In the south of England there is a large wilderness which bears the name, New Forest. The placename alone is the best part of a thousand years old; the woodland is far older, ancient even.
What is deemed ‘new’ is always relative. In everyday use, ‘new’ is used to describe something novel or current, of this present moment—something somehow different from before. Yet when we consider the use of this word in the naming of places, its meaning points to other things: that a place has come into someone’s possession either by ‘discovery’ or conquer; and moreover, that it is maybe analogous to another place, another forest.
This exhibition brings together new work by Melbourne-based artists Kathy Temin and André Piguet. Though on the surface each artist’s practice is different, there are synergies in their use of language, interest in child’s play and the emergence of new hybrid forms (in both figuration and formal abstraction).
Included in the show are two of Temin’s iconic soft sculptures: a statuesque lone 'ball tree' in radiant chartreuse, and a smaller wall relief—a garden of three trees in forest green. Fabricated in her hallmark synthetic fur, these curious objects oscillate wonderfully between Seussesque cartoon landscape, seventies interiors kitsch, and totem-like modernist sculpture—think Barbara Hepworth or Constantin Brâncusi.
Temin explores the intersections of cultural, personal and historic memory through the garden, and cites the influence of her father’s history of displacement as driving her concern. In both her large-scale installations and smaller domestic sculptures, she deliberately and repeatedly uses abstracted and idealised topiary-like tree forms in monochrome. In the smaller scaled works she engages with modes of display from the home such as the shelf and sideboard for the trees to be based on. For her monumental scaled works she combines sentimentality through soft material and monumentality through scale, for Temin it is important to read these manicured landscapes as spaces to remember and to celebrate life, while also asking the question of what a monument or a memorial can be.*
Piguet’s work is also a consideration of landscape. In the main space are three works from his ongoing series, Port Duckula. Intended as working studies, a distorted anamorphic image of Count Duckula forms their basis. The heavily elongated or stretched image appears correct when viewed from an oblique angle—as famously seen with the skull featured in Hans Holbein the Younger’s The Ambassadors (1533).
When asked about his use of Count Duckula, Piguet’s response was two-fold. He felt drawn to the cartoon’s satirical misanthropic character—perhaps as a further nod to Holbein’s skull and the memento mori trope: death amidst life. Yet the artist also states that the image was merely used as a scaffold—a mesh upon which to insert a series of iterative and formal colour tests. Indeed each drawing is heavily layered, worked and reworked. In addition, the use of the word ‘port’in the series title—as in an opening or access point in a computer system—further suggests that the artist be machine-like: abstracting or operating with disregard for meaning.
The word ‘port’ also opens the work to another reading—in connection with the sea. It is hard not to think of landscapes when considering the extended letterbox forms that frame the works, and the images’ dominant horizontal divisions—are they horizons? Piguet’s palette is also largely dominated by blues. Lastly, the Cartesian or Albertian grids that are evident within the work, might suggest maps or mapmaking.
Landscape and sea are equally present in Piguet’s two colour field paintings showing in the second space. Again these form part of a larger series of process-based abstract works. Whilst non-objective in methodology—they consist of patterns that correspond to the rhythm or timing of the music the artist listened to while painting them—they nevertheless have the visual appearance suggestive of physical spaces or forms. Their glossy surfaces, made up of layers of pigment in an oil-alkyd medium, appear like pools, waves, streams, or light seen through a tree canopy. Rather than playing down such emergent forms, Piguet seeks to illuminate them, providing representational cues within his titling. The titles are structured in two parts—first making reference to the musical or sonic forms, and second, to bodies of water or land: Bassoon Wave (2019), Xylem Tube (2020), Ren Atoll (2020).
New Forest brings together the work of two artists who question our understanding of place, art history, visual forms, and value. Neither artist’s work is categoric. Quite to the contrary, both Temin and Piguet present work that encourages interrogation and a search for multiple, even paradoxical, meanings—this seems fitting with our current time.
* Temin, Kathy, Melbourne Prize for Urban Sculpture 2020, retrieved from https://online.flippingbook.com/view/800986/