Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cath Robinson and Trudi Brinckman May 2009

(A Tendency to Construct)

I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I’m no scientist, but as I understand things, first of all there are elements. Everything that comes after is the process of adding one thing to another thing and perhaps applying a catalyst. But elemental substances themselves? They’re pretty much dead.

I have never failed to be touched by the nature of both creativity and chemistry to produce something out of nothing. Or at least something out of something that seems like nothing. To infuse the dead with life.

I know how Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is perceived. A cautionary tale, convenient for creationists to scare the creative away from operating in God’s territory. But I can start life, or at least energy in an egg cup by adding white vinegar (CH3COOH) to bicarbonate of soda (NaHCO3). It makes CO2 which escapes as a gas causing the bubbling and leaves behind H2O, water of course. And you and I and all life could be viewed quite simply as a series of similar chemical reactions and constructions operating on an infinitely grander scale. Anyway... I guess this lab-coat digression preceding the subject is because since I was a child, I have always perceived Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as a metaphor for creative endeavour, with an understanding that things will sometimes fail. And of late I have to come to realise that the art quite simply, is the things that don’t fail.

So, what happens when there are two creators? Or indeed, zoom out the microscope further and view the equation this way: add one artist to another and what is the result?

Of course the answers are as infinite and varied as the skills, intent and leanings of the artists involved but here, the result is an anatomical diagram of creativity. Both these artists, as in love with the creative process of others as with their own, celebrate creativity through the works construction, proximity, content and a rather generous intention.

Artists enliven the spaces they inhabit and the Brinckman/Robinson collaboration has produced something that tracks the paths of creative endeavour in this concrete bunker that the local scene knows as 6A, attempting to mark and map it’s arterial progress and the eddies of rumination.

The rhythms of the resident artist’s ums stolen from between their words about art and making, form a heartbeat that fills the open spaces, each marking individual work areas with animated waveforms of the sound, vaugely medical in appearance.

Is it romantic to present these ‘thinking sounds’ in such a way? The word is that God made man in his own image, and regardless of the truth of that theology, I certainly know the reverse to be as, if not more true. Our own bodies are our starting point for understanding everything else. Why then shouldn’t creativity take the form of human anatomy? Come on. We measured things in ‘feet’ until half the world realised it was easier to count by 10s...

What appears to me as a large anatomical heart hangs from the ceiling but if I could turn the room on it’s head, it’s an oxygen tent. There is a perceivable ‘digestive tract’ that flows from the cluster of electrical wall plugs emerging from the heart/tent and flows through the narrow passage, branching though the main space and out into the carpark where a pink wire oesophagus breathes the energy of the thing back out into the world.

At the opening of this exhibition I hear one of the artists talking with a gallery visitor who finds the medical nature distressing, it recalls for them memories of tragedy, the loss of a loved one in a hospital setting but the artist is insistent - it’s a life support system, this structure keeps things alive, it doesn’t kill them. Actually I think it could go either way. Creativity is perilous like that. Isn’t everything interesting balanced on a knife edge?

The thing that makes me both edgy and excitable is the dangerous potential; clustered, arterial groupings of tubes traverse the space, half with the capacity to carry electricity, half to carry water. Even if activated, those two things would be kept separate by their plumbing and cabling... but one error... one place of wear against another and it’s a danger zone. Bzzztt! An out of control electrical charge that could stop a heart but if controlled and reigned in, could reactivate another.

Any collaboration is a risky exercise, and here is the result of that risk taken. Two artists who know little about each other but admire each others work and want the experience of making in unison, not in tandem. Emerging from the inevitably tense stage of negotiation, circling one another from a distance to get a feel for how best to play this out, they enter the gallery, combine, catalyse and depart leaving behind the outcome of their activity (their construction/baby/monster).

It is unfortunate for us that all we get to see is this outcome: the process being as valued by the artists (if not more) as the result and the work itself seeming to aspire to honour that process. But this is not how it works. If we’d been there, we would have spoiled the chemistry.

Sally Rees
May 2009

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