Bachelor of Fine Art, MADA
By Sarah Ponsford
Parallel to pandemic life, white cube gallery spaces avoid tactile interactions. The common thread shared amongst many of the Monash graduates in the MADA Now 2021 Graduate Exhibition was this breakdown of a passive audience. The physicality of these works invited interaction, but nods to our hyper-restricted life became evident through wall labels, which directed us to sanitise our hands before handling the works.
An arrangement of plinths and “beds” with soft textile “creatures” replicate traditional museum display cases. Colourful fabrics both materialise the sculptures as well as drape over the exhibition structures, suggesting the fusion of the artwork with space—a harmony of sensory touch points. Megan Kamei’s Asobi (2021) offers a duality of engagement for the viewer. We move through the installation while touching the sculptures, and there is a sense of euphoria in this for me with what seems for the first time in two years an interaction with no rules. “Please sanitise your hands prior to touching this artwork”—Kamei plays into this tension of the gallery space, challenging it while existing within it. Her work is playful, beautifully capturing the tensions of post-pandemic life.
A striking link occurs as we move between Kamei and Amelia Walker’s installations, the latter in muted mono tones and the former a vibrant colour field, yet their soft shapes and curved lines suggest a visual pairing. Walker’s T-shaped walls separate three distinct moments of her work. Crossing each border we can discern a continuation of patterns—the natural markings of the wood are translated into cut-out shapes mounted on the white walls and then again to the acrylic prints. Walker harnesses our visual and tactile senses, which beg to feel the opposition of the smooth wood to the scratchy prints. The final copy of the pattern is in video form, with each section of the work engaging a different sense, thus mimicking the layering of patterns and tones in Untitled (2021). Kamei’s and Walker’s installations speak to the erasure of touch boundaries in the gallery space but nevertheless remain within a traditional display format.
Ariana Lim’s skin breathing / communal dreaming (series, 2021) disregards the boundaries of conventional display. Delicately crafted sculptural pieces made of beading, fabrics and wire are scattered across the top floor of the exhibition space. They are delicately draped across windowsills, which allows for their artistry to be captured in their full potential. Subtle glimpses of light catch on the beading, allowing the white gallery walls within which they are placed to come alive with reflections and shadows. This physical engagement with the outside world transforms the sculptures from the strictly static to being something of a performance. Materiality moves between the inside and outside spheres of the room, suggesting a commonality of the artists’ interests in challenging the white cube gallery space.
Perhaps severe restriction and isolation has enhanced our desire to utilise all the senses we have. Kamei, Walker and Lim apply this sensory understanding to viewing contemporary art, allowing for a truly intimate and meaningful interaction with their works.
Sarah Ponsford is a curator/writer based in Naarm/Melbourne. She has a particular interest in contemporary curatorial aesthetics which shift away from traditional white cube exhibition design.