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The Edge of Leisure by Lisa Bryan-Brown

Exhibition essay for Blue Monaro, a collaborative exhibition 

with Kylie Spear at The Walls Artspace, 2015. 

Blue is reliable and responsible….You can rely on it to take control and do the right thing in difficult times.

Change is difficult for blue. It is inflexible and when faced with a new or different idea, it considers it, analyzes it, thinks it over slowly and then tries to make it fit its own acceptable version of reality.

Blue is nostalgic.1

Bridie Gillman and Kylie Spear are both emerging artists living and working in Brisbane, Queensland. Their compelling solo practices are quite different; Gillman’s varied approach favours vibrant assemblage as a means to consider cross-cultural experiences, while Spear’s work focuses on translating movement through the overlap between drawing and video. Despite their unrelated subject matters their aesthetic tendencies are more closely linked, with each artist having an inclination towards highly formal, and often very simple, compositions and installations.

It is through their similarity of approach more so than outcome that these two artists’ practices align. Both Gillman and Spear are working experimentally at the edges of their chosen mediums, in the fields of expanded painting and expanded drawing respectively. Gillman shifts between media with an anarchic disregard for hierarchy, oscillating between photography, sculpture, installation and painting, or any potential combination of these. Her approach to form and colour remains consistent across these mediums, her striking pairings informed by a loose modernism. Spear works dominantly within the mediums of moving image and sound installation as well as traditional ink-on-paper drawing, trying to make each do what the other does inherently. Elliptically orbiting the outermost reaches of ‘drawn’ media, her use of line is pivotal in allowing her works to capture and express movement in poetic and unexpected ways.

When the pair were invited to work together by Gold Coast based artist run initiative The Walls (in the second iteration of The Wall’s annual program instigating collaborative exhibitions between divergent artists), Gillman and Spear found that their process of collaboration organically led them to explore and respond to the surrounding urban sprawl of Miami, Queensland. This seductive location, part idyllic coastal paradise and part banal suburbia, made for interesting visual and conceptual subject matter. An expanded landscape of sorts, the exhibition Blue Monaro is the result of their engagement with each other and the site.

Their initial field studies took the form of photographic documentation, building a visual database of the sights, homes, streets and objects of Miami. Wheedling down from the hundreds of photos, two things stoodout: the ubiquitous nature of many of the images, and the persistent recurrence of the colour blue. Many of the photographs were taken in and around a particular residential building, the Blue Monaro, from which the exhibition takes its name. Blue became a self-imposed filter which Gillman and Spear could focus in on and build out from, an orderly vantage point from which to assess their subject. It seems a peculiar palate restriction to settle on for a body of work portraying a beach side area, and their conscious rejection of warm, summery colours has resulted in a depiction of Miami that somewhat denies it’s coastal position and instead focusses on the trace and detritus of the local population. The works in Blue Monaro become a representation of ‘anywhere, Australia’ to which viewers bring their own associations and memories; that could be their nanna’s peg basket, that funny area under their old share-house, isn’t that the ramp at such-and-such’s apartment?

Though made in direct response to Miami, the appeal of Gillman and Spear’s works in Blue Monaro lies in their everydayness. Unified by their preoccupation with subjects that have been used and discarded, the installation of found object sculptures, photographs and videos glorifies these easily overlooked subjects for their crisp formal qualities of line and colour. An old Chux wipe, a clam shell pool, a faded fibreglass umbrella, some extraneous pipe - the subjects Gillman and Spear were inclined to document photographically or utilise sculpturally are all decidedly worn, their prior human interactions etched into their surfaces.

The found objects in particular each have an immediate familiarity, brimming with history and memories having been thoroughly used by those who discarded them. The slight, wry alterations made by Gillman and Spear laud and memorialise the objects’ past usage. Suspended from a long blue rope, a frangipani beaded curtain hangs in the space, a limp portal concealing nothing and leading nowhere. The shell pool is propped at an angle by a brick, a puddle of water collected in its basin while the fibreglass umbrella leans composedly, an equable monument. Through these small interventions Gillman andSpear enliven these objects, transforming them into playful, nostalgic sculptures whose formal qualities are crystallised by their transference to the neutrality of a gallery space.

The photographic works are visually striking images of banal scenes, neglected areas found in and around the Blue Monaro. Printed true to size, Gillman and Spear have installed the photographs in such a way that their placement within the gallery space echoes that of their original position; the cloth lying on the floor, the pipe protruding from the ceiling, the peg basket sitting upright on the ground. Simple and effective, this uncanny method of installation at once emphasises the mundane quality of the images and asserts their presence as objects, instead of as mere images of objects. The two video works, both silent, are pure abstract formalism. Moving through a garage space, or statically watching the movement of a moulded plastic merry-go-round, both videos explore the subject’s potential for linear movement, amplified by the minimal nature of their compositions.

The varied works in Blue Monaro bridge a divide between abject realism and formalist abstraction. Gillman and Spear successfully exploit the paradoxical notion of the familiar unfamiliar, making strange the affect of these recognisable objects and scenes. There is, perhaps unintentionally, a slight eeriness present in Blue Monaro, borne of the fact that for all their evidence of humanity, the works themselves are unpeopled. Laden with trace and history, the objects and sites are caught in stasis without the presence of a body. As though abandoned, this pretence gives the works a sense of uneasiness that is seemingly divorced from reality - Miami is a bustling area, filled with holiday makers, residents and businesses. The artists’ conscious rendering of the population as absent allows their presence to be constructed through inference, and makes plain the heavily used quality of the objects and sites that stand in their place.

While a viewer who knows Gillman and Spear’s individual practices well might search for and find the aesthetic and stylistic overlaps that mark each artist’s contribution, their process has been one of truly collaborative decision-making. The works retain the seductive qualities of each of their individual practices, but their preoccupation with expanded modes of practice has resulted in an exhibition that expands not medium but genre. Viewed holistically, Blue Monaro is a landscape in a sense, though there are few works present that at all depict the landscape. Simultaneously, Blue Monaro is a portrait of the collective population, though vacant of bodies. Working together, Gillman and Spear have negotiated each other and their chosen subject matter to create a thoughtful, enigmatic exhibition that resolves the irresponse to the process of collaboration.

By Lisa Bryan-Brown, March/April 2015

1. J. Scott-Kemmis,

Using Format