“Noooo! I don’t want to leave.” said the little girl to her father and walked defiantly away to look at the bandaged baby carriage creature with its grinning teeth on the far side of the gallery. She didn’t want to be torn so quickly from this world of strange creatures, uncanny objects and compelling machines and went around the exhibition again to see her favourites.
Her father wasn’t insistent, everyone in the gallery could see her point, this is a fantastic exhibition that well deserves a second look. Curated by Carmen Reid, Conspirators is at the Yarra Gallery in Federation Square and is part of the Czech and Slovak Film Festival of Australia. I hadn’t been or heard of the Yarra Gallery before, it turns out it is the building opposite ACMI where most of the Czech and Slovak Film Festival is being held.
The exhibition is by local artists with a similar aesthetic to the work of Jan Švankmajer. In Švankmajer’s stop-motion animations, ordinary objects, often as simple as stones, clay or cutlery, are both transformed and allowed to remain as it is. The walls of the exhibition display panels about his films and career and that also serve as an indirect explanation of the exhibition. Švankmajer’s themes of puppets and fetish sculptures are reflected in the work of a over a dozen local artists.
Aly Aitken grinning creatures of bandages and leather, like a combination of Švankmajer’s Little Otik and Bacon’s Figures at the base of a Crucifixion. The clay manipulated by Duncan Freedman’s Love and other machines, reminding me of early Švankmajer animations, like Food. Freedman’s hand cranked machines making desperate sexual allusions in a purely mechanical manner. Nadia Mercuri’s work with glass and spoons reminding me of many animations of cutlery by Švankmajer.
The surreal appreciation of objects that gave material form to the surreal vision. Displaying the surreal aspect of objects as totem or taboo, repulsively and attractively physical. Sarah Field makes a lot of use of hair: a tea trolley of hair cakes, on a cow skin rug (I wonder what hair would taste like with chocolate and tea?), her long haired mop and bucket, The Aesthetics of Seduction and Disgust, and her long haired toothbrush.
There are many fantastic sculptures in this exhibition. From Robbie Rowlands wooden suitcase that has been cut in a precise way, making what was once firm flexible whereas Terry Williams and Jenny Bartholomew’s grotesque stuffed objected are flexible by nature. The high light of the exhibition has to be the complex and macabre automata machines of James Cattell, that have to be cranked to be fully appreciated. In curator and artist, Carmen Reid’s, Dwelling machines, two objects are connected with wires, threads or chains. Bringing these artists together creates an exhibition that, like the sculptures in it, is much more than the sum of the parts.