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Glenda Hobdell (aka LaBudda)
It is quite clear on entering the dimmed and spot-lit gallery space, that each element of Glenda Hobdell’s exhibition ‘Fmera’ is deliberately placed to be part of a whole. Light, projected images and digital audio-visuals are woven in a repeating pattern through the traditionally made artworks.
There are eight maps on show, each collaged onto fresco canvas panels which, when read as text, disintegrate from local, regional, provincial, continental and worldly, to become unreadable. In the end, it is the overlay of video through a scrim which renders the final two maps indecipherable. All that is left are the pulsating square map pieces, pixellated by the crosshatched furrows of the surface. There is a Braille subtext—as if we are blinded—and our senses are at least blunted by the staccato beeping of Morse code, which is superimposed on the audio track, seamlessly metamorphosing from a message that reads SMS to the persistent clicking of an SMS that reads SOS.
This exhibition looks at ‘…how we use new technologies to articulate ourselves…and the dehumanising aspects of communicating through new technologies’.1 At the same time it reminds us that communicating today is still done by a species which codifies information for communication. Those of us who know what the information means, know what is meant; whereas those who are not on the same wavelength, will not get it. It is our way of facilitating the getting of information to its target.
Surface and mark making have always been important to LaBudda, and layering a trademark of her work. Across the surface of each map a word is repeated. The text is meaningless except for the patterns and rhythms of its repetition, until it is read across all eight panels and makes the sentence ‘why don’t we talk to each other anymore’. Laid onto each map is a monolithic letter. The letter would seem to be a key to each painting, but is not. Across the eight panels, they spell EPHEMERA. To the left of each map a monochromatic projected image carries historical communication vignettes from ‘the olden days’ to the present. The images pick up speed through their spacing and are sequentially closer together as they rush to the present day digital audio-visual montage which flicks the senses around like the REM sleep of dreams.
There is an historical museum flavour about the whole show, accentuated by the ‘specimen’ lighting and highlighted by the three drawings on brown Kraft paper which document obsolete communication technologies.
Each work is charged by, loaded, layered and laboured with symbolism. LaBudda runs a risk of being too obvious, rendering the visual information didactically narrative instead of visceral. However, in these works, the subtlety of her symbolic intent mixed with a complex art making technique, deepens their intrigue and leaves one convinced of an unfathomable meaning.
Vicariously, through her children and students, LaBudda is at the coal-face of contemporary communication issues for young people. It is her contention that,
The effects of time are becoming increasingly significant to our lives. It seems…that in our rapidly paced world, as we now hear so often, the only constant is change. To many, communication was once a means of keeping in touch with those who were already close: the party-line telephone connected neighbours; letters kept relatives and friends in touch; a chat in the local store kept us informed. Today, communication has become a vast technical journey into an anonymous world, obliterating the traditional boundaries that once confined it.2
LaBudda demonstrates this contention admirably, and yet when communication becomes connection (that is, when it elicits a response); it seems that nothing has changed. If our connectedness, despite change and through communication, is the issue, then time is the currency and there is more to spend now than in the past. The inflationary pressure of the present, like the compressed text of an SMS has altered the rhythm of time, and means it is spent faster and cheaper.
The time it takes to communicate has changed as have the methods, but like turning on a light bulb, it is clear when there is a connection. Effective communication is the stuff we respond to. For some, the automated telephone call system or the early evening telemarketers call will never be a way to connect despite the communication; as too will a poorly understood technology render that form of communication unconnectable.
The ephemera in our lives are often the most important and life changing. A near death experience, a deeply felt response to someone’s communication, and a connection through observation, are all momentary; and despite progress and technology are felt in the same way now as in previous generations.
1. Alderton, S., From opening address at The Bundaberg Arts Centre, 15 December 2004.
2. Hobdell, G., Artist statement: FMera ex. cat., Bundaberg Arts Centre, 2004.