Sparkly, spongy and rough. The latest show at Firstdraft presents the work of three emerging artists with a knack for manipulating surfaces and textures. Through their specific explorations of materiality, they play off social and political connotations that can accompany seemingly neutral aesthetic properties. This is a show that shows how matter matters.
Jonny Niesche accurately describes his work Too Many Heroes as a “cosmological wonderland” with “the sexiest of modernism’s legacies”. His geometric sculptural piece Split Event Horizon (2013) seduces with a glittery blue gradient of colour. Whilst playing with reflection and symmetry, its hard lines are less reminiscent of minimalism than some imagined monument to the cosmic mysticism of Sun Ra. His wall piece Blank Magic Compound (2013) is more slick, twinkling like a bling rug of black and white diamonds. Perhaps his most subdued work (relatively speaking) is Logicstick #5 , which leans with slender poise against the gallery wall, despite its resemblance to a psychedelic fairy spear fabricated by unicorns. All Niesche’s works are playful and fun, but he must be recognised for his ability to manipulate a material that carries such particular pop-culture connotations. Here glitter is not just for the craft table or midnight rave. Its sparkle recalls the cosmic, the luxe and fantastical with discernment.
The tone of Simonne Goran’s work The Colours of Shadows, is equally light, conveying a sense of reflective jocularity. Reinterpreting the ready-made tradition, her works combine materials and textures from everyday life to create compositions that review interactions with familiar objects. This is most clearly displayed in her work Travel Essentials (2013), in which pieces of microfiber towel, terry towel, Hebel and crepe bandage are piled on top one another. A seemingly simple work, she reframes the banality of these utilitarian objects, enhancing the aesthetic quality of their distinct textures and weight through contrast and delicate composition. Goran’s works Pearls (2013) and Voms (2013) also stand out, as their composition allows them to be read (perhaps unintentionally) as a slapstick narrative. Mounted on the wall, the work Pearls displays cutesy personified sponges laced onto a rope, which appears as if in mid-flight. On the ground underneath is Voms, which seems to depict an aqua shade of vomit made from pigmented rice, scattered across the mirrored surface. The connection between the two works can seem inalienable: the personified sponges, feeling sick from all the rope-swinging, vomit onto the mirrored surface beneath. Yet upon recognising their distinction as works, one realises how this narrative exemplifies a number of ways in which the visitor may grapple with the challenge Goran lays out, to “extract meaning” from the unassuming objects exhibited. The artist’s manipulation of these banal materials demonstrates how through subtleties of texture and composition, meaning can be derived and produced from the most ordinary materials.
It is the work of Lizzy Sampson, which is the most conceptually engaged with the materiality in her work Dollars and Sense (2013). Through her pieces she applies a method of materialising or visualising the processes that connect us to the capitalist bottom line – profits and money. This is seen in her single channel video Prospects (in the collective backyard) (2013), which follows a figure using a metal detector to uncover coins in their backyard. As she scans the soil the beeps of the metal detector accelerate, leading her to a digging point that may or may not reveal a hidden coin. An interesting dialogue emerges between this work and Moving Forward (2012), in which Sampson has fabricated a rough replica of the metal detector from found object. The homegrown determination, frustration, anticipation and disappointment that emerges in these two works can be taken allegorically, as a reflection any individual pursuit to ‘strike gold’. However the metaphorical resonance can also extend to the place of gold or mineral digging for the collective Australian purse. Sampson’s engagement with this industry is explicit in her work Mine (2012), which displays a geographically accurate map of the working mines in Australia simply plotted as graphic points on otherwise empty white paper. These hovering points create almost a magic-eye effect, as the outline of the Australian island-continent pops-out from the plotted mines. It visualises the extent to which the country is physically defined and shaped by this industry, highlighting the material presence of a financial resource. Through her return to the brute materiality of metals and minerals, Sampson returns abstract notions of prosperity and success to their rough and perhaps dirty origins.