Bruce Armstrong’s eagle (Bunjil) is known across Naarm/Melbourne, his carved beasts that guarded the entrance to the NGV in the 1990s. There are more of his eagles at the entrance to Hyatt Hotel.
I came to see the works by Bruce Armstrong, but there is more to the “Animal” exhibition than just his beasts. “Animal” is an exhibition of work by nine established and mid-career artists, including Bruce Armstrong, depicting a variety of animals in a variety of media. & Gallery is a commercial contemporary art gallery located in the Atrium in Fed Square opposite the NGV, where previously there was a glass-art gallery (as well as, a branch in Sorrento).
In the exhibition, Armstrong’s smaller bronze edition of the Hyatt Eagles and NGV guardians, along with other small sculptures, paintings and works on paper. Armstrong carves the image of an animal in two dimensions in the same way he carves wood. Rough-hewn lines cutting through space, rendered in pastel, ink and shellac on paper. Cutting to what is necessary to represent a cat curled up.
However, Jenny Crompton’s wire crochet sea life, hanging in the gallery’s window, first caught my eye. The intricate white painted wire strange bodies bedecked with resin jewels looked alien and life-like. And yet, like, us, they have a body with mirror symmetry, a top and bottom.
On entering the gallery, Emily Valentine Bullock’s chimerical dogs with wings and feathers held my attention. These magical creatures combine contemporary art, jewellery and taxidermy, for Bullock is a jeweller who specialises in working with feathers. What kind of world would it be with flying dogs?
There are also ceramic sculptures of dogs and cats by Lynne Bechaervaise. Anna Glynn’s paintings of dream-like-cloud horses are influenced by Chinese painting. Cash Brown’s oil painted copies of animals from details of old master paintings.
Susan Reddrop’s beautiful and natural sea-life in cast lead crystal, Susan Crookes paintings of dogs and Mark Cuthbertson’s cast concrete bears and sinister rabbit. Cuthbertson’s rough economic forms are the closest in style to Armstrong’s animals.
What would it be like to be another animal, especially a seahorse, a jellyfish or lobster? Non-human animals and fantastic mutant creatures feature prominently in contemporary art. They are no longer symbols like a lion nor a possession like a horse or a cow. The animal is the other with life, values, and preconceptions different to our own. Wittgenstein wrote: “If a lion could speak, we couldn’t understand him” in his posthumous Philosophical Investigations (II 190).