Working across installation, sound, and performance, Brooke Ferguson explores the complex relationship between representational and abstract visual languages. Central to these explorations is the emphasis on drawing as both a formal and conceptual process that enables other creative possibilities to emerge through sound or performance works. Refrain/Reprise is the result of Ferguson’s Melville Haysom Memorial Arts Scholarship project and marks the first exhibition of her abstract drawings, bringing together a selection of works from several larger archives produced between 2013 and 2016. Chance-based strategies and everyday objects form the basis of these compositions that, while alluding to specific events, evade representational readings.
Refrain Reprise No. 1-90 (2014-2016) consists of a series of drawings produced by dropping different objects, such as tape, onto a page and then tracing their outline. Sometimes these silhouettes are simply outlines of the objects they trace. At other times, they appear as densely shaded, overlapping forms. This lends the drawings the impression that they are at various stages of completion, enabling a more open engagement between the works and the viewer. These strategies were strongly informed by George Brecht’s use of everyday and readymade objects in his systematic explorations of chance as a method for creating works. Brecht’s ‘event scores’ provide a framework for elucidating previously disregarded elements of everyday perceptual experience by allowing these experiences the same attention afforded to art.
Although Ferguson’s works appear abstract, they are strongly connected to external referents and visual cues. No. 1-20 (2013-2014) consists of a series of drawings of twisting, ribbon-like forms. As a document of the artist’s recollections of the ash from burning sugar cane caught in the wind that she experienced growing up in North Queensland, these drawings act as an inscription of these ephemeral memories. At the same time, they also set up a situation or a proposition, that the viewer can engage with and extend upon, through prompting curiosity about the processes that produced them. As the exhibition title suggests, these drawings could also be read as a form of score or musical notation. By providing a method for realising this through her drawing process, Ferguson opens up the unstable space between language, image and sound that many Fluxus artists also playfully explored in order to discover the aleatory potential of art and the everyday.
On a formal level, across the graphite works, dense areas of indistinguishable lines are contrasted against sketchier outlines and in turn, these works are interspersed between the repetitious patterns of more solidly contrasting circles, squares and lines. Other works consist of straight, sharp lines that seemingly dissect the forms they create. These contrast with short, feathery lines that wash over the surface of the page in wave-like patterns. In some compositions, the forms are all a solid grey, while in others the forms vary in tone. This creates an impression of perceptual depth as different shapes appear to clearly shadow one another. In other compositions however, what is in front and what is behind becomes increasingly indeterminable, as the shading used creates a confusing perception of the figure and ground of the drawings.
These graphite works create a dialogue between the different shades produced by the varying amounts of pressure applied to the pencil, as well as the patterns that emerge as the lead seemingly interleaves with the rippling textures of the cartridge paper. By drawing attention to the rich textural qualities produced by the pencil on the paper, these works reveal the subtle variations that emerge within these textures. The exhibition evokes a simultaneous sense of introspection and immediacy. There is an immediate visceral pleasure to the serial nature and scale of the drawings as they were displayed, yet Ferguson manages to retain a quiet monumentality within each individual drawing.
In Refrain/Reprise, Ferguson has restricted the use of colour to two works, No. 1-4 (2015), consisting of four panels, and B Y (2015), consisting of six panels, that employ contrasting primary colours in acrylic and gouache. These works represent a more deliberate investigation into modernist forms of abstraction, particularly those used by women artists of the mid to late twentieth century. Through their scale, structure, and high key colour, these works provoke another kind of dialogue with the more austere approach of the graphite works, increasing the pitch and volume of the exhibition.
The final work in the exhibition is Scott Ferguson Volume I (2015), produced collaboratively with Erika Scott. It consists of a vinyl record documenting their experiments in music, live performance, and spoken word. The repetitious, rhythmic noises of the music reflect the gestural qualities of Ferguson’s drawings, as well as her ongoing interest in the documentation and recording of sound. Similarly, the absurd or obscure references made throughout the spoken word reflect the basis of their collaboration, which is formed around shared patterns of speech, inflection, and humour. Refrain/Reprise represents how Ferguson’s wide ranging explorations have led to this collaborative effort. Moreover, it illustrates how mapping various approaches to art making provides an intersection for unexpected outcomes to emerge.
Brooke Ferguson, Refrain/Reprise No. 1-90, 2014–2016. Pencil on paper, each 21 x 29.7cm. Photograph Mark Sherwood. Courtesy the artist.
Installation view, (left to right) No. 1-4, 2015. Pencil on paper, 29.7 x 42cm, No. 1–4, 2014. Pencil on paper, each 21 x 29.7cm, No. 1-8, 2015. Pencil on paper, each 29.7 x 42cm. Photograph Mark Sherwood. Courtesy the artist.
Scott Ferguson (Erika Scott and Brooke Ferguson), Volume I, 2015–2016. 12” vinyl record. Photograph Sam Cranstoun. Courtesy the artist.
No. 1-4, 2015. Gouache, pencil on paper, each 29.7 x 42cm. Photograph Mark Sherwood. Installation views, Refrain/Reprise, Frank Moran Memorial Hall, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane. Courtesy the artist.