felicity spear: traversing space

Nancy Spector used words like searching, displacement and expansion when she explored the metaphor of travel in the work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres. She reminds us that the laws of narrative can conform to those of travel, reiterating that ' …travel is the movement between two points – a convergence in space and time – the shape of which is drawn as a line on a map'.1

The exhibition 'Traversing Space' by Felicity Spear is a journey that explores and interprets the art of seeing. Her fascination with this topic extends from the use of optical instruments to the effects of light and reflection. Mapping and relating her own maritime experiences, while referencing the historical explorations of Mathew Flinders, Spear delves into the metaphor of travel. The viewer is drawn into a spatial narrative that extends over real time and references the past. Vision, physical interaction, and memory are actively engaged as you trace the undulating topography of Spear's six shaped canvases. Painted, monochromatic, rhythmic patterns wend their way across the wedge shaped canvases in atmospheric blue or the red experienced in a photographic dark room. The linear forms subtly allude to the silhouetted range of hills known as the You Yangs that Spear used to locate a position at sea in her maritime exercise. The glossed horizon is no longer a point of closure but one of transparency and openness. Like the navigator using a sextant, strategically placed mirrors are there to aid us in the act of discovery. This is like a slice of experience somewhere in the middle of a journey where the past and present seem to oscillate.

Together with the paintings that wrap the walls, a set of twelve uniform panels are locked by latitude and longitude into a structural grid. Rosalind Krauss saw the grid as a structure emerging from the study of optics.2 In the past the scientific properties of light, as it passed through lenses, and the colours that resulted, were often documented in a modular and repetitive gridlike structure. The other precedent for the grid suggested by Krauss was the nineteenth century Symbolist's use of the window, understood then as a vehicle that emitted light into the darkness. 3

Spear's work has a long history of exploration using light and lenses. Many of her works make use of the pin-hole camera, photograms and contact prints, as is evidenced in the black and white work included in this exhibition. While some of her former pieces have included specific window imagery, this recent work has been minimised to retain only the sense of peering through. Detailed and more intimate geographic and geometric details have been isolated.

In the nineteenth century the connection between reflection and mirrors was used metaphorically. Spear's work boldly references this connection by incorporating two mirrors within this structure, capturing images of real time and space amongst the darkened fragments. The grid format was so popular amongst modernist artists that it became emblematic of Modernism.4 Spear's work references this and then, through the use of mirrors, opens it up to the surrounding space, acknowledging the real world beyond the frame.

In this exhibition, space and time are woven together through history and navigation. Spears has created a convergence. She has drawn a line. She has created work that travels from the past to the present, from the real to the pictorial, from illusion to reality and we are able to travel with her.


I. Spector, N., Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Guggenheim Museum, NY, 1995, p.56.

2. Krauss, R., The Originality of the Avant-Garde and other Modernist Myths, MIT Press, USA,1985, p.l5.

3. Ibid., p.l6.

4. Ibid., p.l 0; p.l2 note.