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The spareness struck one on entering the space. Four large assemblages, triptyches, on facing walls separated by expanses of white walls and the Experimental Art Foundation's (EAF's) industrial grey floor and low hung ceiling. But there was more than a spareness of space. There was a palpable spareness of spirit. Was this the impact of living in Adelaide for a year? For it is claimed that this work came very much from the experience of moving cities to be employed at the South Australian School of Art as a lecturer in painting on a one-year contract in 1990.
It is to be expected. You move towns and there is a void – even if it is not admissible to admit such dislocation in this supposedly homogenised, kool, postmodern, chic world where identity is constantly dislocated and displaced and relationships 'survive' on a commuter basis.
The autobiography is unavoidable (and being mugged in the first week in Adelaide must have had an impact on Anderson's sense of self and location). But the work is an endeavour at more than a personal record. Anderson with her contiguous offering and obscuring of the intimate (the diary available yet placed on a high shelf such as to discourage violation) offers herself as generic, as an everyperson.
Diary in the title, my dominant on the catalogue cover-further support the declared autobiographical reading, a reading that is there but also partly concealed. It is a personal statement about the artist's own experience, her sense of a journey. Journeys have long exorcised artists across many cultures from Hirosheige's Down the Emperor's Road to Australia 's own powerful road movie tradition.
There is also the tradition of the gentlewoman traveller of the Victorian era, Elizabeth Burton, Ellis Rowan and their ilk. These were not the travellers that won over the lands with rifle and flags proclaiming dominion for absent Kings. So too Anderson claims the mark of the gentle traveller, a search for change and meaning, rather than a passage marked by penetration, conquering and theft. The relationship is one of transience and of transcendence. Hovering on the edge of the closed society on which comment is being passed. The tourist taking away the essence, the Harbour Bridge swirling in snowflakes, yet at the same time possibly missing some substance?
There is a psychological appeal in travelling to a new place, in remaking oneself, always moving on to a new frontier. (There are those that claim this as a defining feature and the root of much of the dislocation of contemporary US society). Is this the postmodern condition, to be able to transmogrify into an image of one's own desire and shaping? Anderson endeavours to grapple with both the physical journey and these larger issues.
The spareness of the exhibition must be seen as quite deliberate and part of this grappling. There are no plans for the exhibition to travel and it was designed to fit the large quasi-industrial space of the current EAF. It is a carefully considered and effective use of space. The lighting suggests procession through gradations of grey. The hang is designed to intrigue and engage the viewer with a strong sense of rhythm. The image that one sees as one walks in the door is irritatingly (or provocatively) hung so that you cannot read it in whole. It was hung to entice you to enter further and then to move through the space.
One feels the weight of the metal, one sees the concern for formal elements, and can appreciate a deliberate looseness in the resolution of the images. They can be seen as raw documents, not finished and packaged souvenirs of experience. They address the polarities of life (as referred to in the collaborative catalogue document by Anderson and Tim Morrell) such as loneliness and companionship, richness and poverty. One can extrapolate life as a raw document unable to be shaped into a finished, fissure-free souvenir.
Anderson's installation can be seen as zeitgeist, reflecting a decline-ist philosophy, bringing to visual life the melancholy of late 20th Century Euro-American culture. The physical manifestations of the thinness of the paint, of the almost arte povera roughness of the unstretched stitched-sided canvases and battered metal elements are accompanied by the almost desperate search for a richer iconography. The work is filled with the echos of religious symbols (stimulated by St Peters Cathedral in Adelaide): fish and gold leaf, roses, thorns, crosses; but it is also legitimized through current fashionable ideology with Irigaray's 'lips'. Even the diary with its lush gold edging, but, oh, so blank and empty pages, can be seen as emblematic of this simultaneous holding of two ends of the dichotomy of richness and emptiness. All these could easily be cast as a search for some richer life, a search for a lost purpose, a meaning lost in a world infected with the poverty of spirit that pervades Euro-American society in this last decade of the century.
But it would be naive to look back on our past as having been a golden age imbued with riches without taking account of the fact that those riches were available only to the few and were equally wrought from oppression. There is no going back. The question must be, is there a way forward?
If all the understanding of signs and symbols, the mutability and cultural bias of truth and history, have to offer is an unpreparedness to engage with life and to focus eternally on the past to the exclusion of the present and future then perhaps we were better off in the world of rigid truths and naive assumptions. Surely what this new paradigm has to offer is not a negative, anything goes, all is tainted, nothing has 'true' meaning position, but the positive possibility of better understanding those forces that con tribute to our lives and the empowerment to reshape life in a manner beyond a superficial relocation of the individual physical self.
Anderson offers shadows, echos of the rich ness of a past and a reflection on the hollowness of the late 20th Century. What the work might also be taken to offer is a starting point for addressing the issues of the nature and location of the self within a larger context of shared language and experience.