HANNAH LEES (UK) MARLIE MUL (NED) NORIKO NAKAMURA KATE NEWBY (NZ) VIRGINIA OVERELL
CURATED BY BROOKE BABINGTON
The works in ‘Thin Air’ re-evaluate the use of organic matter in contemporary art. Specifically they consider the dense materiality of everyday experience and the expressive potential of materials to describe the social and physical experience of being in the world. ‘Thin Air’ reflects upon these ideas as they span the practices of five female artists; Hannah Lees, Marlie Mul, Noriko Nakamura, Kate Newby and Virginia Overell. ‘Thin Air’ argues for an approach that is considerably more open in structure and generative in process than has previously been seen in, for instance, the monumental land art experiments popular in the 1970’s. For the most part, feminist theory has distanced women from nature (passive, silent nature) in disavowal of long-standing metaphorical associations rendering the two synonymous. By emphasising a kind of agency within nature and foregrounding its powers of signification, ‘Thin Air’ presupposes a radical reformulation that subverts these platitudes. Subscribing to principles of animism and Shinto, Melbourne artist Noriko Nakamura’s practice imbues otherwise inanimate materials with a spiritual essence. In a new, monumental (yet ‘open’, permeable) limestone sculpture, form is arrayed around a structuring absence that attributes an invisible agency to the air surrounding and passing through it. Virginia Overell presents a gestural indigo dye and salt wash floor work that continues her investigations into systems of value and chemical processes such as oxidisation, calling attention to air both as substance and active collaborator in her work. Also intervening in the space, a hulking, pigmented concrete mound by New Zealand artist Kate Newby translates the artist’s observations of the built and organic environment into a synthetic fusion of architectural and geographic form. Both Overell and Newby allow the expressive potential of the materials in their works to unfold over the course of their making through and independent of their direct interaction. Berlin-based, Dutch artist Marlie Mul will exhibit a selection of silk prints that consider the highly contested politics of air space; air in this instance is both the smoky exhalation of the cigarette user and the common ‘breathing space’ of the public realm. Mul’s comic figures elevate the allegorical power of smoke – specifically second hand smoke – to drolly reveal the fabric of the social landscape, literally connecting bodies through social behaviour. UK artist Hannah Lees’ practice focuses on divining the essential nature of her materials. Lees’ works in the exhibition exist as elements of a metaphysical landscape that elevate her materials out of the realm of human use to reveal in them an abstract, fantastical, agency of their own. ‘Thin Air’ will run from Wednesday 5 February to Saturday 1 March, 2014.