11 June - 4 July 1999 CAST Gallery 27 Tasma Street, North Hobart
Cache showcased the work of eight emerging Tasmanian artists who have recently set up the Letitia Street Studios in part of a former high school situated in North Hobart. For a number of these artists the move took them away from studios in the downtown area of the city and Hobart's traditional arts precinct around the wharf area. This is an increasingly common move: while a growing tourist presence has done a great deal to revitalise that district, higher rents are encouraging artists, galleries and arts organisations to look elsewhere. The Letitia Street Studios initiative occurred at about the same time that Contemporary Art Services Tasmania (CAST) made a move to North Hobart in search of better facilities than the CBD could offer. As Hobart's only publicly-funded space dedicated to showing contemporary art, CAST is now playing a key role in encouraging artists and audiences to see North Hobart as the site of a cultural shift.
Cache, then, was an exhibition with a number of important agendas. It gave CAST an opportunity to emphasise its commitment to assisting and publicising the existence of a thriving contemporary arts community in North Hobart. It also underlined CAST's ongoing and fundamental commitment to supporting emerging Tasmanian artists, and to offering opportunities for making work that emphasises experimental rather than commercial considerations.
Such good intentions do not necessarily make for exciting exhibitions, of course, but Cache was generally as interesting a viewing experience as it was a sign of animation in the local contemporary art scene.
Despite the unavoidable lack of a curatorial theme, there was a sense of cohesiveness to the exhibition. This primarily emerged from the mood of coolness or restraint that ran through much of the work; a little unexpectedly, the dominant tone appeared less experimental than quietly accomplished. Most pieces were fairly tightly worked, drawing the viewer's attention to the often time-consuming process of art-making, and underlining how the obsessive way in which many artists work can lead to work with an obsessive edge. Rod Stennard's piece from 1,3,7,7,3,1 second stage offered a particularly interesting visual equivalence for this kind of approach. The diptych showed a low, circular, undulating paper construction built in the artist's studio, relit and redrawn in grey chalk from two slightly different angles. The painstaking renderings appeared simultaneously abstract and representational, and demanded that the viewer see the form as though through the artist's eyes.
Other works also used repetition and pattern-making to draw attention to the illusive qualities of perception. Jane Stewart's patterned panel of clear glass beads created a subtle, wallpaper-like design that shifted subtly as you moved past it. Jane Barlow's large plaster panels acted as a literal yet ghostly index of the flocked floral wallpaper that they had been cast from. Matt Calvert's construction of stacked glass shards was also engaged with transforming simple materials; the stacks created an eccentric, stepped form that appeared both brittle and dynamic. Emily Jones showed a sequence of cast concrete shoe interiors that jutted out from the wall, and Larissa Linnell's large-scale tools, drawn straight onto the wall, hovered in space.
All these works were marked by a certain delicacy of form and colour. Neil Haddon's installation, then, was intriguing in this context for its robustly casual quality. Haddon is better known as a painter of optically dynamic, colour-saturated abstract canvases. This work, however, consisted of cardboard boxes, stacked on their sides to form a curving wall. The angled lids folded back inside each box in a simple and effective gesture that activated them as objects. Mostly unadorned, a few were painted flat red, and the work was titled Not Quite Cadmium Red No. 2 (an obscure allusion to Donald Judd).
Steven Carson's work shared something of the robustness of this piece, although the form and content were entirely different. His close-up, glossy colour photographs of rock'n'wrestling dolls rescued from second hand shops, posed against featureless backgrounds and dramatically lit, had a graphic immediacy. These mass-produced, clumsily gesticulating, crudely coloured versions of 'stars' like Rowdy Roddy Piper and Andre the Giant were invested with both pathos and humour, and - like all images of the once-famous - tugged at the memory like photos of people we once intimately knew.
While Haddon's and Carson's pieces were perhaps the most memorable inclusions in Cache, each artist demonstrated an ability to create images and objects capable of enticing and holding an audience. Clearly, Letitia Street Studios will continue to play a key role in Hobart's contemporary art scene.