22 July to 11 August 2011
Essay by Dr Irene Barberis
This solo exhibition brings together a series of ecologically-based works, which each tell an individual narrative about time and place. It focusses on the concepts of recollection and collection—of memory, of something remembered from the past, and of something collected and preserved.
In a world becoming evermore complex with each new geographic and scientific discovery, the ideal cabinet of curiosities constituted an attempt to produce an overall picture of this world, the cosmos. Within its limited space the cabinet of curiosities presented a microcosm, reproducing the general picture, the macrocosm, on a reduced scale. 1
Our notion of the 'Wunderkaamer'—the wonder room—has shifted somewhat from the 18th Century collections of Albertus Seba, but the impulse to collect and to try and 'see the universe in a tea cup', is ever present in contemporary busy life. Sally Cleary finds fascination in all respects in the forests and fields of Boonah, an Australian country coastal region, collecting, sorting and archiving portions and pieces from this unusual southern rainforest. Tiny nests, pieces of wire, twigs, porcelain, twine and myriads of other paraphernalia are found and delicately positioned into interior contexts—preserving them from natural decay and damage caused by the natural environment.
In this exhibition, a set of wooden boxes have been sourced from a secondhand store (all originally from a ceramics factory) and become 'nests', containers of the most fragile of natural constructions—the birds nest. "The bird plays an important role in my work as someone/something that is truly at home in the bush. Feathers from parrots and other indigenous birds are interspersed with other found and handmade objects. There is a dead sparrow in one of the boxes, which is obviously not indigenous, but identifiable. The nest is also an obvious metaphor. The found objects are usually discovered by me in the landscape. I question their existence (past and present), their relationship to the place, and their materiality. Like my own existence, I ask if they belong here?" 2
This exhibition is layered: it gently forces us to look at location and our relationship to the environment—to where our place of being and the symmetries and balances needed for sustainment are. Where do we belong? Do we become a 'cabinet of curiosities' ourselves housed in the microcosm of urban life, or are we relegated to a psychological space of isolation and dislocation? Where is the 'place' of intersection and consistency? Cleary poses these questions of transience, vulnerability and location to us.
Her positioning of the 'nests' low to the ground, and her representation of the fragments of the forest floor, reminds us of another 'capturing of time' in ceramic, that of the second century Roman mosaic, 'The Unswept Floor' 3 where bits and pieces of glass are formed into figurations of the detritus from the after party, or overflows of kitchen preparations. Mark Dion's work also comes to mind as a presenter of installation-based works, filled with environmental and scientific objects; he demands of the viewer to reconsider what has been presented by the institution or governing body and to stand firm on the principle that it is the artist's role is to challenge perceptions on all levels. Reiterating this stance and inquiry is crucial, I believe, in the filtering out of dominant and potentially weighted political nodes and understandings. Cleary, in this strong and tactile presentation, seeks to remind us to re-look, re-value and gaze on the forgotten, overlooked or even trampled minutiae and residue of the land—to be a participant and take responsibility for the condition and preservation of our precious environment.
Cleary's evocative interventions are seen alternatively in the beautifully manipulated and layered photographs. Here land, identity, the exterior and interior are melded into one surreal still of apprehended time. Shadows play across smooth white ceramic surfaces, tensions contract as we notice that the darkened sky is actually the charcoal remains of the burnt forest, and a feather hovers above what seems to be a solid shape but is in fact another layer of atmosphere—here there is poetry, recollections and dreamings.
This installation is a pertinent reminder and redresses the genuine ecological challenge of balancing our interface within each particular environment; for Cleary it's her actual presence, coexistence and 'being' in the land at Boonah.
Dr Irene Barberis
Dr Irene Barberis is the Founder and Director of Metasenta™ Pty Ltd and a Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at RMIT University
1 Musch, I. (ed.) 2001 Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, Tashchen, London
2 Conversation with Sally Cleary, May 2011
3 The Unswept Floor by Heracleitus, ITY, 2nd century AD. Mosaic variant of 2nd BC painting by Soso of Pergamon
Home is a colourful oasis amongst the forest. The garden is planted out with non-indigenous flowering shrubs, trees and ground covers, where even the native plants are introduced for their splendid foliage and array of brilliant flowers, colours and unusual sculptured shapes... callistemon, grevilleas, correas & banksias. The native birds have a field day sucking the nectar from red-hot pokers and agapanthus, and foraging through the forget-me-nots and daffodils. A sacred bamboo growing in the courtyard amongst arum lilies, covered by an ornamental grape vine, is home to a protective blue fairy wren who spends most of his day pecking at his own reflection in the window. (Sally Cleary, 2011)
Living in the Otway Ranges, South Eastern Victoria, was the catalyst for my body of work, which draws on the post colonial landscape: land, identity and ecology. I am consciously aware of the changing natural environment due to introduced plants and animals (including human beings), for agricultural purposes and the need to feel comfortable in the untamed/unfamiliar landscape. Re-collections is a study of things found, collected and preserved, which remind me of different places I have visited. These collections are randomly categorised by shape, colour and material-drawing attention to the identity of the objects, questioning their origin and function. My work identifies many indigenous and non-indigenous plant and animal species, which I abstractly replicate in ceramics and juxtapose with other ephemeral objects to draw attention to their identity, fragility and beauty. I do not discriminate between the forms, but seek to make a connection with our fragile existence, and relationship to the environment. Photography is a natural extension of these assemblages.
The installation, silent river, is a collaboration with my nephew, John Nguyen, who is currently completing his BA Fine Art at RMIT in Sound Art. This work recollects the seasonal creeks that criss-cross our arid land and reflects on recent droughts and wasteful usage of water, particularly the Murray River, where I visited lasted year.
The New Pretty