Memories - Macabre and Magic

Exhibition review Aadje Bruce: Domestic Bliss Artplace Claremont Western Australia 9 May -1 June 1996

Aadje Bruce remembers the frightening experiences of the German army visiting her school in Amsterdam when she was six years old. Memories and everyday realities are combined in her two and three dimensional work. Assemblages which have an ironic cutting edge are the basis of this her first solo show.

As an artist, Bruce sees the world from a different perspective to other people. At a sculpture seminar at the Lawrence Wilson Gallery earlier this year she told of how, when she was living in Oman she saw a magnificent tree with multi-coloured flowers. On closer scrutiny the flowers turned out to be thousands of coloured plastic bags discarded and blown over a cliff from a nearby hilltown. It is this eye for unusual juxtapositions which create the witticisms in her enigmatic work.

In these works she orders her memories - in many cases using old or found objects. The work, Wings of Desire is a child's wooden train engine with a pair of classical ceramic wings mounted on the engine. The train and the wings are locked together but on a divergent course. This small work challenges the viewer to consider the conflicts of life's opposing forces. Is this a conflict between reality and the imagination?

Idleness is a Sin consists of two small assemblages, one a collection of antique tortoiseshell knitting needles piled onto a toy train carriage and the other, stainless steel surgical needles on a miniature trolley, both conveying a disturbing feeling of the macabre. Her work often comments on domesticity, such as in the two dimensional works, of interlocking wooden pegs called Chores, chores and Rearrangement ordered and patterned single slice lemon squeezers. Her work makes us question the world in which we live.

The senses are provoked by her use of materials such as sharp needles, rubber teats and soft fabrics they evoke a disturbing sensuality. She lists the texts on three black cushions Generosity, Courage and Greed as "sober-worried stitching and dull thread", "thoughtful stitching, silk ribbon and pearls" and "exuberant-carefree stitching and shiny thread". This last cushion is made of soft black velvet fabric from the fifties. Bruce had kept this fabric, waiting for the right occasion to use it. This cushion is a comment on the 'innocence of the fifties and the indulgences of the eighties'.

She states, "I am a magpie" and much of her work is about collecting, hoarding, stacking, ordering and rearranging. These are all repetitious acts. The Australian sculptor Rosalie Gascoigne, also collects, orders and rearranges found objects. These two artists collect what most of us would term disposable junk. This 'junk', resonates with past associations - bringing the past into the present. As Bruce says "Australians throw away a lot of stuff" but when this is arranged into various materials, like stacked old dish washer racks or kinder surprise containers, it looks "beautiful".

Although Bruce has many academic qualifications from Australia and Holland her work extends well beyond the boundaries of her art training. She believes that growing up during the second World War has affected her attitude to life. During the war there were shortages of everything so they saved all manner of things.

Added to this she has spent the greater part of her life in third world countries and consequently is aware of the excesses and waste in the first world.

In a Feminisms exhibition at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art in 1992 Bruce covered four chairs with what appeared to be a patchwork quilt, made of hundreds of used tea bags. The chairs were called Tea and Sympathy, "in memory of so many, now forgotten women who struggled in incomprehension and confusion" over "change of life, ... often finding solace in inumerable, amiable cups of tea". This fascinating and bizarre work makes an incisive comment on the social conditions of women's lives - a topic that continually engages Bruce.

The present exhibition at Artplace is a collection of small objects which make the impact of her large concerns powerful by contrast. Bruce confronts our everyday perceptions using irony and imagination. Her committments are conveyed convincingly through her her witty and provocative works. She does not mind "what people think of her work" but it would be difficult not to become drawn into her fascinating use of found objects and then in turn contemplate the reason for their macabre and sometimes magical combination of materials and ideas.

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