Force Field by Fiona Hall
Despite the heat, I managed to get over to Sydney to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art today. There are currently two exhibitions on: Force Field, a retrospective by Australian artist, Fiona Hall and an exhibition of Aboriginal Bark Paintings.
This was the first time that I’d seen Fiona Hall’s work and I had mixed feelings about it. The pieces I liked the most were the ones where her technique and obvious skill worked in conjunction with her ideas rather than being overwhelmed by them.
I found the pieces made from tupperware consistently witty and engaging. My favourite installation in the show was Cell Culture, a vitrine containing abstract animal forms made from tupperware and thousands of beads. Being able to recognise many specifically Australian birds and animals added an extra dimension to the work for me and I’m sure I enjoyed it more than I would have before I visited Australia.
This image was too wide and I’m working on an unfamiliar laptop and don’t fancy hunting for editing software, so just click on it for the bigger version.
I also enjoyed an installation that featured a wall of tupperware containing lights that blinked on and off in sequence – simple, yet strangely hypnotic.
Paradisus Terestris, her large series of sardine tins containing metal reliefs of human body parts that blossom out into intricately cut metal plants was also enticing.
This work reminded me of The Song of Songs in the Bible – using plants to describe the human figure or vice versa is an ancient story but one that Hall manages to make refreshing here through sheer audacity of technique; you can hardly believe the detail and the fineness of cutting involved in the plants, while the parts of human figures are breathtaking in their minimalist assurance.
Two large installations containing multiples cast in yellow soap also caught my attention, as did the nests made from shredded bank notes and some very beautiful goache paintings of trade plants on bank notes. For me, Hall is at her best when making sculpture, although I also enjoyed her etchings, drawings and some of the photograph and video pieces.
Unfortunately, her work didn’t always quite hit the mark and although there was much that engaged and amused me, there was nothing that absolutely knocked me dead. Her work was often just a little bit too obvious for my tastes; I felt that she often spoilt the work by over-egging the pudding. For example, a set of figurative sculptures made from knitted video tape seemed fairly effective until I noticed that the images related far too directly to the film they’d been made from – i.e. a foot coming out of the box for the film, They Died With Their Boots On. I prefer work to be a little more mysterious and I don’t mind having to work at understanding art – generally, I’m far more tolerant of ambiguity than I am of being preached at and I felt that Hall’s work fell into the didactic far too often. She is clearly an artist who is strongly engaged with her subject matter – colonialism; sexuality and the interaction between people and the environment – but I personally believe that it’s a mistake to let your politics overwhelm your art.
“I’m just relieved that I live in an era where, particularly for women, it’s easy to have a life as an artist. Otherwise I don’t know what I would be good for,” Hall says.
Boy can I relate to that!
The exhibition runs until 1st June 2008 and despite my reservations, I do think it’s well worth a visit if you’re in the Sydney area. This post is already quite long and it’s late here, so I’ll save the review of the other exhibition for another day.