Inhabited Architecture – ‘World Sculpture News’


Arts article in Asian Art News

Inhabited Architecture

Chrissie Cotter Gallery

At Chrissie Cotter Gallery, nestled between a thriving urban vegetable garden and rows of century-old terrace houses, four female artists—Susan O’Doherty, Freya Jobbins, Ro Murray, and Mandy Burgess—explore the social, political, and economic complexities of the domestic sphere. A set of draftsman’s drawings hangs alongside delicate furnishings made out of molded paper; alluring assemblages of vintage crockery are installed next to cluttered Barbie-doll dens. Each artist investigates the private interior space as a source of desire and memory, fantasy and drudgery, joy and loss, love and fear.

The artists, who work with mixed media and all Sydney-based, have each made their own physical space within the gallery, filled with assemblages, sculptures, and collages. The spaces are not occupied, but human presence is felt through the domestic iconography on display.

O’Doherty’s assemblages, paintings, and freestanding sculptures are pleasant to the eye. Against modernist patterns of soft furnishings— vibrant wallpaper, bedspread, tablecloth, and floor tile designs—sit harmonious arrangements of gleaming kitchen implements. Tea-and sugar canisters, milk bottles, tea cups, and egg beaters float alongside discarded ‘feminine’ lingerie and evening bags, as well as the odd children’s shoe. A department-store mannequin’s hand sits on a table, sporting a perfect set of fire-engine-red nails. A pair of shiny black pumps rest amidst rolling pins, upturned Schweppes bottles, baby rattles, and an empty ashtray.

Initially, these items speak to homely bliss, until your eye is drawn to the other items within the composition. Skillfully placed within this homage to domesticity are sharp knives and hammers, pistols and razors. Open scissors are splayed on the floor; handguns take the place of flowers inside delicate ceramic vases. Hints of domestic violence are everywhere in her careful compositions. Behind the objects of quotidian routine are allusions to volatility and danger, at inside and outside the home. O’Doherty highlights the differences between our public and private worlds; in her idealized environments, household order often masks emotional tensions and unresolved conflicts.

Freya Jobbins has sourced her supplies from op shops and garage sales; however, you’d likely find her rummaging through the toy section rather than kitchenware. Jobbins has built up a popular following through her elaborate assemblages made entirely from abandoned plastic dolls. Hundreds of dismembered Barbie and Bratz dolls are now playful sculptures, based on the paintings by the 16th-century artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who composed ornate portraits entirely out of fruit, vegetables, and flowers.

The heads and humanoid forms Jobbins makes out of broken toys are provocatively grotesque. At times, they are reminiscent of Patricia Piccinini’s human hybrids. One piece features a pristine white crib housing a freakish baby composed entirely of plastic body parts.

Raiding toy boxes all over Sydney, Jobbins’s art borders on the obsessive and fetishistic, yet her work has a serious intent. She refers to her practice as “upcycling;” the process of collecting discarded children’s items to draw attention to the rampant consumerism that has taken hold in developed societies. Our throwaway culture quickly disposes one line of toys once a new fad is produced. Jobbins’s anarchistic installations present both a children’s fantasy land and a social critique of capitalism now that is as pointed as it is mischievous.

Ro Murray directly draws upon her former life as an architect to inform her current conceptual-art practice. In this suite of works, she transforms her ‘dead-filed’ architectural plans, overlaying them with bold lino prints in red and black. Using a combination of organic and geometric shapes, they harken back to the stark utilitarian designs of the Constructivist art movement from the early 1900s. The works hang like ethereal banners in the gallery space, fluttering on a long line of pegs. Although their meaning is elusive, they could be making reference to the transitional nature of housing and how easily this security can be lost in the current social and economic climate.

Mandy Burgess has also addressed the transient nature of the home through the very physical medium of her papermaking. Burgess creates sculptural objects out of paper pulp based on domestic interiors. Handmade doors and fireplaces seem to gradually dissolve and slowly disintegrate. The sculptures refer to the home as a site of impermanence and decay. The sculptures are as intangible as memories; like ghostly effigies of homes lived in one’s past or in one’s imagination. Demonstrating the tenuous nature of the home and hearth, the artist implies that material security is often wafer-thin. The ‘happy home’ is often as flimsy as a paper facade.

The public face versus the private realm is a thread interlinking all the works on display.

As Burgess states, it is:

“the tidy façade versus the chaos inside. The clipped nature strip versus the grimy bath. The calm and responsible demeanor which hides the slipping-out-of-control and panic of the heart.”

Each of these four artists presents a particularly ‘female’ take on the interior space. Historically seen as a feminine domain, these artists overturn such traditions and present us instead with complex inner worlds. Meticulously crafted and easily accessible, these powerful, politically charged works help us view the domestic realm in a new light.

Sydney Art writer and editor, Victoria Hynes

Arts article in Asian Art News
Inhabited Architecture exhibition review by arts writer and editor Victoria Hynes
Arts article in Asian Art News
Inhabited Architecture exhibition review by arts writer and editor Victoria Hynes