Cutting from soft stone

Helga Groves
First Draft West, Sydney

... the more we study man... the less we are in a position  to know him


Peacocks, the superstitious tell us, are birds of ill omen; opals are gemstones of poor faith, worn on the path to deception, waywardness, untruth and eventual ruin. Art is stolen from lite, or at least from a continuity that it (art) rejects by stopping change and playing tricks of permanence. It excuses itself of the alterations it makes to 'reality' by laying claim to the truth of sensation. This is what the romantics believed, that there was some underlying essence in what was fleeting. But what of sensation? What is the method of its truth? For if art is said to find so much, the artistic method (as if it were separate) may yield the way to opening- whatever truth, any truth. Groves' exhibition was important for the way it attempted, and succeeded, in absorbing aspects of art's making into its aesthetic content. Formatted on a few levels, Groves used the notion that while the final or resolved product can never be properly separated from the pains that went into making it, ceasurae are immanent, even necessary. What is interesting is that they are less structured than arbitrary. The effect suddenly becomes wrenched from the cause so that we are forced to think of them separately in order to make sense of arts true nature, that is, a broad understanding of its genesis and the result. In short, the analysis of art is carried out by distantiating effect and cause so as to reach the topic of their inextricability.

During our visual experience of Groves' work, two poles of engendering and engendered are rarely prominent together but come in repetitious waves, like the soft rose-like pattern on all the surfaces. Almost like roses lifted from high contrast film, these were in fact the patterns made by an opal when sliced and observed under an electron microscope. So specious, we comfort ourselves that we are looking at what pleases us when we are looking at the amplified core of a demonic gem.

Opals are most intricately porous, comprised of the minutest ellipsoid particles that, when formed into a far greatermellipse, cause light to refract into the coloured flecks that come so snugly from within. In geometry as in Nature, the purest ellipse is the circle and when an opal is composed of circles the colours· refracted are all the more brilliant and iridescent.

 Entities and subjects are taken by so many even spherical (Kierkegaard). Never able to grasp anything in its entirety, every aspect of its subject, that are as sweeping as they are appropriate. Always but one view, it takes a clean slice from a manifold from which it amplifies particular zones of interest. As in the process of making, where it is unavoidable, Groves used these ideas to delineate aesthetic form.

Five composite abstractions, from two to twenty-five parts per piece, all used the same repeated motif of connected spheres, rose-like for their  incidental flaws. This was done by laborious but soothingly meditative tracing. Every sheet of paper was displayed (twenty-five parts) in rolls placed vertically in a corner. One five-part abstraction, installed so that the panels were closely imbricated, used large ellipses superimposed on the 'rose' pattern. The latter, already a generalisation, had been subjected, once again, to another generalisation when the artist performed the act of choice, honing, at the expense of all that around it. The ellipses were at once  random and aesthetically controlled which leads us to speculate the level of choice subject as much to a material situation on which something is based as it is on the disciplined but unquantifiable degree of aesthetic preference.

Using the two-choice and idea, cause and effect-as the reductive figure for the understanding of their unalterable co-existence, we arrive deposit of knowledge that is a logical progression of smaller conclusions. The opal, tackled by a scientific method, loses as much as it gains in the journey to its visual and optical essence. Each stage in this quest is its own {opalescent) sphere and the changes dispel as many truths of nature as they uncover; in fact detail extracts less than it finally abandons. Art is a deceitful opal: slowly summoning what we never entirely wanted or expected, lowering our guard to elusive, furtive forgetting... ellipsis.


... the more we study man .. the less we are in a position  to know him. Rousseau