I relocated to Melbourne in 2017 and the first exhibition I saw was at Bus Projects. I was surprised to happen upon Rosslynd Piggott at this artist-run space tucked away in Collingwood. The front space had a painting in two parts Everbloom: and an extract of rose (2017), immersing you in its shimmering colour. Eighteen months later I encounter this work again in ‘I sense you but I cannot see you’, a survey of Piggott’s career with work spanning more than three decades.
The exhibition begins with Glasses of water or A room with four walls of glasses of water (1986), a painting of shelves stacked with water glasses, this early work is a taste of all that is to come as you make your way through the 100 or so works in this exhibition. This piece comes to life in 100 glasses (1991-92), a single shelf running along blue walls with a series of handblown water glasses. Each glass bears a word or place-name etched upon it, forming a spatial poem that draws you close, as if the words are revealed by the fog of the viewer’s breath.
Double breath (contained) of the sitter (1993-94 restaged 2019) is an installation layering the artist’s collection of objects over those of the National Gallery of Victoria’s (NGV) Decorative Arts, with cabinets stacked with Venetian glass, silk gloves and trinkets alongside wall-mounted mirrors, Viennese and English furniture. By combining collections in this way with the addition of a moving Venus figure projected on a glass bell jar and a dollhouse made of sugar cubes, Piggott creates unexpected connections and opens up new narratives for these artefacts.
A cabinet is filled with a row of test tubes, sealed with wax and labelled with the place or moment in which air was collected whilst the artist was in France. Collection of air 2.12.1992 – 28.2.1993 – (1992-93) is the distillation of the archive/diary as a medium for the artist. Each tube of air containing the atmosphere of a place and moment over a month abroad, capturing perfectly the romance of travel and her practice.
Piggott’s sculptural installations come together with notable works including Conversation (1995) and La Somnambule (1996-97) reflecting each other in form, with two dresses facing one-another separated by a gauze curtain, one connecting language with thread and one separated by a Perspex pendant. High Bed (1998) dominates the room, a sensual and rich work with an anxious undercurrent first dreamed up during a stint at the Cité internationale des arts, Paris in 1993-94. In the same gallery is a series of works including Tremor (1999-2000) developed through a residency in Japan, with glossy black surfaces, blown glass and Japanese pillow stands. There is a stark contrast in the materiality and palette of the works from France and those of Japan. Throughout the exhibition the artist provides snippets of commentary behind the making and here offers a window into the emotional terrain of being an artist in a foreign place and exploring personal grief.
Following a vitrine of pages taken from Piggott’s sketchbooks is a series of paintings steeped in spirituality and made with metal leaf and grids of symbols in repeat. A stand out is Mirror – I sense you but I cannot see you (1997), from which the exhibition gets its title, blending chaos and structure by overlaying a grid of platinum leaf over a turbulent foundation. Then you enter a room full of flower paintings, named for roses, cherry blossoms and magnolias and, a series of etched blossoms and vines on layered glass pieces made in collaboration with artisans from Murano, Venice. Here the exhibition hones in on ephemerality and the poetry of nature, an enduring theme for Piggot.
There is much to experience in ‘I sense you but I cannot see you’ as a show that can only be truly understood in person. The exhibition overwhelms the senses as you make your way through paintings, sculpture, installation and video each of which the artist has consistently returned to at different stages of her long career. Piggott is an artist unconstrained by genre and uses all manner of materials expertly to capture perfectly all that she explores of life, death, spirituality, nature and romance.
Sabrina Baker is an emerging artist and curator living and working on Wurundjeri land.
The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Until 18 August, 2019