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Spiritual and Dream is dominated by its physicality. Glen Henderson's painted carved reliefs have a startling visual impact which call to mind ancient Greek friezes, hieroglyphs, tableaux, fossils. These references may be associative but they are deliberate. 1t is an exhibition based on an "art of inclusion "1 with a wide art historical embrace of archaic forms and pre-existent images. The artist is cast as archaeologist. The subject matter of the exhibition is not explicit, but like the archaeological artist, the viewer is invited to decipher signs and markings which are at once intensely familiar and deliberately estranging. Cultural icons, both contemporary and ancient are woven into an overriding aesthetic of form which homogenises and excludes. The forms speak to each other lucidly but their content remains, to us, elusive.
Of course, the strategy of using elusive content caught self-referentially within an insignia aesthetic is the coup of modernism and the ideal vehicle for calling upon the sub-textual primitive, the subconscious dream and the 'spiritual '. However, Glen Henderson's art, while happily falling within a modernist tradition, also attempts to supersede it. This she does, not through a process of deconstruction, but through a more positive attempt at redefinition. Spiritual and Dream affirms the concepts of spirituality and primitivism while also seeking to redefine them.
Henderson 's primitive references are not based on the ethnocentric construct of the art object versus artefact (images of African masks, totem poles, etc.). Rather, the carved wooden reliefs are equally as suggestive of classical friezes as of tribal ceremony and seem to refer to cultural heritage rather than the exotic 'other'. Henderson's work is more concerned with reinvesting tribal sacredness into contemporary culture than with making the predefined primitive secular and aesthetic.
The work divides into two distinct groups. In the first the land forms dominate. In the second, the dominant forms are gestural and symbolic, and frequently these groups overlap in one picture .2
Henderson has chosen a group of symbols most of which are culturally saturated and overburdened – the cross, tree, heart, mandala and figures standing, crouching or floating. That her work teeters on the extremes of the mystical and the kitsch is, to her, tremendously exciting. The two works hung together facing the entrance of the gallery Shrine and This Land of Ours confront the viewer, display these two extremes and precis the imagery used throughout the show. Shrine, left uncovered of the wax layers used in other works, is a raw work of red incorporating found objects. Its powerful, more subtle, symbology combined with a 'savage' presentation creates a work that is at once sophisticated and 'primitive'-working to redefine these concepts. Shrine is mystical, ritualistic and thereby suggests authentic cultural meaning. This Land of Ours, on the other hand, is a softened waxed work of pallid pink with a central heart motif. Thus the work conflates the kitsch and the naive to signify cultural exhaustion . Spiritual and Dream explores the boundaries and origins of cultural definition, positively endorsing ideas of collective symbolism, of ritual and of aesthetic formalism in art making.
Like Hollie, Mona Ryder and Judy Watson, Glen Henderson is concerned with re-mythologising our culture, re-investing the artwork with a spiritual aura through a re -written heritage. These artists, and their works, collectively oppose the secularisation of the art object which late capitalist postmodernism aims to achieve. Theirs is a positive practice which uses the eclecticism of our postmodern era to draw upon a multi-cultural heritage synthesized within a ritual aesthetic. As such Henderson's work denies the nihilism of postmodernism's millenarianist rhetoric and focuses its attention on organic growth, the investment of cultural meaning and the potent collective value of the art object.
1 & 2. Glen Henderson, Artist's Statement accompanying the exhibition.