rachael haynes

impossible sites
Development Space, Metro Arts, Brisbane
14 – 30 May 2003

The use of paper, both as a medium and a motif, has been a recurring aspect of Rachael Haynes’s practice. Paper speaks of order and precision, while also being malleable, vulnerable and delicate. In Impossible Sites, Haynes picked up on these different qualities of paper to produce a site-specific installation that explored the architecture of the Development Space in which it was exhibited. In particular, she examined how the rectangular, corridor-shaped gallery could be defined by a set of irregular, organically shaped paper objects. In turn, she also explored how the objects could belong in such a space. This was not just the resolution of a site specific problem: Haynes’s concentration on the delicacy and fragility of the paper revealed a concern (something akin to a nurturing sentiment) with how these objects would ‘fit in’ with the stone-walled gallery.

The works were made by folding paper horizontally into concertina shapes. These were then lacerated at measured, regular intervals so that when bent, the cut strips projected outwards. The fragility of this lacerated paper made the works seem vulnerable and contrasted with the hardness of the gallery walls. The sheets of cut paper were folded back on themselves, in increasing increments, and while some formed organic, shell or cocoon-like shapes, others looked like tiny fragile skeletons. The cutout sections gave the works an airy delicacy; one could almost imagine them moving and breathing, with tendril-like strips outstretched. The light-handed, pared-back manner in which Haynes had worked the paper and the watery washes of ink colouring it gave the works a supreme lightness.

Despite the differences in form between the objects and the gallery space, these works responded directly to their environment, double-playing the rectangular room and echoing the precision of its lines. Placed in a row along the entry wall, each work was approximately a quarter of the size of the one that came before it, so that the smallest object hung in the furthest corner. This mirrored the receding perspective that one would have upon entering the gallery. Each subsequent structure along this and the adjacent walls was also in regular, graded tones of blue, giving a tangible sense of the subtle variations of space and light within the room. The precise cuts and folds of the objects also echoed the orderliness of the space.

A series of photographs near the gallery entrance expressed the more human sentiment underpinning the exhibition. Again, these dealt with ‘ideas of space’—of finding or adapting spaces where objects could ‘fit in’ or ‘belong’. In these works, a figure ‘housed’ the sculptures in the intimate crevices of his armpits, finding a place where they could fit. Those who know the artist might recognise this subject as Haynes’s partner. In each of the photographs, the figure wore a slightly different, patterned shirt, often incorporating stripes, some of which echoed the striations in the paper works. The clothes of loved ones and the ‘architecture’ of their bodies are profoundly familiar and the linking of the works with the figure in this instance reflected the artist’s affection for both.

A precursor to Impossible Sites was Haynes’s Wall/paper (2002). This work, still on display, is painted on the walls and a section of floor in a stairwell at Metro Arts. Like Impossible sites, Wall/paper is a dialogue between space and work. The artist responded to the angularity of the stairs and walls, as well as the light and shadows in this space, to paint subtly graded, linear or blocked areas of colour. Like wallpaper in a domestic or other environment, Wall/paper works with the space, but never overpowers it, to the extent that natural light and shadows cast on the walls can be mistaken for paint, and vice versa. Thinking back to Impossible Sites, in that exhibition too, Haynes strove to create an environment where artwork and gallery could find spaces, as the catalogue essay suggested, for possible ‘co-habitation’.1 

notes: 

1. Majena Mafé, Impossible sites, catalogue essay, Metro Arts, Brisbane, 2003, unpaginated.