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The exhibition ‘Constructed Painting’ was curated by Francesca Mataraga to showcase artists whose practice in painting or drawing moves into three-dimensional space. It features the work of four artists—Beata Geyer, Francesca Mataraga and Margaret Roberts are Sydney-based and Rossana Martinez lives and works in New York. The artists share an interest in creating three-dimensional work—‘expanded painting’ or ‘expanded drawing’—that engages with and responds to the architecture of the gallery space, in this case Kudos Gallery in Sydney.
Expanded painting is what the 2007 Symposium held at Artspace (Sydney) referred to as ‘the spatialisation of painting and the proper name of installation art’.1 A focus of this kind of work is the integration of pictorial space into ‘real’ space—for instance, through the use of line, colour, composition and shape that are not restricted to a contained illusory space, but respond and acknowledge the architectural space itself. Or, as in Mataraga’s and Martinez’s works, the placement of found objects in space asks the audience to consider the objects as coloured shapes on a 3D canvas that is the space of the gallery itself.
Expanded painting/drawing does not restrict its ground and reality to a rectangular canvas, or a piece of paper, as ‘spatially autonomous’ works (as Roberts calls them) do, but rather integrates physical space into the process of constructing illusory space, blurring the distinction between the two.
On entering the gallery to view this show, the audience was initially confronted with the flat whiteness of a dividing wall. We were then led to Rossana Martinez’s Capturing Minds. This interactive piece asked that we choose a balloon of our favourite colour from a glass jar, blow it up, and add it to a pile of other favourite coloured balloons, lightly floating in the corner.
Capturing Minds introduced us to the rest of the exhibition and the readability of ordinary objects as abstract coloured shapes in space, although this space was real, physical (in contrast to, for example, the illusory space of a ‘picture’ on a two-dimensional surface). The interactive element of Martinez’s work, while not specifically a response to the architecture of the space, encouraged the audience to be aware of the space (the corner) and the artwork itself, which was also the audience’s own product. It teased us to wonder what lay ahead.
The next ‘space’ was defined by two other movable walls. They sliced the gallery space at an angle and, unlike the first wall encountered, which may initially have been viewed as a piece of architecture, these other walls were ‘marked’ as artwork as well as architecture.
In Open Allegiance Margaret Roberts used black 200mm 3M tape to mark out (draw) horizontal, diagonal and vertical lines over these white prisms. The lines reflected those of the walls, and the Kudos Gallery space, as well as emphasising the three-dimensional object or sculptural quality of the white prisms themselves. They emphasised the edges of the prisms while highlighting their multi-faced and, therefore, 3D properties. The black lines dissected the walls, just as the walls had the potential to dissect or divide the Gallery space.
Roberts drew attention to these blocked walls, not as surfaces for hanging ‘spatially autonomous’ artworks (their usual function), but by emphasising their architectural function for dividing and leading an audience through space, as well as their sculptural quality (as described above). Roberts sees her work as aiming to challenge architecture itself:
I think of it rather as ‘intervening’ in the low social value given to physical space… [Her aim is] to construct relationships of mutual recognition between the virtual space created or drawn on by artworks, and the physical space in which they are located… My hope is that they can be implicitly critical of the spatial values of modernity because relationships of equality contrast with modernity’s devaluation of physical space relative to distantiated or virtual space.
Roberts drew/marked each of the four moveable walls to divide them in different ways. In doing so she reclaimed them as part-artwork as well as part-furnishing, thus mimicking ‘the division of space into virtual and physical that so strongly structures art and exhibition practices’.
Beata Geyer’s floating fields of colour occupied the floor space between Roberts’s work and the walls of the gallery. It was called Sliding Two. A celebration of flat colours that again drew our attention to the architecture—specifically the floor. The panels of colour lay like a box of paints that led the audience to walk around and between them as if in a spectacular garden or landscape. Geyer’s panels of colour were mounted on wheels, capable of responding to and interacting with the gallery’s architecture—and perhaps a reference to the movable walls.
Beyond the third and last wall was Francesca Mataraga’s mixed media explosion of yellow, titled fragments from yellow (yellow wall painting, here comes the sun, jaws, yellow monochrome, yellow floor piece, light stream, yellow canvas cube (Buren), fluorescent zig-zag, big yellow painting). The installation interacted with the back of the hall where there is a small stage. A yellow shape was painted on the stage wall, yellow lights dangled yellow buckets, yellow tiles sat in formations on the floor next to mirrors which drew our attention to the ceiling. The work used the space as if a 3D canvas for the artist’s yellows.
Mataraga uses ready-made consumer products and transforms them into abstract objects. The positioning of her work in the stage space forced us to view it from the side, to stand outside it, its location and yellowness forced us into slightly claustrophobic viewing.
Geyer, Mataraga, Roberts and Martinez state that the title of the exhibition was not to proclaim a manifesto. It was simply to generate discussion around the practice of painting in the expanded field and showcase work within this context. It reminds us that ‘painting and drawing are intrinsically linked to explorations of space and spatial problems’ which may also invite the audience to participate, think, make decisions and be part of the process. For all four artists, it is clear that painting and drawing are practices that have ‘long left the canvas and the page’.
1. ‘Expanded Painting: The Spatialisation of Painting and the Proper name of Installation Art’, Art Space Public Program Symposium, convened by Mark Titmarsh and Artspace, Sydney, Australia, Friday 23 November 2007.