Phillips & Palonen @ Counihan Gallery

There is a double bill exhibition on in the Counihan’s flexible space: Kristen Phillips “Whatnotes, Haves and Havenots” and Valentina Palonen “Shape Shifter”.

Kristen Phillips’ “Whatnotes, Haves and Havenots” is an exhibition of small bronze sculptures. The exhibition has a 19th Century feel: the black bronze looks jewellery carved from jet or coal and the 5 red tall plant stands that act as plinths have a 19th Century form. The miniature landscapes formed from the detritus of excess, the costume jewellery, loose screws and the cheap babbles that build up in the bottom of a dresser draw. What constitutes cheap sentimental objects depends on your economic status, hence the “have and havenots” part of the exhibition title. These small detailed sculptures are meditations on the excesses of materialism. The titles reflect this excess: “Full to overflowing”, “close but no cigar”, “A few too many”. The sculptures freeze and solidify the ephemeral sentimental attachments to objects that make the bottle caps appear memorable until the morning after.

Valentina Palonen creates spectacularly ugly sculpture. Ugly is a powerful aesthetic because it can move people as much as beauty. There is neo-baroque rocco excess in Palonen’s sculpture; they verge on the obscene because of the biological fecundity or excreta implied by the shapes. When I saw her sculpture for the first time last year in an exhibition, “New Releases” at Pigment Gallery I described her art as “so funky ugly, kitsch ugly that I never felt comfortable looking at it.” Palonen has progressed in the last year, her work is still ugly, still full of expanded foam but it is more coherent, better defined, she has found new uses for expanded foam. There are attempts to make the work beautiful, the artificial flowers or the velvet ribbon but these only accentuate the ugly parts. The ideas are better articulated in this exhibition as Palonen explores the meaning of the ugly. Palonen uses the superstitious ugliness of the mandrake root, depicted with casts of mutant carrots and parsnips hung on velvet ribbons.

Valentina Palonen, parsnip effigy, 2010

Both of exhibitions were hung in a contemporary optimistic style (it is half full).


About Mark Holsworth

Writer and artist Mark Holsworth is the author of two books, The Picasso Ransom and Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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