Creamy Psychology – Yvonne Todd

Last weekend I spent a couple of days in Wellington and took time to see a few exhibitions of work including Yvonne Todd’s ‘Creamy Psychology’ at the Wellington City Gallery.

The gallery had given over the whole 2 floors to the exhibition and that really gave scope to the work. What I enjoyed most about seeing so many works from the same artist over a period of years was to get a really good idea of her practice and how that was expressed through numerous groups of works. I can readily recall the differences and similarities between groupings and how ideas have carried through and been articulated in different ways.

I enjoyed the poignancy in the portraits of the beauty counter ladies. The photos seemed like the ones that would have been rejected from a staff portrait session for being ‘not quite right’ due to the depth and subtlety of emotion in the women’s expressions. My boyfriend and I came up with the possible thoughts that looked like they might be going through their heads; things like “I always hoped to be a geologist.” or “I don’t think I can face yet another seasonal lipstick.”

The portraits of young girls dressed up in vintage gowns had the creep factor you get from child beauty pageants. The artists statement commented on how young girls dressed this way get a certain crone quality, and I agree this is true. There is something about girls in over-elaborate dresses and make-up that makes them appear shrunken and shrivelled, aged before their time.

Interesting to me was how different the portraits of the men felt in comparison to those of women. The boardroom portraits of CEOs and retired surgeons were comical and jolly, whereas I found pretty much all the female portraits to contain a range of negative emotions from sorrow to fear to disappointment and many mixed emotions. The male portraits appeared more straightforwardly as a pastiche of middle aged executive portraiture. It got me thinking about who has power in front of and behind the lens – the men seemed to have more agency and were able to express their own personalities (even if they were seen as figures of fun) in a way the women were not.

I also really enjoyed seeing the artist’s collection of vintage dresses that appeared in the photographs and the various items and images that had inspired her over the years. This gave an added depth to my understanding of her practice and what sparked the ideas for the images.

This is my first overview of this exhibition, but I feel I will return to it and have some more thoughts I want to express in the next few weeks.

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Ocean Without a Shore – Bill Viola

“Originally commissioned for the 2007 Venice Biennale,Ocean Without a Shore was first shown in the 15th century Church of the Oratorio San Gallo, a short distance from the Piazza San Marco. Inspired by the writings of Senegalese poet Birago Diop, it takes its title from Andalusian Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi, who wrote, “The Self is an ocean without a shore. Gazing upon it has no beginning or end, in this world and the next.” Viola’s work expresses this sentient self and, bathing the viewer in a sensorium of light and sound, is a masterpiece that asks us to reflect upon fundamental ideas of love, hope, sorrow, anxiety, death, regeneration, and being.”
Quote sourced from http://withart.visitphilly.com/artworks/ocean-without-a-shore/

Bill Viola, Ocean Without a Shore, 2007, Video and sound installation, running time: approx. 90 minutes, PAFA, 2010.22

Since I came across this work I have watched the available online video clips multiple times. The incredible creation of an invisible threshold by the passing of bodies through a wall of water is otherworldly and magical. The work utilises flickering, grainy black and white footage on one side of the threshold, then as they pass through they become full-colour super high definition. The choice of video technique, the slo motion movement and the ephemerality of the water-wall threshold highlights the fragility of life and the fineness of the border between life and death, between one reality and another.

Link to video footage: http://youtu.be/eTakwOpWqG4

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Thinking through practice from 2014

Looking back on my work this year has been really interesting. Although it has changed and grown substantially over the last 12 months, I wanted to identify the ideas and elements that have remained constant throughout the work. I felt that it might be too easy to head off in a new direction that was not inline with where I want the core of my practice to be and think that taking time to reflect on where I’ve been will be give me a solid foundation to continue working.

The main materials I have worked with have been paper, wax, metal, wood.

Paper was (and still is) of interest to me for its structural possibilities. The nature of paper, books, writing etc isn’t a driving force in why I would use it, the appeal for me is in the way the material can be manipulated and structured. I enjoy the fact that it can be floppy or rigid, patterned or stark, folded or curved.

Wax has a number of material and symbolic attributes that I’m keen to pursue. It’s texture, malleability, smell, ability to be carved and cast, it’s ability to be melted or frozen – in a material sense these attributes give me a lot to work with. Symbolically beeswax is, of course, associated with bees and bees have a whole raft of symbolism around them! Immediately I think of hexagons and the number 6 due to their hexagonal cone structures. With my love of geometry anything that involves shapes and numbers immediately gets my attention. (The ‘Honeycomb Conjecture” (first recorded c.36BC) states that a regular hexagonal grid is the best way to divide a surface into regions of equal area with the least total perimeter.)
Wax is also traditionally used for candles: heat and light, for sealing important documents: secrecy, and for lost wax casting, which leads me to metals.

Metals were part of my June work and are something I have wanted to work with more. I incorporated copper into my September works and copper is a metal that is of particular interest to me, I think because of it’s colour, malleability and ability to develop verdigris. The links between metal and wax are in the casting process. The wax is carved, then when the molten metal is poured it causes the wax to evaporate entirely leaving one material in the place of another. In order to make more of the item, the new metal must be moulded and wax effigies made in its place which are each lost once again to every metal that is made. There is something in that process of wax, heat, metal – solid, liquid, solid – the creation of multiples from singles through complete loss of the original that speaks to me. Maybe there is some type of alchemical process going on there.

I used natural wood in my September works along with charcoal and resin; all three materials are natural products of trees. On reflection it is the charcoal and resin that interest me the most as materials to continue working with. Charcoal because of it’s mark-making possibilities, it’s heat-producing properties and it’s ritual component. Resin due to it’s ability to move between states of stickiness and brittleness, it’s ability to release incredible scent when combined with the heat of charcoal.

Looking back through my April, June and September works I have pulled out some concepts that are manifest in all three.

There are also ideas around transformation, reactions, alchemy and potentiality which have been working through my mind and my research. These are ideas I have discussed with supervisors and colleagues.

There is an idea around ‘containment’ and ‘hiding/revealing’.
In the April work the unfolding piece had hidden messages, within moving objects, within containers (magical)
In the June work the reacted metals were held within glass containers (scientific) and the large objects were containers in that they had holes that allowed the viewer to peer inside them.
In the September work there was the ritual captured inside the glass box (ritualistic) and the dodecahedron that had popped open spilling it’s guts on the floor.
Concepts of hiding and revealing, secrets whether dangerous or benign, interior and exterior spaces are things I want to pursue further.

Although it hasn’t been as blatantly obvious in the last 12 months practice, I’m still curious about exploring ‘thresholds’. Contemporary works and ideas that I have looked at that in some way work with ideas around thresholds keep me coming back, so I know that there is fodder there for my practice.