works. The fragments of text, cartoons, advertisements, have been allowed apparently random juxtapositions with cryptic results. Thus the traces of discourse record emotions, issues, episodes. Brennand-Wood likens his method of visual implication to "archaeology in reverse ... building things up instead of going down .... leaving traces".2
The newer work, represented by the broken circular forms, indicates a shift from the concerns which related to the internal structure and information carried by the grids, to the relationship between the form and the wall. Extending his interest in three-dimensional line and illusion, Brennand-Wood defies gravity in theatrical constructions that apparently pivot from a central point. The circle is a metaphor for the proscenium arch of a stage, with compartments at the radius containing compositions which look like sets. A centrifugal force seems to swing the action to the radius in revolutions of repetitive narrative. Brennand-Wood 's calligraphic stitches have become animated and expressive stick-figures, locked in a cycle of ritualistic repetition.
Michael Brennand-Wood's intellectual concerns and interests are diverse and create a continual dialectic with his work. Amongst the many inspirations and influences he acknowledges, he accords the music and methods of Philip Glass a special significance. Impressed by the creation of a milieu of work/sound in a Glass opera from which words/meanings emerged and re-aligned, Brennand-Wood has attempted to achieve the visual counterpart in some of his works. The composer's methods of re-working musical components to emphasise rhythm or melody, find their counterpart in Brennand-Wood 's exploration, transposition and re-orchestration of the elements at his disposal. Maintaining links with his textile sensibility, Michael Brennand-Wood has significantly extended his vocabulary and shown new work that indicates he still has plenty to say.
1. Michael Brennand-Wood quoted in Anna Burch, Michael Brennand-Wood - Working on the Edge, (exh. cat.), 1988.