footnotes of a verdurous tale

sebastian di mauro 1987-2009
Queensland University of Technology Art Museum, Brisbane
31 October 2009 - 31 January 2010

In one of the back rooms of Sebastian di Mauro’s survey exhibition at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) were receptacles of olive oil in a series of small lakes formed inside mounds of raw sugar. Surrounded by carpet underlay, which contributed its ‘old’ smell to the visual experience, and hand written text on the wall, this was a reinstallation of di Mauro’s early Respirare (1999), which I saw in a dank room in the valley (the Institute of Modern Art at Gipps Street) in the 1990s. The scent of the oil, the warmth of the sugar (stronger in the earlier installation which included suspended lights heating the oil), created strong sensory overload.

In an adjacent room at QUT were di Mauro’s ‘Floccus’ works. Some oversized, many with yawning crevices and voids, their carpet underlay material exuded mustiness and contributed to a confronting dalliance with such personal phobias as vertigo, claustrophobia or lack of control. Each of the many discrete spaces in QUT’s galleries contributed another chapter to di Mauro’s oeuvre, and to an understanding of his key interests which curator Simone Jones has described as developing an ‘ebb and flow throughout his work, receding to make way for each other and for new forms before returning in another body of work’. The exhibition opened with the more recent Astroturf sculptures, and in this tightly curated selection the threads of di Mauro’s career came together and pulled tight. This experience was a fairly common one with many of the audience noting their positive responses in the visitor’s book.

Both exhibition and book are titled Footnotes of a verdurous taleSebastian di Mauro 1987-2009 and together make sense of the diversity of Sebastian di Mauro’s artistic oeuvre, its sensual viscerality, and the glorying in tactile experience, surface and smell, drawing art together with experiences from life. Amassing this quantity of work over some two decades may have a similar impact with other artists, but in di Mauro’s case, while many of these works have been seen over the years, his lack of a commercial exhibition history in Brisbane means that the linkages between the works are rarely viewed, even though di Mauro is a presence in the Brisbane art scene.

The ‘verdurous’ forms made from Astroturf between 2002–2008, were ranged like a crazy group of doormats along the walls, followed by the Yves Klein blue neoprene organic forms which allude to di Mauro’s faith in the restorative power of the ocean. Amongst his most recent works are the neoprene ‘Float’ sculptures which comment on the efforts at human environmental control, and cross-reference the charred surfaces of early works such as the ‘Transience’ series, and the burnt timber with bluish tones of the latest works. The juxtapositions make evident the artist’s playful use of materials and ideas, a child-like wonder in the forms which may be conjured out of modern found materials.