Mute

Nick Ashby, Sally Cox, Lynne Kennedy, Christine Morrow
Bellas Gallery, Brisbane

The four artists included in Mute position themselves within the contentious space of painting, which is increasingly accounted dead. While their enquiry is prompted within individual frameworks, Ashby, Cox, Morrow and Kennedy all exhibit a curiosity to keep looking at and questioning the secure and seemingly resolved edges of the framed space into which their practices have emerged.

In the case of Ashby and Kennedy this occurs very specifically within the square stretched format of the canvas. In their works references to Mute are taken up as an inquiry and an isolation of the painted surface as signifier. In Kennedy's work the surface is related very specifically to the body, while Ashby has isolated phrases from the end of letters to suggest an equivalence between gestural marks and endplays.

Less obvious and more challenging are Morrow's and Cox's suggestions of acts of exclusion which occur within that which is deemed a dominant artistic practice. Within the work of both of these artists there is a degree of self-reflexivity with regard to the role that they themselves play in the creation of a work of paintings' confines. More specifically addressing the dangers of self-inflicted silence, Morrow and Cox demonstrate a rigourous understanding of the complexity of issues surrounding discourses of difference.

Like the towel that refuses to hang neatly on the rack Morrow's Hygiene prompts speculation on the inclination to tidy up problems of representation. Caught rigidly within paint, the folds of her canvas towels are unable to fall into unruly waves of fabric. They hang in a state of suspended animation, reminders of the constant need for some substance to soak up messy excuses; to keep things in order.

Within the context of Mute this aspect of unwanted mess becomes quite poignant. Here Morrow's paintings/towels begin to reference a stiff and frozen state of fear. Trying to hang neatly within the square format of the painted plane they remain immobile and inarticulate.

While potentially morbid, Morrow, with her use of stiffened towels as a metaphor for a relationship to painting, does manage a lightness of touch. Drawing on more intimate understandings of the domestic and bodily, her Hygiene very honestly acknowledges the dangers of becoming stuck in too rigourous a definition of boundary. Engaged in personal understandings of the limitations of edges the viewer is invited to remember his or her own negotiations and then to reflect on how these may occur in a separation of painting from the reality it represents. Tempted to shake out the towel, to let it drop, I found myself in the presence of both the need to imagine, and the possibilities of imagining, my way beyond rigid categorisations.

On entering the space of Sally Cox's Scale, first impressions involve a similar sense of lightness and play. Discovering tape measures amongst spots and plastic tapes in stripes, there seems a willingness to move things about, over the edge, outside not only of a pictorial frame, but of expectations we may have concerning the appropriate material manifestation of painting.

Cox quite bravely treads the edge of a meaninglessness of painting. Refusing seductive surfaces and framed edges she tempts us into questions regarding the authority with which we construct pockets of understanding amongst familiar signifiers. In this work, references to painted gestures and marks are disrupted by the autonomy of the normally overlooked mass produced material from which they are made. Tape measures forming marks on the wall, rolled into points of reference, stretched to full height, never physically abandon their role as tape measures. In the presence of this 'stuff' I became aware of the process of looking.

How and where do I look? What was given priority? In which order? Looking had become a matter of degree, the defining of borders between objects and understanding.

Within this I am reminded of contemporary criticisms surrounding the authoritative role visuality and particularly painting have held in Western constructions of meaning. Unlike many of these theories which are caught in a reactionary rephrasing of restrictive horizons, Cox's work sidesteps nihilistic undertones. Painting and its self-referential formalization are neither accepted nor rejected. Rather, both the act of painting and its blind spots are engaged as part of the artist's dynamic interactions within the everyday.

Moving through my own responses to this, it was a relief to sense less of a traumatic segmentation of painting/non painting, than Cox's curiosity to discover within the relationship between very different experiences, the difference of their difference. As a viewer invited into a process of embodied negotiation I felt engaged in a space of sustainable difference.

More importantly, this quality of difference and the playfulness with which Cox treats it also negotiate the dangers inherent in such defining and redefining. Tendencies towards defensive self-reflexivity were both acknowledged and addressed in the spirit of finding within understandings of painting, the impetus for renewal. Like the territory devised of surveying sticks, didactic definitions of position were able to move. This allowed for a consideration of the practice of painting as always relational and potentially changing.