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Sue Pedley transformed the ground floor gallery of the Institute of Modern Art into an abandoned site. For four or five days she occupied the space, performed a process involving the generation of plaster objects, and then moved out, leaving scattered around the room only these curious remains, the vestiges of her occupation.
Some of the posts in the gallery were encircled by a plaster incrustation. Laid on the floor and propped against the wall in places were irregular, vaguely linear slabs of plaster, mottled by brilliant pigment. Although the space contained many of these objects, one could not help but be aware of its empty feeling. The installation consisted not only of these seemingly static objects, but carried with it, in contrast to its final state, an evocation of what the space must have been immediately before the opening: a site of fervid activity.
Prior to the exhibition, Pedley installed herself in the gallery as if it were her studio, having no exact plan of what would take place there. The artist commenced work by measuring the dimensions of her body in space, marking out her body's extremities, and then inscribing the floor with the symbols of the circle and the asterisk. According to patterns which emerged she laid channels in sand across the floor and poured wet plaster into their mouths, allowing the liquid to wind its way along the channels, thus giving the final pieces their linear or curvilinear shapes. By the time of the exhibition's opening, the artist had removed the preparatory materials and structures, giving us few visual clues as to how the plaster pieces were made. Pedley gave us the frescoes of the exhibition's title but erased the riverbeds in which she formed them.
The chunks of coloured plaster that remained behind demanded to be considered with more of the connotations of artefacts than of art. They appeared not to be self-contained or discrete objects, surely not to be appreciated principally for their colour and their form, but as fragments that required piecing together. We looked for patterns in their arrangement and clues to their significance. Like archaeological remains, they seemed to demand to be interrogated for their origins, the circumstances of their manufacture, the role they played in this site and any ritual function they may have possessed.
These remaining objects were as much about their own production as about their own aesthetic properties. Rather than themselves constituting the art, they acted as by-products of the artistic process, indicators of the transformations
that took place.
Like frescoes, these plaster objects bore pigmented surfaces. However, the pigments were not originally applied to the surfaces, but were embedded in them, in powdered form, before the plaster hardened. Plaster being a porous substance, atmospheric moisture penetrates it and draws the colour to the surface, where it blooms. During dry weather, the plaster loses its moisture to the atmosphere. On a humid day, or after rain, the works attained a brilliant vividness.
The installation's appearance of being static was deceptive: the objects in fact breathed in and out, engaging in this continual transfer of moisture with their surrounding atmosphere. The constant action of pigment being drawn to the
surface of the plaster meant that over time, the fugitive colour disappeared-all of it eventually leaching out through the surface. Knobbly lumps protruded from some of the plaster pieces like growths. These were fragments of previous works, transported from Pedley's recent exhibition in Canberra and incorporated into the new pieces while the plaster was wet. In places, crystals began to form. The continual processes of accretion and secretion surrounding the forms suggested organic life.
Not only did this work include fragments of previous works, but it was in turn broken up, part of it transported to Perth where it will be embedded in the next series of objects Pedley casts, while part of it will be disposed of. Pedley blurs the distinction between raw material, finished work and waste. The title of her installation contained the Italian word fresco with its connotations of freshness, but we cannot be sure whether we are looking at something freshly made or freshly unmade. The plaster seems newly moulded, but resembles in form a crumbled wall or broken up chunks of
macadam or asphalt. lt could be newly made or newly destroyed. Matter is constantly being transformed, with the work's growth kept in check by its continual destruction.
There is no distinct point where one work stops and the following one starts, but each melts into the next. Pedley's work spans time as well as space, with each single installation being a mere stage within an evolution.