Formless

Soapbox Gallery, Brisbane

Formless, an exhibition of installations, was curated by Franz Ehmann. He included six artists, connecting them loosely in pairs - Jacinta Bennink and Sebastian di Mauro, Susan Ostling and Stephen Roberts, Nameer Davis and Barbara Penrose. Each artist interpreted the curator's intention slightly differently, but all related to a certain 'liquefaction', creating work which fell outside the frame of traditional formats.

It is difficult to dissociate my response to this exhibition from the olfactory, thanks to the relatively delicate odour of the olive oil in Sebastian Di Mauro's work and the more pungent aroma of Susan Ostling's potatoes. Di Mauro's work was a pleasantly odorous field associating biographic and more 'recuperative' references. Ostling's Starry Night positioned potato sproutings on the wall of the space, the horizontality of the potato's typical earthbound existence being transformed into this astral application, while the aroma in the room grew more flavoursome as time went on.

The installations of Di Mauro and Jacinta Bennink complemented each other ably, Bennink working with stacks of folded paper dipped in beeswax, suspended somewhat above the floor-level work of Di Mauro. The suspension of the work at mouth-level made for a slightly unexpected body-twist, with an almost oral consumption of the taste, smell and texture of the work being required. The silence of Bennink's work hovered over Di Mauro’s field of fragments of language and the two installations, displaying like sensibilities in their approach to the formless, were very much in tune.

Stephen Roberts's spiral choreography of three hundred glazed clay vessels employed a Japanese cloud design to allude to the cosmos. His work gestured skyward, also implying transcendence. The ostensible connection between Roberts' and Ostling 's works was an interest in clay, and I felt that, for example, Roberts might have left his vessels unglazed to produce a greater rawness. Nonetheless, this was his first foray into installation. Susan Ostling's installation was perhaps the most conceptual in the exhibition, referring directly to Bataille, base materials and the transformative possibilities of matter. Along with the odour, her work became very memorable.

Nameer Davis and Barbara Penrose were the only pair in formless who chose not to exploit the higher/lower dichotomy. Davis presented a number of wooden relief formations on one wall, adjacent to Pen rose's work on another. He described his work as an attempt to loosen up the eye, to break it out of its fixity, perhaps like moving along a highway, and in keeping with the body-in-motion dimension of installation. The slivers of wood which were glued together and the painted ribbons of tone recalled his earlier folded work in paper, and the textual/tonal dimensions related to his on-going interest in musical instruments, sound and language. As Davis's work was visually complex, it may have been strategic to include fewer pieces in the installation. Barbara Penrose's work utilised a number of basketball hoops positioned at varying heights and 'bent out of shape' via her draping of red and yellow cloth around them. In this she maintained the rhythmic, repetitive aspect of her work generally, but the use of colour and the avoidance of the perfectly geometric also marked a departure. For me the work was clearly of the order of the body, and in this aspect it resonated with Bennink's installation. Penrose's typically unexpected positioning of the hoops elicited some interesting responses from viewers.