Honours, Victorian College of the Arts

By Stella Corby

14 December 2023
  • Michelle Yuan Fitz-Gerald, Sammy-Jo Lang-Waite

One human clone, one fur bear, two brass candlesticks, four pencil drawings and seven clay teeth. Juggling disparate mediums, VCA Honours student Michelle Yuan Fitz-Gerald offers up a symphony of objects and narratives. To a casual viewer, the relationship between these components might seem opaque, even non-existent. Yet, on reflection, associations and echoes emerge.

Michelle Yuan Fitz-Gerald, installation view, featuring Bear, 2023, faux fur, cotton thread, polyester, polystyrene, polymer clay, MDF, stainless steel; Untitled (brothel drawings), 2023, graphite on notepad paper; and, Candlestick 1-2 (silent venus), 2023, bronze. VCA, Melbourne. Photo: Michelle Yuan Fitz-Gerald.

To begin with the grizzly bear: an animal associated with violence and hunting, as a toy, the bear also acts as a symbol of childhood nostalgia. We all nurture and love our precious toys while growing up. “To bear” is to support, to carry, to hold oneself up. But it is also to endure and to suffer, to experience a pain, to bear a tragic loss. Tracing its perimeter with our footsteps, we are careful not to wake the beast that lies peacefully at the centre of the space. Initially, the animal appears almost comic in its unexpected placement in the Honours corridor, but as we move our gaze upward, we are met with the startling presence of a sculpted firearm. Sammy-Jo Lang-Waite’s sculpture Gunny (2023) sits like a trophy, proudly mounted to the wall and positioned above eye level as though overlooking its prize. The fortuitous pairing of these objects suggests a narrative of hunt and prey: the bear’s momentary rest is now endless.

Sammy-Jo Lang-Waite, Gunny, installation view, 2023, plastic nerf gun and thrush and biddie army, inkjet and archival prints. VCA, Melbourne. Photo: courtesy of the University of Melbourne.

With this in mind, the two brass candlesticks sitting at either end of the minimally dressed stables become symbols of remembrance. Their carved out feminine bodies nod to the delicacy of the pencil drawings hanging on the overlooking walls. Softly sketched displays of technical excellence, these images radiate an ethereal beauty belonging to another age. Referencing Solomon J Solomon’s painting Eve (1908), they depict two angels holding up the nude body of Eve as she ascends away from an unconscious Adam, linking heaven and earth.

Michelle Yuan Fitz-Gerald, Untitled (brothel drawings), 2023, graphite on notepad paper. VCA, Melbourne. Photo: Michelle Yuan Fitz-Gerald.

Nestled upon the fur of the bear’s hind leg lies a solitary white feather. I can’t make out if its presence is intentional or not. I don’t remember seeing it on the night of the opening. It’s a new addition, small but nonetheless captivating. The feather draws us to the other component of Fitz-Gerald’s work located metres away, separated by the work of another student. There lie the remnants of a performance, in which the artist slowly descended from the stairs, holding a replica of herself cast in resin and foam. Placing it on the floor of the room, she embraced it with the warmth of her own body in a moving act of self-love and care.

Michelle Yuan Fitz-Gerald, On becoming one’s own angel, 2023, performance with sculpture (polyurethane resin, polyurethane expanding foam, polystyrene, acrylic paint, various textiles, brass, rubber, stainless steel, human hair, synthetic hair). VCA, Melbourne. Photo: courtesy of the University of Melbourne.

In the performance On becoming one’s own angel (2023), both Fitz-Gerald and her sculpted double wear feathered white angel wings, solving the mystery of the stray white feather. I feel I can almost see the figure’s chest raise in a shallow breath. My eyes trace the lines of her palms and outline the raised veins that run along her feet. Given the artist’s evident technical proficiency, the rough construction of the wings from feathers, glue and cardboard seems a deliberate choice, allowing fragments to drift through the space as remnants of the bittersweet performance. Whether intentional or not, the feather’s presence on the bear prompts us to connect these two pieces through their angelic underpinning: the angels of the Solomon painting support Eve’s body, just as Fitz-Gerald supports herself.

Stella Corby is an art writer and an emerging curator in Naarm/Melbourne. She has recently completed a Bachelor of Art History and Curating at Monash University.

Memo Magazine, No. 1