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INNERSPACE Garnkiny Ngarranggarniny – Moon Dreaming (2014), a work by senior Gija man of Juwuru skin Rusty Peters, is central to Innerspace because it offers an alternate view of the universe that is both ancient and distinctly Aboriginal. The Dreaming, as Wally Caruana puts it, “ is a European term that has been used by Aborigines to describe the spiritual, natural and moral order of the cosmos … The Dreaming provides the ideological framework by which human society retains a harmonious equilibrium with the universe …. “. Aboriginal Art Thames and Hudson London 1993 Moon Dreaming tells the story of a time when the moon sulked because of his mother-in-law and as a result he became the moon. At the top of the painting is the Milky Way and in the middle is the traditional living area of all the people who became trees when he told them, “ You will all become dreaming things, wawoo!”. Peters’ all embracing painting depicts and describes the origins of dreamtime characters on earth and in space, envisaging a continuum where planets and land are the people; inextricably interconnected.

RUSTY PETERS Garnkiny Ngarranggarniny - Moon Dreaming, 2014, 100 x 140cm, natural ochres and pigments on canvas

Conversely in Judeo-Christian mythology, once there was space and then there was earth. “God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so divided.” Genesis 1.7. In ancient Greece Aristotle’s universe was composed of 55 concentric, crystalline spheres to which the celestial objects were attached and which rotated at different velocities with the Earth at the center. Medieval theology subscribed to this geocentric view of the cosmos that held sway well into the late 16th century when Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler introduced a more heliocentric view. Recently, however, Einstein’s theory of relativity and Hawking’s quantum mechanics have thrown a spanner into the machinery of Ptolemy’s geocentric model with big bangs, gravitational singularity theorems and black holes. While modern astrophysics may have shed a brighter light on the mysteries of the universe it seems that the more that is known the more there is to know. Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space. Douglas Adams, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1978) Chapter 8 From time immemorial artists have looked to the heavens with a sense of awe and wonder but infinity (as we imagine it) is not the concern of Innerspace. Christopher Bennie, Jacqueline Bradley, Ham Darroch, Shellaine Godbold, Ellis Hutch, Claire Pendrigh, Rusty Peters and Jed Wolki view space as a profoundly personal matter. Whether employing science fiction clichés, quasi scientific research, observation or cultural stories, the universal is to be found at home; in the kitchen, nursery, the studio or the extended backyard. Materials are nearly always modest, with for example, cardboard packaging, chocolate wrappers, wool, old newspapers, trash and breakfast cereal representing grand(iose) ideas and astrophysical concepts with wry humour. Put simply, Innerspace is an exhibition that sees the notion of space grounded by the gravitational pull of prosaic imagination. Initially it was Chris Bennie’s Fern Studio Floor: a cosmology (2014) that inspired me to look further for more works that demonstrated a certain suspicion of universal grandeur. With a keen eye for the “overlooked”, during an artist’s residency at Bundanon Trust, Bennie saw the heavens on a paint splattered studio floor and produced an animation of slow moving photographs from three decades of spill. Part documentary, abstraction and science fiction the floor is transformed by its elevated positioning. The audience views the screen from a platform on the floor as if they are in some makeshift planetarium where many artists have left their marks on space-time.

CHRIS BENNIE Fern Studio Floor: a cosmology, 2014, high definition quick time file, media player, projector, screen, platform, duration 15’14”

CHRIS BENNIE Fern Studio Floor: a cosmology, 2014, high definition quick time file, media player, projector, screen, platform, duration 15’14”

Space has been a reasonably regular visitor in Bennie’s work and That Which Requires Space Parts 1 and 2 (2006) concerns the launch of a spaceship quite unworthy of Star Wars. Small cardboard containers, masking tape and film canister spaceships are propelled through the night sky by hand. His rudimentary approach (a torch is taped to the camera) parodies big budget science fiction cinematography set, as its is, to a soundtrack of human made bleeps from behind the camera. Bennie collapses the idea of fathomless space which he sees everywhere through his camera lens including driving along a motorway which inverted, creates a sense of interplanetary flight in Future Tense (2012). As Bennie imagines space with extremely limited technology and without pretence there is no deficiency of child like fascination with the stars and the machinery that (actually) doesn’t provide access to other planets. Central to Jed Wolki’s contribution is imagined machinery for exploration and survival in far away worlds. While his densely coloured two block reduction cut prints have a naïve edge they are sophisticated both in technique and concept. Canal Excavation Vehicle, (2014) for example draws upon the banalities of structural fabulation, a branch of science fiction informed by current knowledge. Wolki’s working machinery might to some extent resemble models, designs or toys but they also imagine potential human situations through a filter of what has been made perceptible by actual scientific research and space exploration of planets such as Mars. The colours and graphic style of Wolki’s works, reflecting a lineage of schlock sci-fi imagination and state-of-the-art space photography, are ultimately of startling originality and the result of a distinctly personal vision of possible futures. … Every atom in our bodies was formed not on Earth, but was created in the depths of space, through the epic lifecycle of the stars“. Dr Brian Cox Wonders of the Universe, Stardust BBC2 (2011) Sophisticated high-tech images of star clouds are available from numerous sources on the internet and those taken from the Hubble telescope have shed light on what is often described as “ a sky full of glittering jewels”. Claire Pendrigh’s RCB Starclouds (2014) looks to Nebulae, perhaps more popularly recognised for their extraordinary beauty than their position in the cosmic scheme, as a metaphor for what she sees as the less than earth bound family. These interstellar environments give birth to and nurture new stars and solar systems and are sometimes referred to as stellar nurseries.

JED WOLKI Canal Excavation Vehicle, 2014, 60cm x 90cm, two block reductive print on paper

CLAIRE PENDRIGH Star Cloud (RCrB), 2014, 150cm x 100cm x 100cm, knitted and crocheted wool

While telescopic imagery and astrophysics might be the original source for understanding cosmic phenomena Pendrigh turns to knitting; weaving the ethereal colours of interstellar bodies into her finely fashioned “star clouds”. “The DNA of my body,” she says, “ has been passed down through generations of mothers. My mother taught me to knit, and her mother taught her; a skill, which like mitochondria, has been passed down maternally.” Pendrigh infuses a sense of homeliness into her works, rendering stellar matter in its first manifestation to resemble a nursery mobile and for this exhibition, like cosmic cushions providing creature comforts in the celestial salon. Her use of wool effectively domesticates science and knowledge, reflecting heavenly splendor via a medium most familiar in domestic crafts and as the source of worldly warmth. From the drawing room to the garden shed, Ham Darroch acknowledges the inspiration of his grandfather’s workshop in an oeuvre that has often used discarded household tools, implements and appliances for works that incorporate elements of “colour field painting” to reflect the presence of art history in contemporary practice. While the mode differs greatly from Pendrigh, his work is equally of the home, on the one hand unequivocally domestic and on the other quite unworldly. Darroch’s characteristic transformative processes in paint and sculpture, transport objects far beyond their original context without, as it happens, ever losing their original integrity. Suntrap (2014), constructed from radiating rabbit traps have painted red, yellow and orange centres, like solar flares that suggest the heat and dynamism of the supreme star of our solar system. Set out from a wall of dark indigo blue, Suntrap is suspended in a space where paint is not confined to the work but spills into the gallery commanding and dominating its physical and theoretical space. Darroch is not only interested in how ordinary objects might be transformed to convey a higher purpose but also the movement or cycle of objects from the point of making, their period of use, their disposal and beyond. Importantly, the cyclical nature of an object’s life might continue long after it has been discarded and his Orbitide (2008) series includes objects long trashed, retrieved from the ebb and flow of the tidal Thames river and thus indirectly worn by the gravitational interaction of earth and moon. His sculptural installations of tyres are arranged on the wall in the style of a improvised amillary sphere which reflects their journey in time and space. “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Oscar Wilde Lady Windemere’s Fan (1893)

HAM DARROCH Orbitide, 2008, mixed media, dimensions variable

HAM DARROCH Sun Trap, 2014, board, casein on rabbit traps, 250cm x 250cm, photo: Rob Little

JACQUELINE BRADLEY Universal Breakfast, 2013 - 2015, 130cm x 130cm x 70cm, wood, bronze, steel, ceramic, card, plastic, paper, Photo: Brenton McGeachie

Jacqueline Bradley’s Universal Breakfast (2013) also draws upon the structure of an amillary sphere to explore the relationship between intimate human-scale objects and vast, untraveled expanses or unseen elemental forces. Perhaps more than most, Bradley’s work demonstrates a stream of humour that runs through the entire exhibition. In an ordinary, somewhat shabby, breakfast table setting she has inserted among the opened mail, plates of cornflakes and newspapers, an interplanetary tableau that reminds us that our universe is often confined to the home or to expand upon that idea, the home is but a fragment of the wider universe. As we might embark upon breakfast – itself a relatively universal human concept – cornflakes orbit like miniature meteors around the table as the planets orbit around the stars. And then with a grey felt hat into which brass arrows on steel wires circle are woven, as if tracking a path of wind or a line of thought, Bradley’s Westerly (2013) suggests that the human brain if not knowledge itself, is yet another universe. In 1960s sci-fi TV series, such as Lost in Space, it often seemed that the protagonists were lost in curiously earthly environments, or perhaps more likely, lost in a Hollywood studio. Landscapes could be alien simply by nature of their context or by the mere suggestion they were somehow unearthly. Ellis Hutch during a recent residency in Finland produced a series of performance based photographs with the title Lost Astronaut (2014) in which we see an anonymous being in an ostensibly standard space suit walking in a bleak but essentially worldly environment. Headlights from cars, however, take alien form and streetlights emit an other worldly glow on the road side. In space apparel made from curtain fabric, a cardboard helmet and motorcycle visor Hutch explores the common desire to shed one’s earthly coil. Reminiscent of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1953) her series is a drama of futility in which the search for new experience yields naught but the pathos of failure to discover any more than is already known. As the lost astronaut dips a foot into the dark water of a lake, or sits alone at a bus stop, there is no indication as to whether this is a traveller from earth lost on another planet or an alien astronaut adrift on earth. Lost Astronaut effectively evokes the enduring theme in Australian art of being lost in an alien landscape by way of a truly universal view that considers the melancholy prospects for both humankind and extraterrestrials, lost on earth or in space. “That’s one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.” Neil Armstrong astronaut Apollo 11

JACQUELINE BRADLEY Universal Breakfast (detail), 2013 - 2015, Photo: Brenton McGeachie

ELLIS HUTCH Lost Astronaut Series, 2014 - 2015, 60cm x 40cm each, injet print on Ilford paper

SHELLAINE GODBOLD Wish You Were Here, 2012 ongoing, 10cm x 15cm each, watercolour on paper, chocolate foil and vintage postcards

In different ways Shellaine Godbold also exploits the pathos of space exploration using the format of postcards for a constellation of works focusing on China’s space program. Wish you were here (2013-14) is a series of miniature paintings based on publicity and propaganda produced for Chinese taikonauts who ventured into space on China’s fourth mission in 2012. Unassuming and increasingly obsolete, the cards depict details of their return to earth with a particular focus on Liu Yang, China’s first woman taikonaut, and consequently heroine of the people. Exposed to spectacular images and stage managed television coverage celebrating the heroic feats space explorers during an artists’ residency in Beijing, Godbold reflects upon the bathos of star struck travellers and their sometimes inelegant return to the earth’s gravitational field. Small works on paper, chocolate wrappers and actual postcards call to question the illustrious status of taikonauts and the necessity of a space program to be accepted into the league of global super powers. Godbold’s humble means of communication are further employed to contrast China’s historical feats of engineering with images of taikonauts slumped on the Great Wall of China which she ironically points out cannot necessarily be seen from space. Originally presented with the title The Great Leap Forward (2013) this work seeks to moderate a celebratory record of human progress that is (like postcards) ultimately destined for the door of a refrigerator. As the original athletes of the space race, Russia and the U.S.A, scale down their space programs nations such as China, India and North Korea step onto the field in a wannabe bid to demonstrate their ability to keep abreast technological advancement. And like the original players it is not always with success. Early space travel, which has scarcely scratched the galactic surface, is often spoken about in terms of “conquering space”, a concept of which the Innerspace artists seem to find extremely dubious. The Universe is often viewed in an environment of delusion where 6 billion light years from earth tends not to mean we can’t get there … eventually. Notwithstanding genius of scientists like Einstein and Hawking, men on the moon or the Hubble Telescope, our understanding of galaxies far, far away has never really moved too far from home. Innerspace attempts to reign in the notion of infinity. While some artists may see the cosmos as a space of symbolism or use it as a metaphor, others address it with sardonic humour, albeit with a certain generosity. To paraphrase Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, perhaps space is not the final frontier, perhaps we will not explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to go boldly where no man has gone before, because we are already there and doing all of these things, on starship Earth. David Broker, July 2015




Profile for Canberra Contemporary Art Space

Innerspace @ CCAS (2015)  

Featuring: Chris Bennie, Jacqueline Bradley, Ham Darroch, Shellaine Godbold, Ellis Hutch, Claire Pendrigh, Rusty Peters, Jed Wolki Curated...

Innerspace @ CCAS (2015)  

Featuring: Chris Bennie, Jacqueline Bradley, Ham Darroch, Shellaine Godbold, Ellis Hutch, Claire Pendrigh, Rusty Peters, Jed Wolki Curated...