Innerspace

Canberra Contemporary Art Space
10 July – 15 August 2015

Canberra Contemporary Art Space 10 July – 15 August 2015

Ellis Hutch Lost Astronaut series, 2014–15, inkjet print on Ilford paper

Innerspace, curated by CCAS Director David Broker, explores the vast theme of the universe without grandiosity. The selection of works by Chris Bennie, Jacqueline Bradley, Ham Darroch, Shellaine Godbold, Ellis Hutch, Claire Pendraigh, Rusty Peters and Jed Wolki makes a playful and ebullient swipe at the whole notion of the sublime.

The exhibition breeds many intergalactic clichés, from white-helmeted astronauts, to the surface of Mars glowing hot pink and red. But it is through these tropes that the artists play on the follies, limits, and wide horizons of human imagination and knowledge. The abiding "unknown-ness“ of space is twinned with a quest for understanding, but the conquest of worlds swollen by space-time is impossible. Instead, these artists explore “inner worlds“, nebulous universes much closer to home.

A two-part video work by Chris Bennie provides an introduction. In That Which Requires Space 1 & 2, the artist constructs homemade spaceships, repurposing boxes which once held film and batteries, cardboard vessels with multilingual instruction panels already designed to traverse time zones. The adjoining screen shows the world inverted, as a highway becomes an alien landscape of lights and lines. This childlike perspective is evident throughout the exhibition. It is a sense of the world as malleable, taking absurdity in its stride.

Rusty Peters' painting Garnkiny Ngarranggarniny - Moon Dreaming expresses this with perfect clarity, telling the story of “a time when the moon sulked because of his mother-in-law, and as a result he became the moon“. Jacqueline Bradley’s assemblage sculpture Universal Breakfast is a similarly lucid melding of the mundane with the infinite, as bronze beams track gleaming circles around a breakfast table. Bradley’s work is finely balanced and highly considered, right down to a cast bronze cornflake resting on a golden rim, as if the work were having a little joke with itself.

A sense of play is also evident in Claire Pendraigh’s RCB Starclouds: great, pendulous woollen clouds hung in the centre of the gallery. Pendraigh combines the immense drama of space with the no less awe-inspiring pursuit of human endeavour, specifically the skill of knitting passed on through generations, exploding spectacularly here in technicolour clouds. Shellaine Godbold’s watercolour series Wish You Were Here examines Chinese space program propaganda. Astronauts are shown swathed in gold, or delicately exhausted at postcard tourist spots, swallowed up by a froth of symbolic meaning. Ellis Hutch’s series of performance photographs Lost Astronaut shows an astronaut stranded on earth, somewhere near a bus stop. There is a sense of pathos about these works, combining the romance and absolute futility of an endless mission.

Innerspace is an effective pinprick in the side of the sublime, carefully avoiding flabby over-seriousness. Cleverly executed and considered, Innerspace makes room for further investigation. The show is brought into swimming confluence by a second video by Bennie. Fern Studio Floor: a cosmology is viewed lying down, as a paint-spattered floor revolves overhead, evidencing years of thought, mess and wonder. On rising, the room appears as a kind of glittering constellation, and the rush of blood to the head is wonderful.

Claire Capel-Stanley is a writer, critic and curator based in Canberra.

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