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Seven Tolkienesque mountain-scapes sit on plinths like floating islands casting shadows of treacherous heights and deep valleys across the gallery, conjuring up what Barrie Osborne, producer of The Lord of the Rings, calls ‘the primal, untamed and unruly landscape of the old European Countryside’. Immediately we are transported from postcolonial dialogues of the Top End to a mnemonic landscape inhabited in the recesses of the mind. The artist responsible for this paradigm shift is Anne Ooms, sporadic resident of Darwin over five years, bringing her Eurocentric imaginings into the fringes of the tropics.
In the exhibition catalogue, Ooms quotes Henry David Thoreau on the subject of sauntering. His declaration that ‘every walk is a sort of crusade preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the Infidels’ is a quest Ooms has taken up in the studio. Through her art we are catapulted into an adventure, a crusade, an epic journey or simply ushered off just to take a walk of poetic reverie.
A series of greyscale images in cloudlike formations on the wall act as aides to negotiating the miniature-scapes. These glyphs are aerial maps rendered from digitally scanned images of the models. A red dot marks a site of significance on each image, such as a lofty peak or a contemplative plateau, with accompanying evocative titles. Ooms has a history of delving into the fictitious and here it resurfaces with names such as The Tor of Natural Causes, The Wanderer’s Edge and The Ledge of Leaping Faiths. The viewer is encouraged to embark upon a mythical journey equipped with characters of his or her own making by creating links between the maps, the mountain-scapes and the identified sites of significance. We are invited to physically enact the imaginative experience.
Projected behind the scapes is a low-tech animation of a chalice with a leaping flame not unlike a flickering traffic beacon. The image is laden with symbolism: the hearth, the vessel, the Holy Grail. A spiritual quest is implied yet the caricature mocks a sense of higher purpose, cajoling the viewer. And so it is with the work of Anne Ooms; contradiction and oxymoron are at play.
Ooms’s theatrical lands act as vehicles to places many of us have explored in childhood through fairy tales and mythological epics. In his book, On Poetic Imagination and Reverie (1987), Gaston Bachelard explains that in childhood we experience a natural reverie and solitude which is filed away in the core of the human psyche and it is here that ‘imagination and memory are most closely interwoven’. These diminutive highlands permit the imagination to roam freely into remembered stories and unknown adventures.
Ooms arrives at reverie through her primary preoccupation, reading. Sven Birkerts’s The Guttenberg Elegies (1994) has profoundly influenced the artist’s thinking. Birkerts expounds on the ability of a reader to enter into a deep reading state which comes from the commitment to reading a book slowly and meditatively. Rather than just reading ‘the words, we dream our lives in their vicinity’. Reading can be understood as a means of inhabiting an imaginary world and this imaginary world, in turn, can permeate the reader’s world. This idea of a reading state has been explored previously by Ooms in a series of installations referred to as The Reading Rooms. One such work titled The Grotto staged armchairs, tables, reading lamps and three small books used for opening a space to fictional worlds. The act of curling up in an armchair, leafing through pages, engaging with text is the phenomenology of Oom’s work. We can be exactly where we are while entering an entirely new temporal world.
This show was pure delight. Enchanted by the fantastic landscapes my sense of reality was suspended. Interiority and fictiveness were given precedence through intriguing means. I was led by the conviction of the artist, conveyed through craftsmanship, focused attention and rigorous editing. The ‘pilgrimage’ is implicit yet a sense of morality is confounded by amusement, a product of miniaturisation and animation. The Journey of Unspoken Things woke me up from somnambulism to a state of heightened awareness where the reservoir of imagination is regenerated.
Anne Ooms, The journey of unspoken things, 2005. Mixed media. Installation view, 24HR Art, Darwin. Courtesy the artist.