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The month of May bears with it the familiar sentiments of maternal love and (grand)motherly affections. While the smorgasbord of department stores, florists, advertisements and glossy catalogues during this time each seek to facilitate the (trans)action of our loving tributes, Kathryn Kerswell delivered with impeccable timing a grandmother's day exhibition. Titled Abundance the exhibition was indeed an intimate journey, but one that appropriates, transcends and ultimately consolidates the conventional iconography of grandmotherhood with a vibrant quirkiness and rigorous dialogue.
Carefully encased in the window front of the gallery, the work featured a delicate ensemble of media both precious and everyday. An aluminum flyscreen frame taut with yellow nylon netting provided a tableau upon which rows of delicate crisp white patty pans were stitched; each one finished with an individually centred button. Visually, the effect paid homage to the white chrysanthemums traditionally given on mother's day, but peripherally they evoked a nostalgic presence with the fond recollections we hold of grandma's bottled button collections and her penchant for sewing, cross stitch and baking cakes.
Suspended in front of the frame was an embroidery hoop once again rigid with a kitsch remnant of nylon netting reminiscent of homemade tutus and fairy costumes. Pinned onto its unyielding circumference was a series of exquisite gold caste broaches, each one capturing the unique poise of a baby unfurling, reaching, turning and sitting. These anamorphic silhouettes however, do not seek to plot a generic chronology of infancy but rather allude to cherished memories and moments. Kerswell 's delicate accolades aroused in us visions of elderly grandmothers adorned with broaches of semi precious stones rendered in the forms of animals and inanimate objects. lt is an association that brings to mind the way in which precious jewelry is realised exclusively in the form of anonymous designs and never in the iconic embodiment of those we revere most dearly. Department stores have attempted to penetrate this void with the mass production of gold plated angel pins (or putti), which function as a type of Rococo adornment to be exchanged and worn to mark significant events and celebrations. Kerswell's angels however, supersede this sensibility; they are the veritable embodiment of 'wearing your heart on your sleeve'.
Embellishing the poignancy of the artist's iconic tributes is the nature of the material itself as a finite resource revered and sought after throughout history. Her use of gold makes an association with reproductive technologies and in particular the trading of human zygotes, which tailor 'designer babies' according to our capricious preferences. Triumphantly, Kerswell 's gold angels, remain impenetrable, preserved eternally by a material both sacred and resilient to modern day alchemists. In both its corporeal and metaphysical presence Abundance illuminated and celebrated the inestimable, the pure and the adored. The sophistication of this dialogue however, was augmented by the space in which the piece operates. Situated in the window front of the gallery itself, Kerswell successfully choreographed a thematic alliance with those displays seen in department stores like Myers and David Jones which also pay visual homage to Mother's Day. Synonymous with strategies employed by these commercial sites, her work sought to arrest the attention of passers-by (including children and drivers) by positioning the piece below eye level within a shallow space that takes on a luminous and festive aura at nightfall.
The locus of the exhibition, both peripheral to the internal gallery space and to the public domain, blurs expectations of commercial aesthetics masquerading as art and vice versa. Unlike our retail excursions to the mall, Kerswell 's work does not need to be consummated at the cash register. Instead we are offered an opportunity to reconsider anew the dialect of our iconic exchanges and tributes.