The ontology of performance, time and altered states of consciousness are explored in the oeuvre of Melbourne-born, Newcastle-based artist Lottie Consalvo, who attempts to capture the transience of performance as materiality.
The origin of her practice lies in figurative painting, a medium the artist felt, in its singularity, restricted her in reaching the depths she desired. In 2011 Consalvo spent time researching the arts scene in Germany, hanging out and working in the edgy, creative coteries of Berlin, Hamburg and Leipzig. Here she found a mode of artmaking that contained the method and language required to record her ongoing study of time and self-examination. This development was anchored in the revolutionary practice of French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle, whose 1960s assemblages were created via the pull of a trigger – action paintings the result of a firearm, its bullet penetrating paint containers on the canvas. It was the viewing of de Saint Phalle’s shooting outfit in Hanover, part of the Sprengel Museum’s permanent collection, that inspired Consalvo to incorporate an active element to her work.
Today, the artist’s practice traverses painting, video, photography and sculpture, with a strong focus on performance. In bridging these mediums, Consalvo reveals a theory of time highlighting the relationship between past and present as one of coexistence rather than succession, where the act of ‘remembering’ is both relative and absolute. At Melbourne’s Heide Museum of Modern Art, Consalvo combines two disciplines into one major work, ‘In the Remembering’; an exhibition comprising paintings bearing the gestural traces of autobiographical performances in which the artist placed herself emotionally within particular memories or past events. By documenting these moments – what Consalvo refers to as ‘the imagining of a time that has passed’ – the structure of memory (encoding, storage and recall) is employed to examine the conflation of past and present, of absence and presence.
Consalvo’s performances are personal, dealing with desire, longing and loss. While some works concentrate on grief and bereavement others focus on life. In a year-long durational performance, Compartmentalise (2012), the artist lived with minimal possessions in a search for clarity following the emotional struggles of first-time motherhood and domestic disorder. This maternal labour is mirrored in It’s Too Early to Love You (2014) where Consalvo listens to a recording of her mother singing the Sesame Street theme song on loop for nine hours. Lyrics such as ‘the air is sweet’ epitomise her need to find calm amongst the complexities of family relations and parenting.
Working with a raw, restricted palette, Consalvo creates abstract paintings of minimalist forms occupying vast spaces where the figurative form is absent, replaced with curvilinear patterns of thought. Works such as the monumental In Silence (2017) balance black and white tones with expressive, sweeping brushstrokes emblemising the complexities of human desire and its capabilities. The heavy black background, disturbed by a single stroke of white acrylic, fills the silent emptiness of the work as the protagonist and the viewer are trapped between dark and light, and visual and emotional strain.
Consalvo records, or rather mimics, the physical body in moments of psychological transition. In a comparison of Mid-Fall (Study) (2016) and I Have Fallen (2016), the artist reviews the science of falling. The first is set against the backdrop of the Australian bush as a lone figure leans forward, her body pauses at a 45-degree angle. The latter seems to replicate this force of gravity; its title alluding to the outcome. In this work Consalvo once again uses a reductive palette as primitive, earthy pigments coat the surface in thick brushstrokes and dripping paint; its symmetry ostensibly prevents the fall, allowing for a promising turn of events.
For Consalvo, the permanence of paint helps extract past experiences and memories and keep them in the present; paying homage to what was and encouraging the construction of alternative visions for the future.
Heide Museum of Modern Art
10 March to 17 June, 2018