Deeper Places

3 May  30 June 2002 Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre

Deeper Places brings together work from the last decade by six contemporary Australian artists in an exhibition exploring ideas of migration and cultural and individual identity curated specifically for the Casula site. It speaks so intelligently with its location that the building becomes part of the exhibition itself. Engagements with location/ dislocation, placement/displacement, construction of self are played out and echoed through the space. The effect is powerful and exceptionally moving, enriching both site and exhibition.

Some of the echoes between building and image are quite literal. Laurens Tan's large work Adapt Enforce IV uses text placed below giant industrial rivets (recalling the once industrial use of the Casula site). As the viewer moves, the text shifts from adapt to enforce (and back again) using a billboard technique of text on three-dimensional space. Clearly, adaptation and enforcement can both be a type of coercion; in this case, perspective shifts, literally, depending on where you stand.

Hossein Valamanesh's Shadow of a Cloud also seems perfectly situated. Showing the shadow of a man against cloud-like swirls, Valamanesh presents a negotiable and transient subjectivity. This work sits below Robyn Backen's Christ Knows, the distinctive patterning on the glass fascade of the building. This creates a multiplicity of experience for the viewer – we witness the shadow of Valamanesh while simultaneously experiencing ourselves as shadows in the space.

Valamanesh's Both Sides of the Story is located in a darkened room, a space that complements this meditation on spirituality and the idea of throwing light on identify. Red sand in an ornate Iranian frame brings together two aspects of the artist's self, with candles illuminating, or providing the opportunity to enlighten the self.
Valamanesh also plays with light in Lighting the Shadows; a table with holes drilled into it in the shape of the artist's body sits over a Persian rug. In the darkened space, light falls from the tabletop to create a radiantly beautiful pattern beneath – the self becomes glorious in this work, activated to something magnificent and beautiful through the process of illumination.

Guan Wei's New Development Zones negotiate ideas of space and situation literally (sitting aptly above Judy Watson's Koori Floor). Using copies of Chinese landscape scrolls, Wei has overlaid architectural drawings and designs in white line work. These buildings and spaces – some imaginary, some real – create a new landscape. In one way they intrude on the classical space, yet the architectural x-ray drawing style used also gives these buildings and sites a fragility; against the permanence of the landscape scroll they look ephemeral, easily erased.

Erasure and self are also negotiated in Lindy Lee's First Light and Red Kuan Yin. These multiple panelled works impose repeated images of a woman's face amongst blank red spaces, with the image erased or disrupted through the application of wax. Lee speaks of the self as shaped and confirmed through the world; the subjective is fluid, often disrupted.

The theme of the unfixed identity, expressed by Lee, is also explored in Gordon Bennett's ambitious and playful Notes to Basquiat. These acrylic works heavy with text, cartoon images and Basquiat-esque stylised figures use appropriation, juxtaposition, (over)layering and blending, mixing, combining to discuss Aboriginality and Australian identity through an indigenous perspective. Basquiat is both visual source and an expression of black experience to Bennett – with these notes a posthumous message; a message that codes frustration at racist labelling and that assumes identity as a type of pastiche.

Bennett's coded paintings sit successfully, and perhaps surprisingly, with the selected panels from Imants Tillers' works, Leap of Faith, Oracle and Strange Attractor; the use of textual and visual references that Tillers also employs makes them seem like natural counterparts. Tillers' panels eloquently capture part of the migratory experience, the search for selfhood and personal reference points. Tillers uses visual and textural quotation to assemble an identity; situated under Rollcall by Nicole Ellis, a frieze of workers' names from the Casula Powerhouse, this only strengthens the value of inscribing and claiming identity that Tillers negotiates.

I have always had a real fondness for Casula Powerhouse and Deeper Places reinforces that feeling. In a near perfect fusion of site and exhibition, Deeper Places gives a powerful voice to dialogues of representation, identity and layering of community needs and desires that the Casula site itself so ambitiously and critically represents.

Support independent writing on the visual arts. Subscribe or donate here.