Lucy Bleach, Underground, 2015, recycled concrete, inner tubes and seismic data. Installation view, Contemporary Art Tasmania, Hobart. Photo: Peter Mathew

Lucy Bleach: Tectonic slowness

 

Lucy Bleach, installation view, Contemporary Art Tasmania, Hobart
Lucy Bleach, Underground, 2015, recycled concrete, inner tubes and seismic data. Installation shot, Contemporary Art Tasmania, Hobart. Photo: Peter Mathew

The degree of slowness is directly proportional to the intensity of memory; the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting.
Milan Kundera, Slowness

Lucy Bleach quietly moved mountains in 2015. Based in Hobart, for a number of years her work has used the language of geology to explore volatility, impact and resonance. By slowing down the experience of these forces, the slow flux of her artworks present opportunities for intimate encounter and reflection. Increasingly, her innate sculptural sensibility has also brought these concerns to an expanded field of sites, communities and histories, generating collaborative projects that engage people in deeply felt, transformative processes. Last year saw these concerns blossom in a series of five major projects, that collectively identify her as one of the most exciting, dynamic and significant artists operating in Tasmania today.

In March 2015, to create Superslow, Bleach collaborated with a master bricklayer to build a bespoke freestanding circular room for the ongoing series of outdoor sculpture commissions in Kelly’s Garden, located at Salamanca Art Centre in Hobart. Constructed from used clinker bricks, the structure was inspired by the form and dimensions of a 19th-century domestic ice house. The brick structure, continuous with the surrounding masonry textures of the site, revealed a white-washed interior housing a massive cube of solid ice, while the rooftop supported an earth plot sown with a green manure crop from seeds.

The sculpture slowly changed over the course of the exhibition. For the first three weeks, the cube of ice diminished, its melt retarded by the insulating qualities of the double-lined bricks and sod roof. As the ice slowly disappeared, the crop slowly grew. Ice and foliage exchanged presences, the only constant being the brick structure. Over many weeks, through late summer and into autumn, visitors witnessed a semi-glacial temporality that measured their own emotional register as much as shifting elements.

Lucy Bleach, Superslow
Lucy Bleach, Superslow, 2015, bricks, lime, water (ice), form ply, soil, rye, oats, lupins, peas. Photo: Peter Mathew 
Lucy Bleach, Superslow (grass)
Lucy Bleach, Superslow, 2015, bricks, lime, water (ice), form ply, soil, rye,oats, lupins, peas. Photo: Peter Mathew 

Another important work, Horizontal Slowness, exhibited as part of the Redlands Konika-Minolta Art prize in Sydney in April 2015. It extended the collaborative work The Third Space performed with Narelle Jubelin on May Day, 2012. Expanding on the performative spaces proposed in RoseLee Goldberg’s essay “Space as Praxis”(1975)[1], Horizontal Slowness drew on the notion of steadily shifting inhabitation through the natural, conceptual and constructed layers of the architect Esmond Dorney’s iconic house atop Fort Nelson in Hobart.

The work comprised a sequence of film and video stills. The film stills were taken with Super 8 film footage by the artist, showing the ruins of the original Dorney house (1949), built over the southernmost military battery of the fort, and subsequently destroyed by bushfire. The digital video stills were compiled from documentation of the Tasmanian Theatre Company’s 2014 production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1972) performed in the interior communal areas of the current, third construction, of the Dorney family home in 1978[2].

The key scenes of the play were located in the “conversation pit”, a core-feature of Dorney’s design that appropriated the gun emplacement as a sunken lounge area, thereby reclaiming the military as the social. Through overlaying perspectives as still images, the conflation of analogue and digital technologies fused different systems of looking to animate the many-layered cultural, environmental, personal and political tensions of the site. Each print was embedded in a slab of concrete, the modern “rock” holding a strata of the compressed film and video still images.

Lucy Bleach, Horizontal Slowness
Lucy Bleach, Horizontal Slowness, intallation view. Photo: Lucy Bleach

In another performative work, Radiant Heat (2015), thermal infrared images provide information about the near-surface physical state of geologic materials, particularly, their density, water content, and heat transfer potential. Thermal imaging has been shown to be highly useful in predicting the probability of earthquakes through thermal and heat signatures generated by, for example, the build-up of pressure and energy. For ten nights in June during Dark Mofo, the Hunter Street site of the Tasmanian College of the Arts was activated from dusk until dawn by thermal video footage, internally projected on windows across the façade of the historic building. The thermal footage revealed the interior spaces of the art school using heat-sensitive imaging to show the radiant heat generated by people and equipment within the building. The projected footage expressed the “heat” of the buildings’ many activities as light, playing across the large apertures of the buildings’ surface as a mid-winter beacon of creative energy.

Lucy Bleach, Radiant Heat
Lucy Bleach, Radiant Heat, 2015, rear projected thermal live and recorded video footage. Installation view, Tasmanian College of the Arts, University of Tasmania, Hobart. Photo: Peter Mathew
Lucy Bleach, Radiant Heat
Lucy Bleach, Radiant Heat, 2015, rear projected thermal live and recorded video footage. Installation view, Tasmanian College of the Arts, University of Tasmania, Hobart. Photo: Peter Mathew

For Remote Viewing (2015), presented as part of the Performing Mobilities symposium and associated series of performance events in Melbourne in October 2015[3], Bleach invited members of the Moonah Homing Pigeon Association[4] to share their “sites of attraction”. These were the locations chosen by pigeon fanciers to release their birds. A spy camera secured in a purpose-built harness was attached to the breast of one pigeon in each flock. On release, the birds used their beaks to sense minute magnetic particles in the earth’s magnetic field, orientating themselves to make the return journey.

At the completion of all flights, the flight-footage was screened as simultaneous individual flights, indexing the journeys travelled and consequent geographical connections performed within the Traces exhibition for Performing Mobilities. Bleach comments: “By aligning longing and the impetus to return with the earth’s magnetic field, might we feel the deep force of its pull as if it’s our own desire?” Bleach explores desire through magnetism and topography, mapping the mysterious forces of the universe through an awareness of our own instinctive, animal ways of being.

Finally, Underground was a major solo exhibition at Contemporary Art Tasmania, held in October 2015. The work applied geological processes to architectonic forms, to engage subterranean with subconscious experience. Underground presented a simple arc wall comprised of rammed, re-cycled crushed concrete. The architectonic form contained two earthmover inner tubes, carefully embedded in the friable mass, and connected via hoses to an air compressor.

The work sourced global seismic data from live web-based monitoring streams, as well as local “vibrations”pertaining to human activity collected within the gallery administration and public spaces. The two streams of vibrational data were translated to electronic impulses, triggering the air compressor to release air and inflate the corresponding inner tube. Contingent on the intensity and duration of the local or global live seismic events, the inner tubes distorted within their rammed material constraints, shifting and destabilising the overall form, triggering a process of destruction over the course of the exhibition.

As a series of projects, these works demonstrate the extraordinary psychological as well as material charge of Bleach’s work. She quotes Edouard Gliassant in Hans Ulrich Obrist’s 100 Notes – 100 Thoughts: “it must be said from the start that trembling is not uncertainty, and it is not fear… ‘Trembling’ thought is first of all the instinctive feeling that we must reject all categories of fixed thought and all categories of imperial thought”.[5] Allowing thought to tremor, to shift, collapse and change, can be a deeply unsettling experience. But as Bleach has demonstrated, the results can be rich and strange, essential for expanding our thinking to new horizons. 

Footnotes

  1. ^ RoseLee Goldberg, ‘Space as Praxis’, Studio International, July /August I976. 
  2. ^ The Tasmanian Theatre Company generously supplied the documentation footage of the play.
  3. ^ The Tasmanian Theatre Company generously supplied the documentation footage of the play.
  4. ^ The Moonah Pigeon Homing Pigeon Association was founded in 1926 is one of the oldest clubs in Australia. Moonah is a northern suburb of Hobart. 
  5. ^ Edouard Glissant & Hans Ulrich Obrist, 100 Notes – 100 Thoughts, Documenta (13), #38, 2012. 

Kit Wise is Professor of Fine Art and Head of the Tasmanian College of the Arts, University of Tasmania; and Adjunct Professor of Fine Art at Monash University.

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