Growing up in the rural cane farming region of Bundaberg influenced my interest in geometry and colour-field painting. Environmental factors noted, were the irregular grids of flat, adjoining sugarcane fields; mosaics of red ploughed earth and young green cane; panoramas of monochromatic sea and sky; wide open spaces; the sharp contrasting shadows, and light fragments produced by the bright sunlight. The lifestyle offered freedom to learn, strive, explore, innovate and importantly compete as a creative individual in a prosperous, modern, safe and open-minded community [i]. Judith Duquemin 2019
The exhibition titled: Geometry and Place by painter and past resident of Bundaberg, Judith Duquemin at the Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery (12 Mar – 29 Apr, 2019), is a wide-ranging survey of reductive, non-representational, geometric painting developed across two decades. The exhibition includes a selection of paintings, textile works, digital prints, as well as drawings and preliminary studies that demonstrate an investigational approach to contemporary painting practice. Apart from some early pieces, all the works are linked by examples of geometric systems and codes.
Duquemin’s practice draws from C20th legacies of modernist Geometric Abstraction and contemporary revivals of Constructionist Art, Concrete Art and Systems Art[ii]. More recently she has come to describe her work as a form of ‘constructive, generative art’ where the artist has partial control over how procedures are implemented. Generative Art is: “any art practice where the artist uses a system such as a set of rules, a computer programme, machine or other procedural invention, which is set into motion with some degree of autonomy contributing to, or resulting in, a complete work of art”[iii].
In a recent statement about her work, Duquemin said: “I like to create imaginative geometric systems that enable me to construct multiple outcomes using techniques of reductive geometric painting. The works in the exhibition are mostly multi-dimensional, asymmetric compositions, inspired by a combination of early environmental impressions formed as a child living amongst the sugar cane fields of the Bundaberg region, with those experiences later synthesized through education, academic research, travelling scholarship, artist residencies, national and international exhibitions, and ongoing self-directed inquiry into other geometries located within global culture, nature, and aspects of physical science. All of my work employs the concrete elements of line, shape, colour and form constructed in a geometric hard-edge style”[iv].
The artist upholds a non-representational approach to painting yet values her early education in representational drawing and painting. She regards geometric abstraction as a vehicle for discovery and experimentation through painting that sometimes incorporates other media such as textiles and digital graphics. She enjoys a multi-disciplinary approach to creative inquiry, a practice advocated by the Bauhaus Movement 100 years ago[i]. Following an intensive undergraduate and postgraduate art education at Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney, Dr Duquemin embraced many ideas and theories put forward by a range of artists from the C20th who had employed geometry within their respective fields. They included: Grace Crowley (AU), Lygia Clarke (BR), Carmen Hererra (BR), Agnes Martin (CA), Bridget Riley (UK), Barbara Hepworth (UK), Gillian Wise (UK), Sonya Delauney (FR), Lyubov Popova (RU), Robert Hunter (AU), Frank Hinder (AU), Tony McGillick (AU), Peter Lowe (UK), Ellsworth Kelly (USA), Sol LeWitt (USA), Franꞔois Morellet (FR), Piet Mondrian (NL), Theo Van Doesberg (NL), Kazimer Malevich (RU).
Duquemin’s technique of hard-edge painting begins
with the creation of systems as geometric, line pencil drawings that are carefully reworked to become painted studies that address relationships of colour and composition. Like the New York artist Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) she views her use of hard-edge
technique, as a method for emphasizing the simplicity of shape and form. Hard-edge painting is an approach to abstract painting that became widespread in the 1960s and is characterized by areas of flat colour with sharp, clear (or ‘hard’) edges’[ii]. Line is suggested by edge and is not
visible, yet edge operates on the same principle as a line, in that it suggests both a flat two-dimensional shape and a three-dimensional form. Line has an ongoing presence in the artist’s work.
interest in creative systems began with rudimentary schemata applied to regular, diagonal and curvilinear grids, to produce flat, unfolding patterns similar to the wall drawings of Sol LeWitt or the rhythmic colour formations found in the drawings and
paintings of Bridget Riley. Schemata (plural) according to the writer, are ideas that begin in the artist’s mind to help them interpret and learn about an aspect of reality through art. The word derives from the Greek word: skhēma, being “a plan,
diagram, or outline, especially a mental representation of some aspect of experience, based on prior experience and memory, structured in such a way as to facilitate (and sometimes to distort) perception, cognition, the drawing of inferences, or the interpretation
of new information in terms of existing knowledge” [i].
Schematic Composition #1 (Image 3), is the very first schema composed by the artist in 1999. For the commissioned painting: Rose Garden 2006 (Image 4), points on a ten point curvilinear grid map out a scheme to imitate a rose garden at Hunter Valley Gardens,
Pokolbin in New South Wales, Australia. The works titled: Imaginary Garden (2006)and Oriental Garden (2006)on exhibition utilize similar schemata.
Experimentation with generating systems helps to
explain how tessellated colour fields in the artist’s paintings gradually became restless: lifting, twisting, advancing and receding depending on the type of grid, with pictorial flatness slowly giving way to multi-dimensional picture making. In fact,
the artist/writer states ‘it was a deliberate intention to move away from habits of flatness and orthogonality in pictorial space, towards a desire to work within notions of boundless space’. To achieve this effect the artist utilizes cropped sections
of asymmetric, irregular grids generated from an undisclosed geometric source, something she now refers to as code. Examples may be observed in many works in the exhibition, in particular the multiple Schism 1-6 and Thirty Six (Image 5) a commissioned digital
facade graphic by the School of Psychology at UNSW Sydney. The works refer to what the artist attempts to define as a non-gravitational, non-navigational gaze with all its contemporary connotations.
dynamic elements in many of Duquemin’s paintings reflect a restless desire to learn through creative inquiry. Having completed a Doctor of Philosophy in 2004, she maintains an interest in the neuropsychology and neurophysiology of art making and art
appreciation. In 2001 Semir Zeki (UK) established the new field of Neuroesthetics which by definition is ‘the scientific study of the neural bases for the contemplation and creation of a work of art’, finally linking the disciplines of art and
science in a digital age [i]. Geometric
imagery has always played an important role in the scientific study of visual perception. Advances in digital brain mapping demonstrate that reductive geometric art provides visual cues for processing information and triggering personal memory in the brain’s
top down neural pathways, supporting what the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian (1872 – 1944), set out to achieve in his manifesto on Neoplasticism (1907)[ii]. Inspired by Wassilly Kandinsky (1866 – 1944), Mondrian believed visual content should be pared down to the most essential properties. Emphasis was on the formal structure of a work of art, a restriction of spatial
or linear relations as well as the artist’s palette.
Another topic of interest to the artist is the concept of Neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming
new neural connections throughout life[iii].
No longer limited to study of brain injury and disease, neuroplasticity can occur with new learning, new experience, or changes to one’s environment. The question of whether art may change the brain in the same way, was addressed recently by a panel
of scientists and art practitioners for Sydney Ideas during Innovation Week at the University of Sydney (2018). Any professional artist would declare that it does! Artists constantly revise their methods through information and ideation, through experimentation
and with new materials including technology, resulting in a constant revision of process and subject matter. Such is the experimental nature of this exhibition.
Duquemin believes geometric technique
in painting articulates memory. In preparation for the exhibition Geometry and Place, she has created a table of examples of visual phenomenon in response to her own observations and memories of habitat, culture, and environment in the Wide Bay region, to
further show how they may correlate to techniques that she developed over time, particularly in relationship to working the properties of space, line, shape, colour and light in her painting practice. Alternatively, they may also provide the viewer with a
set of symbolic references for the interpretation of the works on show.
TABLE 1. Concepts of Space, Line, Shape, Colour and Light phenomenon in the Bundaberg Region
SPACE characterized by:
flatness (flat terrain), distant horizon, high blue sky, starry nights, expansive waterways, endless beach, large parks, wide streets, low population density, country roads, farming remoteness…
clear blue sky, green blue sea, deep green rivers, green plantations, olive green gum trees, coloured bark, red sunrises and sunsets, black volcanic rock, monochrome buildings, painted houses and walls, yellow beaches, pink/yellow/orange/red tropical flowers and plants, new lime green shoots, red tomatoes, yellow lemons and bananas, green beans, orange/green pineapples and mangoes, maroon hedges, streetlights, blue tractors, red ploughs, faded paint, metallic iridescent sunsets, greys at sunset, beach towels…
LIGHT characterized by:
dazzling white daylight, yellow/orange/red/grey/black sunrises and sunsets, lightning strikes set against deep blue-black thunder clouds, sheets of sparkling water, light after a downpour, sugarcane fires…
The study of environmental influences on artists and art making can sometimes sound clichéd. It would be wrong to assume that early childhood impressions of geometric phenomenon like those listed in Table 1. directly caused the artist to become an abstract geometric painter; though it is acknowledged that creative individuals possess heightened observational skills from an early age. More likely, early environmental impressions were reinforced by aesthetics, trends, values and beliefs pertaining to that particular period of the modern era. Modernist principles of architecture, art and design had begun to infiltrate many aspects of Queensland culture from the 1950s. Duquemin was born in Brisbane in 1953. She attended Maroondan and South Bundaberg state primary schools between 1958 and 1964, enrolling at Kepnock High school from 1965 to 1970. In 1981, she left Bundaberg in pursuit of work and tertiary education and returned to Bundaberg on various occasions to visit family, watching the city grow, all the time reinforcing her own curiosity about her approach to geometric painting. Bundaberg is a very ‘geometric city’ a term borrowed from the architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965) which referred to the geometric planning of cities of the future. From its early timber cutting days to the prosperous agricultural, commercial, technological and educational centre it is today, Bundaberg always had the potential to become just that. Many locals are unaware of how geometricthey really are in their tastes and preferences for things and how they go about their daily lives. Some aspects that immediately come to mind are: the beautifully manicured hedges and gardens beds; perfectly whipper-snipped pavement edges; the colourful presence of fresh paint applied to buildings, fences and landscape architecture; the mass of modernist inspired houses and buildings; and the immaculate town planning. Everyone in the Bundaberg region is a geometric artist of some kind!
Curated by Cassandra Hard-Lawrie and Nick Vickers Newington Armory Gallery Sydney Olympic Park
Mining Pyrite features the artworks of: Wade Marynowsky, Mark Booth, Chris Bowman, Mark Brown, Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro, Louisa Dawson, Gary Deirmendjian, Judith Duquemin, Allan Giddy, John Gillies, Locust Jones, Akira Kamada, Michael Keighery, Daniel Mudie Cunningham, Meredith Peach, Jane Theau, Rachel Walls, Ken and Julia Yonetani
Before Sydney Olympic Park became a world class sports and events venue, it was the town dump and its history heralded a catalogue of environmental failures. The brick works that provided the walls for industry and employment for thousands and the abattoir that fed the city but both created the hurdle that needed to be overcome to transform this tract of land and indeed the waterways nearby into “an internationally admired example of sustainable urban renewal and development”. Coal mining excavations that were undertaken by Blaxland in 1841 resulted in several unsuccessful explorations and housing speculations failed to excite the establishment of a viable a community in this district until recent times. Mining Pyrite offers a comparison between the failure and success of the Olympic Park through the work of artists whose works are also synonymous with experimentation. The constant testing and exploration of the boundaries of what does and doesn't work is the stock and trade of creativity. Over the past 13 years Sydney Olympic Park Authority has acknowledged and supported this endeavour through its Artists at The Armory program. Mining Pyrite is an exhibition that sheds light on the activities of the studios as well as celebrating a history of the success of the residency, proving the point that if a studio exists for emerging artists, success may prevail over failure. In many ways, as neighbours at the Olympic Park, art and sport are compatible bedfellows. The artist and the sportsperson strode hand in hand through the opening and closing ceremonies of not only the Olympics, but a host of tournaments, concerts and sponsored extravaganzas. Sponsorship was the winner with naming rights and promotional accolades but sport claimed silver and creativity claimed a distant bronze. Mining Pyrite Curators Cassandra Hard-Lawrie and Nick Vickers have selected 19 artists who have occupied the studios and whose works exemplify a journey of exploration, a journey that demonstrates that creativity is not easy, a journey that traces the journey within the journey from failure to success. The curatorial selection highlights the works of the artists who have explored the notion that creative research and development can and sometimes must embrace failure as a stepping stone to creative discovery. During its time as an armaments store the unique building was a fortification that was purpose-built to store explosive materials. Re-purposed as an exhibition venue The Armory boasts one of the longest walls in the southern hemisphere and provides a grand scale setting for Mining Pyrite. Wade Marynowsky has had a long association with the artist studios at Sydney Olympic Park. His interactive work “Black Casino”(2013) provides an obvious starting point for the curatorial brief for Mining Pyrite. Reference to the short term money market and its elements of chance and high risk is exemplified in a work that involves five flying V guitars mounted atop a rotating roulette wheel that frequently appears in popular game shows such as The Wheel of Fortune. The popular concept that there is a “get rich quick” element associated with the world of art and exhibitions is as fanciful as the notion that a fortune can be made by the spin of a wheel or the roll of a dice.
Although life and chance are intertwined, fate becomes a key factor that is explored in one of the most ambitious works in Mining Pyrite, Mark Brown’s Hull Loss VH-XXW 2016 comprises a salvaged helicopter tail rotor partially burned after the crash that claimed it. There is nothing that captures the public’s imagination more than aviation disasters and nothing exemplifies failure as ubiquitously as the perceived incompetency of uniformed personnel. Hull Loss VH-XXW 2016 continues a large series of sound installation works inspired by this artist’s interest in aviation. Engraved onto the surface of the rotor blade is the aircraft serial number and the GPS location of the point where it crashed. Flickering imagery on LED screens and deep reverberations pulsating through the rotor blade add drama to Mark Brown’s interpretation of the curatorial theme.
Victory and defeat travel on similar paths to success and failure. War, in our present day psyche, is an inescapable reality that has a presence throughout the exhibition. Camouflage has been a key element in the work of Mark Booth and his work “Munitions” draws on it once more to explores the juxtaposition between the industrial waste buried beneath Blaxland Riverside Park site and the playground above. By presenting re-appropriations of camouflaged toy guns that point menacingly out from the wall at eye level, the defiant barrels of the guns become the toy’s eyes meeting the eyes of the viewer and in this encounter a toy becomes a pistol as a truth becomes a reality.
Closer to home but still in the war zone, Michael Keighery’s ceramic symbolic memories of his Great Uncle Frank Keighery who lost his life at Gallipoli are encapsulated in his work “Dead Man’s Penny”. These works are touching reminders of the futility of war. Frank Keighery was a journalist who kept a diary of his thoughts and poetry all transcribed in Pitman Shorthand. The “Dead Man’s Penny” is a medallion that was issued to the families of personnel who lost their lives in the war and was inscribed “He Died for Freedom and Honour”. Michael Keighery was the very first tenant of the Armory artists program and worked in the well-equipped ceramics studios. Over time his practice has moved from functional ceramic objects to sculptural forms. Whilst “Dead Man’s Penny” honours his Great Uncle’s life through the ceramic tradition, it also becomes a telling reminder of one of the greatest failures of WW1.
Although Gallipoli was the greatest antipodean tragedy, the holocaust was Europe’s greatest shame. How many lives, how many families, how many stories? The Jewish diaspora encompasses the world and the mass migration to escape inevitable and senseless destruction of a whole nation is a catalogue of failure that is heaped upon subsequent catalogues of failure. The Jewish museums dotted around the globe in nearly every major city commemorate those incomprehensible and inexpressible emotions as well as those innumerable stories. Ken and Julia Yonetani's video work entitled “Kristallnacht” documents the artists’ assembling of a mound of chandelier crystals (taken from original antique chandelier structures sourced in Berlin) in front of the Deportation Memorial on the Putlitzbrücke (Putlitz bridge). This site commemorates the place where many Jews were deported from Berlin to concentration camps. The video reveals how the "fate of the dispossessed crystals of remembrance was placed in the hands of the bystander”.
On a less catastrophic note, Gary Deirmendjian demonstrates how art practice that engages experimentally with public space can have outcomes that cannot be predetermined, thereby opening up the artistic process to potential failure. Deirmendjian's “roman stack” documents, through photography, his public intervention of forming a cubed stack of vernacular bitumen rubble outside the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in Rome - and then the authorities' and general public's alterations to it. In the current climate of heightened global security, it is surprising that Deirmendjian’s “roman stack”, in such a prominent position, maintained a presence for as long as it did without being detonated. “roman stack” took pride of place as a backdrop to one of Rome’s most prestigious museums, as well as featuring in a plethora of tourist selfies, begging the question - “Is this art?”. But that’s another debate that harks back to institutional perceptions of how art is defined, how art is funded or, indeed, how art fails to be funded.
Within Judith Duquemin’s work is a magician’s sleight of hand that plays a visual trick on the viewer and that’s precisely the slip and shift that she explores in her series “Schism” - a series of cropped sections of geometric compositions that crash on a central dynamic in each of the artworks. This division symbolises the shift that is frequently apparent in religious and political dialogues that often result in profound philosophical divides. It is precisely this failure of communication that has been so prevalent in dialogues between art theoreticians, artists and curators particularly over the past thirty years. Another intersection of art and geometry can be found in the ancient Egyptian practice of Khayamiya that continues into contemporary practice in the works of both Judith Duquemin and Rachel Walls. “Pomegranate” by Rachel Walls is a video that takes its origins from eight geometric sections and examines a dynamic interplay that may result in a metaphysical construction. This construct is, as Rachel Walls suggests…” a myth and as such it cannot obtain what it seeks”.
An encased, and a now distant, piece of telephonic technology that supported an immense national communication network of pay-phones links Louisa Dawson’s “Mobile Obsolescence” to the raft of changes to our daily methods of keeping in touch. The telephone has featured in posters, artworks and films as either a conduit to urgent communication or bitter frustration. Louisa Dawson makes it mobile, makes it portable but in doing so highlights the endless debate that centres around our tele-communication systems and technologies bringing every subscriber to the point of ultimate despair when that connection fails to connect.
Allan Giddy has taken a literal approach to the theme of failure by revisiting a work “Absence and Presence Part 1” that he created in the UK in the 1990’s that aimed to extract music from the abundance of rain. He describes hours of tedious work that resulted in “a clumsy sculptural object” that he eventually abandoned. The object was kindly stored by his friend and laid buried under her house until sadly, in 2004, she died. The work in The Armory is that same sculpture that has remained unopened; it is, in effect, a time capsule that commemorates his friend’s passing but also his own project that is an acknowledged failure. The X-Ray image of this work gives an eerie forensic presence that reveals the contents of a seemingly benign object that could, at any time, spring into being in the afterlife.
There is a metaphorical rumination that connects Allan Giddy’s work to that of Chris Bowman who draws an influence from the Russian constructivist movement as well as the work of Lazlo MoholyNagy. By placing a clear plexiglass construction on a mirror, flanked by inter-related charcoal works on paper, Bowman insistently pushes the point that these works refuse to be seated within an easy categorisation of either drawing or sculpture. The question is posed that this work defies definition and therefore could be interpreted as a successful drawing, a failed sculpture, a successful sculpture or a failed drawing but in the end spatial relationships succeed in “Notation 10 - Disturbance/Stasis”.
One of the great claims that makes Sydney Olympic Park “an internationally admired example of sustainable urban renewal and development” has been acknowledged and celebrated worldwide. Its stunning location, the footprint of the former naval armaments storage base, re-purposed buildings that incorporate the artists’ studios, a theatre and a labyrinth of tunnels and railway tracks provided the inspirational backdrop for Daniel Mudie Cunningham’s “Oh Industry”. Although this work was made in 2009 as part of his residency, its relevance to the history of the site makes it an essential inclusion to Mining Pyrite. In celebrating the site, “Oh Industry” also refers to the age of mechanisation that ultimately created the industrial waste that occupied the site before its celebrated sustainable overhaul.
Meredith Peach is nationally known for her extensive research into up-cycled materials. In this case the reclaimed pet food packaging in her Distant Touch (2016) that references the pet free flora and fauna policy of Sydney Olympic Park Authority that is essential to the preservation of wild life in the park but particularly the bird sanctuary. These works were not specifically made with the success/ failure theme in mind, but the clear reference to our failure as inhabitants of this planet to dispose of our waste is an obvious inclusion in Mining Pyrite. In a similar vein, Akira Kamada’s Fragile (2017) is made from window frames containing a number of selected found-objects. Whilst this work links in up-cycled content to the work of Meredith Peach, its symbolic references to elements of life and sustainability touch directly on the effects of climate change. Interwoven within this work also is a more specific reflection on what constitutes success & failure for art and artists aiming to demonstrate the complexity and vulnerability of an artist͛’s work as they strive to hold on to what͛’s important to their individual aesthetic.
The vacuum of the studio in Jane Theau’s “The Impossibility of Infinite Growth” echoes the sentiments of Akira Kamada, but poses the question - “What constitutes success?”. Perhaps in the creative world success can be conceived and categorised as the space to think, the space to create, the studio that may be the residency at Sydney Olympic Park. Jane Theau deliberates that …“For nations, it is all about economic growth” but artists are not nations and nations are not nations without national identities and without artists there can be no national identity. If Australia’s identity only reflects “commodity fetishism” - where is the national identity? In a climate of economic vacillation, where Australia is rated as a first world country and Sydney vaunts its claim as a global city, creativity is valued as a commodity rather than a cultural asset.
Although the work of John Gillies refers to the phenomenon of a shipwreck in 1882 and its load of coal that continues to appear mysteriously after unprecedentedly violent storms that signify the imminence of climate change. In many ways this work echoes the chasms of understanding that occur in Judith Duquemin’s works, and makes metaphorical references to climate change and the gulf that exists between failed political imagination and the public’s expectations that carbon emissions will be addressed. The inclusion of his work “In the Air” also provides uncanny links to the failed coal mining attempts in and around Newington.
The mystery proffered by John Gillies continues through to the 10 metre narrative work on paper by Blue Mountains artist Locust Jones entitled “summermurder”. Failure and success abound side by side in this work that is both spectacular and intriguing. It is a work that was produced in 2014, after a trip to South Africa where the artist saw a rhinoceros for the first time. This is the starting point for a meandering patterned meditation on this ancient, noble and endangered creature. The applied pattern from the trees above spread to other parts of the drawing that include Formula 1 racing cars, Palestinian stone throwers, the London riots, Kim Jong Un and crosswords, sourced from newspapers of the time and personal photographs. The clue to the title “summermurder” is found in a crossword that Locust Jones completed, the answer to 1 across was the word “summer” and 3 down͛ ’s answer was “͚murder”. Jones explains …”Joining these words together seemed to reflect the slaughter of the rhinoceros (and other animals) that occurred in the summer of 2014”.
A utopian setting for an artists’ studio residency at Wellington’s Te Whare Hara became the location for Sean Cordeiro and Claire Healey’s complex and intriguing series of digital reinterpretations and integrations of landscapes from Kiwi horror films that explore a Kiwi Gothic in relation to colonialism. Perhaps the convenience store with its CCTV footage, often owned and operated by second or third generation families of original migrants creates a sense of unease that is a far cry from Te Whare Hara that has been described in glowing terms as …the Russell Crowe of all residency situations: the studio enjoys a panoramic view of the harbour: by merely stepping out the studio door, breaks from working can be spent fishing or breathing in the sea air….” In present times, in the hands of Cordeiro and Healey, this vision subsequently opens out to include an amalgam of everyday items interspersed with images of masked bandits in convenience stores. These same stores, often owned and operated by first generation immigrants, are often the site of dark crimes: a harsh impression for a newcomer.
In the context of Mining Pyrite, art and pyrite have certain similarities - both crystallise and both are collectable. Pyrite is sometimes called Fools Gold because of its similarity in colour and shape to the precious metal, gold. But Mining Pyrite really refers to the crisis that we have in Australia relating to the funding and failure of support networks for creativity. The continuous exodus of artists from the city because of the lack of studio spaces emphasises the importance of the Artists at the Armory program and the role that it plays in attempting to maintain an arts community in the city that is rated eighth in the table of global cities despite the fact that the local ferry that serves commuters to and from the city never stops at The Newington Armory. In conclusion to this catalogue essay, Mining Pyrite, refers not only to the a parallel narrative of failure and success that can be drawn from the ‘artist’ story and environmental concerns, it also acknowledges the distant cries of “Gold Gold Gold” that optimistically resonated throughout those magnificent stadiums of “the best olympic games ever” and continue to echo across the desolate acres our creative landscape as “Coal Coal Coal”.