Exhibition review Zoe Sweeney: Subsist - A Cosseted Environment Gallery Go Go, Melbourne Victoria
The curators of Gallery Go Go have a background in conceptual and installation art and provide input from these areas into the exhibitions that they stage. Subsist by Zoe Sweeney is the first show at Gallery Go Go to be an installation made by one of the curators. Sweeney dubs the installation "a cosseted environment". The Oxford English dictionary defines "cosset":
"cosset. (bpsit), v. [ f. precec.sb. In literary use, chiefly of the 19th C. ] Trans. to treat as a cosset, to fondle, caress, pet, indulge, pamper."
The installation refers to the notion of cosseting in a number of ways.
Overall it consists of images related to landscape and environment. Sweeney has used soil across the entire surface of the floor to create shapes which have the appearance of crop circles or symbols of fertility. The first impression that viewers may have when they enter the space is that they are looking over a field of crops.
Sweeney has constructed this installation with the intention of including all those who come to see it. The images that led up to Subsist stemmed from personal experiences and feelings she encountered whilst moving from one country to another. To help people understand the installation in its context she reduced these images to objects or markings that are commonly recognised by people in Western cultures as signifiers for meaning. She then abstracted these signifiers by adding an extra layer of her own subjective interpretation of these ideas. The dark soil against the starkness of the floor has a similar look to the bold style of bordering that we find in the design of maps. Two of the circles at the front of the space join and then cross over so that they become visually analogous to a mathematical diagram of a 'subset'. Bold bordering and mathematical subset imagery are conventionally used to signify the division of people into class, race, age, religion or area of dwelling. These images join together to create the illusion that we are looking from an ariel perspective at a small scale grid system like those used in the logical development of new cities.
The catalogue for this show reads that new cities are "somehow bound by the logic of -'this sort of '- grid." Inside her images of bold bordering, Sweeney has constructed simplified plaster shelters. These structures accentuate how subgroups of people can either be "cosseted" or excluded by the use of artificially constructed definitions.
On the surrounding walls of this installation are cylinders of woven plastic similar to those seen surrounding seedlings on crop pegs. The suggestion of the seedling symbolises the new growth that happens to a person when they enter a new division or country.
The use of soil and crop imagery reminds us of the creation of old cities which are constructed in accordance with the "law of the land". The plastic cylinders remind us of how an individual is pampered but will also face the danger of being suffocated by growing in such an area.