Space Antics: Sue Henderson, David Marsden, Penny Mason

Burnie Regional Art Gallery 19 March - 8 May 2011

Above and below: Sue Henderson, David Marsden, Penny Mason Space Antics 2011, installation.

Arriving at Burnie Regional Art Gallery, after a drive that allowed time to consider what 'space' might be in the context of the exhibition I was traveling to see, I was expecting a place where I could ‘play’ and be amused - a space for ‘antics’, playful tricks, pranks and capers. Having eliminated the ‘astrological’ and contemplated the unfilled realm between material objects and space as ‘place’, I entered the gallery where Space Antics was being exhibited as part of the 10 Days on the Island festival.

The exhibition had its origins in Launceston where paintings on Washi rice paper by Sue Henderson and Penny Mason were placed on miscellaneous surfaces around Launceston, including the walls of private residencies. As I understand it, the project included informal openings inside peoples’ homes. This documented ‘bathroom project’ which formed a part of Space Antics in Launceston prompted Director, Greg Leong to feature the exhibition at BRAG.

The installation consists of domestic objects, fittings and mirrors – the sort of things commonly found in a household bathroom. The paintings by Henderson and Mason are adhered to the supporting structures and furniture. The paintings substitute for such things as ceramic tiles, drawer liners and wallpaper.

Henderson’s paintings seemed to reflect the distinctive rock cliffs of my highway journey to Burnie with their long lateral form lines and drill markings. They have an earthy quality, as if the medium had been ground out of the earth itself. If you were to run your fingers across the paintings it would feel textured, like eroded earth. Mason’s work was reminiscent of mould found in bleach-deprived student share-house bathrooms. Great floral blooms of greens and inky blacks, wrapped themselves around various surfaces. Their appearance was not however of a Petri dish, but of delicately placed decals.
David Marsden created the space that supported the paintings. He built a structure that echoed the original ‘bathroom project’, but in a playful way as he indulged in shifting perspective and form to create a warped space. Along with the bathroom furniture are large rostra painted in the pastel palette of Laminex from a bygone era – avocado green and sunshine yellow. There is a wonderful nonchalance in the way one bathtub is held vertical by green plastic strapping. This is an asymmetric, kitsch and peculiar bathroom.

In the installation taunting photographs of larkish behavior from the ‘bathroom project’ are present – a man shaving his legs is spotlit under a carefully positioned light. Visitors can explore and open drawers; however the objects are confusingly generic – most are painted white. I question why their primary purpose has been diminished to become display objects, not that I wanted to shave my legs at the time of my visit. The accompanying catalogue advised that the artists welcomed viewers to contribute their interactive responses to the exhibition, yet the display does not encourage such a response. Unlike a non-gallery space, it is taboo to disrupt a display in a gallery, no matter how tempting it is to do so, unless the invitation is really clear.

My response may have been clouded by my expectation of wanting to participate – as depicted in the documentation photography of the original project. Peering behind closed shower curtains, however, only revealed a framework, which didn’t encourage an interactive experience. It felt as though the installation was not to be disturbed. Viewers had to be careful as they navigated through the space, otherwise they would ruin the deliberately placed talcum powder footprints on the floor.

The antics for me turned out to be the bathroom out-of-place, not the behavioral antics documented from the ‘bathroom project’. The BRAG exhibition combined a representation of the original Space Antics in Launceston with new works and collaboration with another artist, to set up a new edition of the original installation. In this edition of the project the viewing experience may be regarded as simultaneously engaging and distancing the viewer.

Geoffrey Dobson

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