Tag Archives: Carmen Reid


“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.

Sally Field

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.

James Cattell

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.

Carmen Reid

Carmen Reid @ Brunswick Arts

I was happy to see the recent graduate show at Brunswick Arts, Launch 09, curated by Alister Karl, because it contained more work by Carmen Reid. Last year I wrote a review of her exhibition with Beau Emmett at RMIT’s First Site gallery (see my review: Interiors).It was one the outstanding exhibitions that I saw in 2009.

“It (First Site) was an ideal space to respond to with all the quirks of the space, the niches, stairway, vent and general subterranean location, and was an excellent opportunity at that point in time to get out of the studio and create a cohesive exhibition. Some of the works we’d made individually prior to conceiving of the show, while others were made specifically for the space -collaboratively and separately.”

Carmen Reid Dwelling Machine 2

Carmen Reid Dwelling Machine 2

Carmen Reid recycles old household fittings into wall-mounted sculptures. Bathroom fittings like taps, shower pipes, towel rings, and adjustable mirrors are reused in quirky possibilities. Reid is interested in “the potential of inanimate objects to evoke empathy and prompt narratives.”

Although in the Brunswick Arts exhibition Reid is working solo in this show her artistic vision, along with a few reworked pieces from the First Site show, continues to be refined or adapted. Cloth covered electrical cord flows around the gallery, providing connections between objects with the implied narrative of causality that connects the light-bulb to the switch.

There is a playful quality to Reid’s work; there are a few subtle visual puns. You don’t need to know any great critical theory to understand or enjoy it. There is a whole block of metal hooks in all sizes and shapes.

Carmen Reid, Dwelling Machine - hooks and envelopes

Carmen Reid, Dwelling Machine – hooks and envelopes

The old materials give Reid’s art an appealing retro style and a fascinating feeling of intrigue. They are from an era of houses retrofitted with modern electricity and indoor plumbing. “Analogue fixtures are all about the body and the impulse to touch.” Telephone receivers and lots of switches are combined in imaginative assemblages. The paper from the ‘memo roll’ along with vacuum hoses and telephone cords extend into the upper floor of Brunswick Arts.

Reid thinks about these domestic assemblages as portraits, “not literally/figuratively, but as a trajectory for the thought process of an inhabitant in the process of dwelling; of habitual responses to fittings etc in the home distractedly mingling with thought.”

Most of Reid’s sculptures are mounted, or installed, on square redgum blocks. These mounts, or plinths, are from old bits of fencing that Reid found in her backyard. Reid sources most of her materials second-hand, or find them lying around. But looking closely amongst these readymade recycled materials there are also casts of light switches, made of candle wax, and cast bronze light-globes. Reid’s main purpose for combining them “is to do with the idea of ‘dwelling’-of slipping in and out of awareness of reality and the quality of things that surround us.” These are surreal works; Magritte’s bowler-hat wearing man would feel at home in Carmen’s Reid’s world.

(Thank you Carmen Reid for your replies to my emails and the photos.)

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