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'It doesn't fit any categories' was how a tertiary jewellery educator described X-ray, the recent exhibition of Ari Athans and Adele Arkell at the Craft Council of Queensland Gallery. And indeed, this work did not fit easily into conventional jewellery classifications. Nevertheless, attempting to find appropriate categories was part of the initial delight and pleasure of interpreting these small objects. Could you wear them? Would you collect them? Are they small sculptures or even diagnostic models? While the works slid teasingly over these various categories, ordering was very much a dynamic within the show. For instance, there were the categories of body parts: cells, membranes, organs, bones, and as well those of mimicry, humour and creative play which jostled for attention.
This the first exhibition of the creative partnership which is the 'Straight AAAs', as Ari Athans and Adele Arkell call themselves. Freed from the discipline of production and commissioned work, the two artists engage in artistic research in which intellectual inquiry and intuition are infused with experimentation with materials and work processes. In their catalogue the artists talk of the process of collaboration as one 'which constantly evolves', and in which 'ideas bounce back and forth and we explore the medium inaccessible to us as individuals'. This process is, in fact, akin to those of art-making, where play, intuition, experience, know-how and inquiry extend and transform ideas. X-ray, as if mapping this process of investigation, of going beyond appearances, takes us into the body itself. Illuminated by thirteen light boxes (which were arranged as an analogue of the vertebrae) were x-rays of a scull, leg bones, intestines, hands and cells. Dancing adjacent to these were Athans and Arkell's metallic structures conceived through observation of the idiosyncrasies and poetics of the body-machine.
Working spontaneously has been a fundamental element of this work. The artists, using silver in its pure state to gain increased softness, bent and folded the material without the use of tools to achieve far less predictable results than those sought in the usual production processes. They worked also with glass, directly manipulating it with torch flame.
Curiously, when walking around the vertebrae-light-box structure of this work, one became aware of being part of a wider body politic. One also became aware of one's own acts of observation and interpretation: one's own eyes seeing, one's own heart beating. There was, as well, an increased awareness of the body as the usual site of ornament, and yet also of a fundamental link between embellishment of the body and enrichment of the soul.
What was very appealing about this work was the freshness and enthusiasm for enquiry which it embodied. It took one beyond the immediate, and gave new poetic insight into the machine we all inhabit.