Promises, promises: Sharyn Woods

Free time. Curator: Philip Watkins
Cast Gallery, Hobart

2004 has been particularly busy for galleries in Hobart.  lnflight Gallery has moved from the chilly Letitia Street Studios in North Hobart to Elizabeth Street in the CBD. Criterion Gallery, Hobart's newest commercial art space opened its doors in April and has quickly become a close rival to CAST Gallery in its presentation of cutting edge art. Offering a new outlet for collectors and widening the breadth of contemporary art seen in Tasmania, Criterion Gallery represents prominent young Tasmanian art stars Megan Keating, Neil Haddon and Matt Calvert, alongside national art heavy weights Deborah Paauwe and Derek O'Connor.

Following the August 2003 departure of well-known Tasmanian arts luminary and former CAST Director, Sean Kelly (now at the helm of Ireland 's National Sculpture Factory), Contemporary Art Services Tasmania has undergone an administrative overhaul.  At times criticised, perhaps unfairly, for its choice of exhibitions and close-knit gang of committee members, CAST has taken a turn for the better under the deft hand of new Director, Michael Edwards.

CAST's first solo exhibition for 2004 was 'Promises, Promises' by Sharyn Woods, an artist known for working closely with the surfaces of industrial materials.  At first glance, blocky objects and wall-sized panels of looming proportions appeared sparsely spaced around the gallery. On closer inspection, the defining nature of Woods' work became apparent. Festering over the surface of each work were corrosive marks; burnt, scratched and torn into recycled MDF, plaster and steel.

The measured aggression evident throughout Promises, Promises was particularly menacing in Gift, 2004. Several caramel wooden blocks arranged in the shape of a 'gift box' were bound tightly with an ominous black bow, scorched, and bleeding its ebony colour with vein-like precision onto the facade of the mysterious box.

Woods' ability to combine destructive force with meticulous control gave her work an acquired subtlety that hinted at beauty in the midst of searing confusion.  In the act of severing her materials apart, binding them forcefully back together and peeling away the layers of the newly constructed surface to expose the scarred innards, Woods offered an emotionally charged selection of work that challenged the viewer with its raw and unerring sense of intimacy.

Comparatively, 'Free Time', a group show curated by Philip Watkins, did not have the same smouldering intensity of Promises, Promises. In Free Time, the physical mark of the artist was less visible in the mix of digital and conceptually based work. Based on the theme of 'time is money', Watkins chose artists whose work explored how time and space is measured in contemporary society. The worth of an individual worker is often based on their financial output and value is accorded to space in terms of how much it can yield economically. Melbourne artist Louisa Bufardeci directly referenced this theme in Governing Values, 2003-4, a series of six digital prints detailing statistical information on reconfigured world maps. Barely recognisable were the warped outlines of countries and continents removed from their geographical positions and squashed together in emblematic shades of green and blue. All traces of individual life were removed and terra firma became nothing more than a place to produce food or store weapons.

Canadian Micah Lexier recorded time through a 'monetary' system charting gain and loss. Using gold coins and a clear plastic piggybank, Lexier rewarded the viewer for time spent viewing CAST Gallery Hours, 2004. For each hour, gallery patrons were asked to sign a time sheet placed next to Lexier's work. In return, the lucky viewer was given a specially designed coin-a reminder of time spent well. All gold coins not claimed were placed in the piggybank by gallery staff.  Interpreting time as a subjective experience rather than a material one, Sydney based artist Elvis Richardson documented 'in-between' time (described

in the accompanying exhibition text as 'the time between this and that place and back again ') through twin DVD projections of landscape viewed from inside a speeding train. While zipping past a snow covered suburban locale, the viewer was offered a song to play.  Like listening to a walkman while travelling, Before & After, 2004, evoked a sense of solitude and emphasised how music is often one of the most effective ways of recording time and rekindling memory.

The digital projections in Free Time proved to be the most intriguing and along with Richardson's Before & After, John Vella 's Hobart Portrait Group: Life Drawing Session 27/02/2004 came out on top. Projected in three large panels into the corner of the gallery were a group of middle-aged artists sitting with their easels propped up on a sun-drenched table. A chair was positioned directly in front of the work and headphones allowed the viewer to listen in on the softly spoken conversation.

Watching the artists in the room, one soon became aware of their gaze. Vella had pointed the camera from his position as the life model, simultaneously returning the gaze of the artists in recorded form. Unassumingly, Vella juxtaposed the differing ideals associated with time spent working on art as a leisure activity and art as a full-time professional practice. In a mutual exchange of artistic ritual, Vella and the Portrait Group employed the same voyeuristic means to a very different end.

In other work, Marco Fusinato displayed a series of plastic LP's, all holding the sound of silence-a poignant record of time passing. Sculptor Ben Booth offered one of his better works to date and in Rim, 2004, Booth attempted to 'reverse' the time saving efforts of industrial machinery by reconstructing wooden garden stakes back into solid form.

Although vastly differing in style and content, Promises, Promises and Free Time were sophisticated shows. Woods' desire to unashamedly indulge in a painstaking art making process gave Promises, Promises a palpable intimacy sometimes lost in overly slick contemporary art shows. In Free Time, Watkins' curatorial expertise was clearly evident and the result was a seamless presentation of thought provoking, high quality work.