Faraway, So Close

Diverse works from Kate Beynon, Alan Constable, Bronwyn Hack, Robert Hollingworth, Cathy Staughton, Terry Williams and Gosia Wlodarczak join in ‘Faraway, So Close’; a group exhibition or ‘tactile collaboration’ curated by Anthony Fitzpatrick from the TarraWarra Museum of Art, as part of Arts Project Australia’s (APA) guest curator initiative. Fitzpatrick’s selection process was driven by the guiding principal that the exhibition should, primarily feature artists working in the Arts Project Australia studio, alongside invited external artists.

Bronwyn Hack, Not titled, 2015, fabric sculpture, 26 x 22.5 x 10cm. Courtesy the artist and Arts Project Australia, Melbourne

While my understanding of the concepts spoke loudly to a wider socio-political context, Fitzpatrick described ‘Faraway, So Close’ as an exploration of nearness and the length of space between each point in a more universal sense; approaching notions of proximity and distance in terms of the movements in between the works, rather than purporting to reflect our current climate.

Due to a strong material presence and the remarkably tactile quality of the works, Fitzpatrick’s curation across each of the three rooms intends to evoke a direct personal association with the works and give rise to unique reactions in the viewer.

Kate Beynon , The Gathering, 2017, acrylic on wood, 12.5 x 23cm. Private collection. Photograph: Alex Walker. Courtesy the artist and Sutton Gallery, Melbourne

How has the focus of the exhibition played out between the relationships the artists and their work have formed?
In one scenario this is explored through a collaborative installation bringing together three artists, Wlodarczak, Williams and Hack, who work with the labour intensive and highly tactile processes of drawing, sewing and embroidery to create an intimate realm which speaks to the body and how it inhabits space, and is in turn inhabited. In another room a hypothetical encounter between the infinitely remote and the intimately familiar occurs, via a representation of the cosmos, with the work of Hollingworth. A replica of an optical instrument designed for magnifying distant objects by Constable, asks us to consider the long standing human desire to see further, but also the ways in which this can expose our limitations. And finally, the third space will explore the theme in a series of paintings by Beynon and Staughton for whom familiar objects and everyday places can suddenly be transformed into otherworldly, supernatural realms; transgressing the lines between the real and the imaginary, the ordinary and the fabulous, and dissolving distances.

Robert Hollingworth, 270th Planet, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 122 x 168cm. Courtesy of NKN Gallery, Melbourne

As the works will be experienced in relation to one another, as well as individually how did you select the seven artists?
Rather than include a large group of artists and a selection of existing works, my aim was to create a situation which allowed the artists and their artworks to determine, to a large extent, how the exhibition evolved. For example, having worked with her previously, I invited Wlodarczak to visit the APA with the idea of developing a new drawing performance, which has become a pivotal part of her practice in recent years. However, where I imagined she might be drawn to some of the artists at APA who employ a similar form of intensive mark making, I was delighted to see how strongly she responded to the bold, soft sculptural works of everyday objects by Williams and the intricate embroidered sculptures of bodily organs by Hack. As a result of this encounter, the three artists will work alongside each other in this show to realise an immersive and collaborative installation, which will entirely fill one of the gallery spaces. In a completely different way, the selection of Constable came about by the powerful impression that was made when Wlodarczak and I saw one of his highly seductive and sensitively modelled ceramic works in the APA art store. This in turn, triggered the idea of approaching Hollingworth to select one of his marvellously tactile and painterly representations of the cosmos. I invited Beynon and Staughton to be part of the exhibition as I was already familiar with their practices and felt there were a number of fascinating correspondences and close parallels between the themes they both explore, and the imaginary worlds they create.

Gosia Wlodarczak, LEDGE DRAWING FOR NON, 2012, three-hour drawing performance and installation, NON Conference, RMIT First Site Gallery, Melbourne, Australia. Pigment pen on wall surfaces. Photograph: Longin Sarnecki. Courtesy the artist and RMIT University, Melbourne

How do you hope viewers will encounter ‘So Faraway, So Close’?
As Merleau Ponty observes, ‘our relationship with things is not a distant one: each speaks to our body and to the way we live’ and elsewhere ‘a thing can never be separated from someone who perceives it… every perception is a communication or a communion’. So, I hope that visitors will respond to the works, not just by looking and contemplating, but also by reacting to the more intimate, haptic qualities that are present in a more physical, embodied and felt sense. In this way relationships between near and far, proximity and distance, and the familiar and the unknown become more ambiguous and indeterminate.

Sabina McKenna is a Melbourne-based writer.

Arts Project Australia
Until 2 December, 2017