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Alchemy was never going to work, but without it the scientific method itself would never have emerged and crystallised into a useful approach for understanding the complexities of existence. Alchemy was caught up in symbols and magic, but it also marked a shift out of an era dominated by fear and superstition into the world we live in now. It is easy, even tempting, to belittle and scoff, but that removes everything that alchemy may still reveal about the progress of knowledge: a reliance on odd magic symbols, and concerns with the elements, was a complex human navigation that did not end up at the destination the people investigating them set out for—lead was not turned into gold. Almost by accident, however, humanity was taken somewhere important. Alchemy may not have worked, but it did succeed.
Analogous with alchemy, Eloise Kirk’s amorphous practice is a complex vernacular of form and material. This work can be read as a kind of navigation, with her deceptively simple, clean and precise work having something in common with esoteric sigils, magical formula and maps of the heavens. Kirk utilises a palette of materials that have the weighty implication of the concept of the four elements, precisely chosen and shaped into collage; a dark, shiny resin that seems like some form of primordial ooze; rough, sack-like material, paint and most recently, metal. Kirk forms these elemental materials, using the technique of assemblage, into a sequence of symbolic forms that have an occult resonance: stylised clouds, pyramid-like triangles, rugged crystal shapes and geometric echoes. Kirk’s art draws on a complex personal codex of symbolic form, techniques and materials; she returns to certain shapes as if they have a particular significance, yet does not seem bound by them, expanding her palette of materials and meaningful shapes slowly, as if evolving an epic narrative composed solely of images. Kirk’s art feels vey much like evocation, a bringing of something into being, something vast and slow.
Her series of works at Colville Gallery pushed at the edges of traditions for visual art that is mounted on walls, and had a strong sculptural element; this element became a fully formed strategy in her most recent exhibition of work, Black Smoker, at Contemporary Art Tasmania’s Project Space. Here, she made an installation that transformed the small room into an entire work that one might step into, but it also includes one of her smaller works. The effect is that of a kind of recursion that creates a subtle vertigo, again weaving the surrealist non-logic of dream into her work in a new way.
What Kirk does exceptionally well is create a sensation of enigma. She may well be a kind of contemporary surrealist, whose work has that peculiar quality of the murky transfer between the state of dream and the waking world, for despite the precision with which she creates her work, and the obvious gestures toward meaning, there is no didactic singular reading possible. Kirk knows her forms and understands their usage—there is nothing hesitant in her installation work, where every element is aligned with the precision of calligraphy—but she hesitates to truly pin things down, and nor should she. Kirk’s art is alchemical; it is the understanding that existed before reason. Her choices evoke mythology and echo symbols of the unconscious mind, and remind of the turmoil from which reason arose.
Eloise Kirk, Other Masses, 2016. Collage, resin and pigment, 65 x 48cm.
Eloise Kirk, Nimbo, 2016. Collage, resin, acrylic and binder, 50 x 38cm.
Eloise Kirk, Smoke Follows Beauty, 2015. Acrylic and collage, 83 x 63cm.
Eloise Kirk, Black Smoker. Detail, Contemporary Art Tasmania.