Lucina Lane’s thoughtful practice considers the viewer’s encounter with a painting, and how meaning for a work is negotiated between the artist and her audience. She employs the tactic of the readymade to recall the last century’s exploration of this dichotomy, and with her deft handling signals its renewed relevance. Her upcoming exhibition at Sarah Cottier Gallery, her first solo show in Sydney, explores the written word and its attendant layers of meaning as a found object.
This series of text-based works use the readily available materials of pencil and unprimed canvas, the pencil carefully applied in traced letters that vary from legible sentences to vague fragments. Lane’s efforts to replicate the exact typeface are shown in her mark making, an anachronistic gesture in an age of technological reproduction. We can see where she has pressed down more heavily, or perhaps where her shadow has fallen in front of the projection.
‘In art, and in painting particularly, the artist’s subjectivity is heavily implied,’ explains Lane. She notes the influence of the literary genre of autofiction, in which the author blends the novel with autobiography, in her decision to use the first person singular in one key work. This two-panel piece prompts our immediate identification, embodied within our inner voice as we read. ‘I really do wish for a more beautiful world,’ is inscribed on the left panel, each word individually aligned to the left margin as though mechanically typeset. ‘I know I’m not alone in this,’ on the right. The traced letters are unfilled, framing the canvas beneath and suggesting the thin barrier between interiority and exteriority. The elegant serif font is the same used by Sarah Cottier Gallery, casting it as a found object.
Another two-panel work, untitled (man alone) (2019) asks that the viewer assemble the text themselves from fragmented pieces. These fragments in the left-hand panel comprise the phrase ‘man alone with himself’, a reference to Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘Human, All Too Human’. The right contains barely legible traces of letters, obscured by handprints in oil paint – suggesting a duality between known and unknown selves.
In performing this painstaking act of tracing, Lane reveals the hidden labour concealed within a finished painting. Her practice recurrently interrogates the value of manual labour against artistic labour, suggesting the balances of power that permeate the art world.
A previous body of work, breath is a bridge shown at Neon Parc, Melbourne in 2017 drew attention to the labour and materials involved in building a stretcher. These works were constructed from industrial fabrics stretched across crude frames of raw pine branches found on the outskirts of Melbourne. Lane hand carried the raw materials on public transport from found locations to her inner city studio, an arte povera gesture embedded in a contemporary moment.
Her interest in artistic labour goes beyond the creation of work to the particulars of its presentation. Her 2012 solo exhibition ‘Storage’ at Seventh Gallery, Melbourne, exhibited a series of paintings wrapped in bubble wrap and stacked against the walls as though waiting installation. Their bright surfaces barely visible through packing material, these paintings deny the viewer a direct encounter. In her 2016 exhibition ‘loosen the earth’ at West Space, Melbourne, Lane exhibited paintings as soft sculpture on the gallery’s parquetry – sewn together and stuffed like floor cushions and door snakes and arranged in neat groupings. By drawing attention to their mode of display, Lane compels the viewer to consider how the structures that govern our experience of paintings shape our responses to them.
Lane’s exploration of the legacies of painting and its associated labour structures is as responsive to history as it is resistant to didacticism, allowing space for the viewer to find their own reading.
Eleanor Zeichner is a writer from Sydney and current Assistant Curator at UTS Gallery.
Sarah Cottier Gallery
25 July to 31 August 2019