The convict and the jew

Sue Pedley & Tess Horwitz
Canberra Contemporary Art Space

Entering the space of The Convict and the Jew is to enter the etched out familial space of Sue Pedley and Tess Horwitz. Their combined histories are invoked here, cheekily referenced in the politically incorrect baldness of the moniker they have given to their exhibition. Pedley and Horwitz draw on these weighty words to form the framework for their collaborative efforts. However, this is not an exhibition showcasing a political essentialism of the 'Convict' and the 'Jew', but rather appropriates these tags to engage with the nuanced personalised histories of both artists.

These histories are inscribed geographically via their mapping of the space of past familial links. Their work traces a geography of familial ties, realised literally through the charting of their family histories in the space of this exhibition. The work is thus framed by a suggested geography that, incidentally, harks back to the literal localized identity of the convict in Van Dieman's Land and the Jew in Auschwitz. Cartographies are activated in the space through the traces left by photography, drawing, sound and the hushed light that animates these elements. Pedley and Horwitz articulate a mapping through imprinting, inscription, threading, a tying up of loose ends.

Maps and old portraits stain the surface of large paper and canvas lamps that hang in the centre of the exhibition space, giving them an archival terminology. A family tree on an adjacent wall forms a map of names on its branches that sprout across the wall, locating each family member in its hierarchical space. The marks of inscription of these family topographies in the exhibition are the residues of the artists' sifting and sorting through the stories that mark out family histories. They are the leftovers; the visible artefacts of this rehabilitation of family.

As such, the process by which marks are made, whether literally or through the 'mark' a family makes upon one, is important here. This emphasis on process, on the process of reaching into a family history to map its relations, is actualised in the whirlwind of activity encountered on the walls as one first enters the space. Whirls of branches spring from the wall, strings tumble over notational drawings, and remnants of crumbled plaster line the edges of the floor. A thread of sound stretches out the noise of scratching and scrabbling, testimony to the sounds of 'making'. These traces are a mapping of their process, their procession through the past, memories retained along the way.

Combined, the work of Pedley and Horwitz forms a palimpsest of histories in the space, layered atop one another to echo through the generations that are invoked here. In this sense, the stories that Pedley and Horwitz 'uncover' are those of erasure and reinscription, mapping specific histories through the accumulation of lore about them. To what extent, then, are they constructed through storytelling and myth-making?

Pedley and Horwitz construct a mapping of histories made personal through identification with them. The tenuous nature of this identification is reflected in the apparition of the family tree, which floats, backlit, upon an opaque white screen. There is the sense that in this insubstantial state it could dissolve and reconfigure, tumbling the tidy array of names affixed to its branches onto the ground in disarray. This installation is an acknowledgment of the overlapping intertextuality of the artists' histories, not grounding any one interpretation. Pedley and Horwitz leave a trail of breadcrumbs for us, then vanish. But not without a trace.