Petals on a Wet Black Bough

Exhibition review In Remembrance of Things Past... Angela Valamanesh Jam Factory Craft and Design Centre, Adelaide SA 18 October - 1 December 1996

My first impression upon arrival was that of expanse, of simplicity and beauty of contours; the light flat and all objects sharply defined; distances very deceptive and no appreciable atmospheric difference between the foreground and the middle distance; indeed hills...appear to unite...clear edges without much foliage,...always a beautiful balance between the pyramid and the circle...
Hans Heysen p.251, in The Story of the Flinders Ranges by Hans Mincham, Rigby Limited, Adelaide, 1964, quoted by Linda Marie Walker, in exhibition catalogue essay In the world, gradually.

Sand-blasted thrown forms; slab-built bowls. Pink triangle bowl. Round red bowl. Group of Nine...Group of Four...Economy of expression, verbal and visual. Heavy, unsubtle references to process and uniformity? Coming inside from the city swarm, I was overtaken by stillness. The still centre of the turning world. I could imagine David Tacey (The edge of the Sacred: Transformation in Australia, Harper Collins 1995) appreciating this exhibition. Here is a visual illustration of what he calls the stone rejected by the builders - the mythic life and unattended spiritual feeling of Australians. An example of, in his words, " how interdependent and organically related inner and outer worlds really are".

The simplicity of the ceramic forms recall the profound influence of the Japanese in ceramics. With the decline of the golden age of Heian Japan, a period of bitter warfare, upheaval, destruction and homeless ghosts followed. It might have been expected that parallel changes in aesthetic principles would at once have developed and that the new masters would have imposed new standards of taste. In fact the son of an important warlord was likely to compose verses on the sadness of the fall of cherry blossoms.

Angela Valamanesh's exhibition In remembrance of things past...captures this spirit. The aesthetic ideals which pervaded artistic activities of that period in Japanese history were summarised in the concept of yugen. Yugen was a word used to describe the profound, remote, and mysterious; that which cannot easily be grasped or expressed in words. It suggests something beyond mere representation, in the same way that:
...Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
moves perpetually in its stillness.
T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton

It is tempting to speculate that in an age of painful changes and uncertainty the need for eternal incorruptible values might well give rise to an aesthetic ideal such as yugen. Needless to say, the ability to recognise these qualities was a refinement of the educated elite. The ability to recognise the aesthetics of the primitive resides in those who don't have to live with it.

This exhibition highlights the ambiguities inherent in notions of beauty, form, function and concept in an open-ended way which I find satisfying. The vessel is an obvious entry point via its simple geometry - one can talk about the paradoxes of fullness and emptiness, inside and outside, public and private, myth, metaphor and imagination. Everything takes form, even infinity.

The forms speak evocatively of the landscape. Not the cliché orange and blue of the tourist landscape, and not the exhausted equivalence of the colonial landscape. The roughness of texture, while coarse and uniform, speaks of richness - the delicacy of granites and other stones which have endured here beyond human memory...Here we have the land 'scaped', as containers and vessels, with a unique aesthetic, subtly altered symmetries and asymmetries. I think of people who have been lost in Wilpena Pound, of mine shafts in Coober Pedy, of salt pans, of big skies and small skies viewed from these places.

One becomes aware of tensions in existence; the dramatic interplay of shadows characteristic of the Australian landscape. The shadows beneath the vessels presented on low plinths apppear almost to float above yawning blackness below - a chasm (of fears?) with no bottom.
Colours are subtle and delicate, highlighted by the minimal nomenclature offered by the artist. "Green", "pink", "yellow" speak of the undiscriminating colonial eye. I found myself thinking of paint colour cards and rang Dulux to ask how long paint colours have been explicitly linked with the landscape. Dulux colour 'solutions' offer evocative atmospheres such as native grass, mulga, Murray bank, stockade, Maldon, Kosciusko. Still generalisations. I wanted to say: " oh, but I remember this exact colour at...when I was eight and such and such was happening."

Each ceramic form has its own areas of intensity of dark and light, and affects the object placed next to it. Each is reminiscent of a previous object but remains an individual in a group.

The vessels speak of the natural landscape and of the contrived, architectural landscape. The similarity of the sand-blasted surfaces to concrete was a particularly late 20th century application of yugen to me. What could pass for aridity, repetitiveness and jejune banality was an experience of memory and the senses in the natural and man-made landscape. One could imagine an Australian architecture clothed in these colours. What makes the Greek island so Greek, or an Italian pensione flood with Italianness?

There is a subtlety which is not simply red sand and blue sky which is genuinely Australian.

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