Translations by Pat Hoffie
Exhibition essay for Translations at The Hold Artspace, 2014.
Bits and pieces of this and that held together by a memory, a wish and a prayer: that’s one way of describing what Bridie Gillman creates. But that kind of description overlooks the stringent selectiveness and a rigorous refusal to overly-authorise the work.
As a result they look oddly familiar and at the same time reassuringly strange – pieces of detritus that recall travels and states of being in spaces that exist between lived experience in Indonesia and Australia. There is a deliberate whimsy to these works – operating somewhere between sculpture, painting and installation, they seem poised on the point of the next reconfiguration. Like scraps of memory, how you deal with them, how you interpret them, how they catch hold of the edges of your own understandings of them all depends on how they sit in relation to each other and to your own presence within the gallery. In that sense they invite the viewer into a kind of ersatz performative site – a staging where the viewer is invited to wander and ponder and complete the artwork.
For these works are also deliberately sparse. The artist’s growing-up-time between the countries of Indonesia and Australia has made her wary of taking a fixed point of view. She avoids the possibility of slipping into data and dicta – of any didactic intention. And in order to prevent a collapse into any easily identifiable categories such as ‘hybrid’ or ‘cross-cultural’ she adopts an approach that is as self-critical as it is aware of contemporary post-colonial approaches to theory.
And although these works are born and constructed from a perambulatory imperative, they are just as reliant on the fixed statelessness of the white-cube gallery context for their expressive strength. Trained as a painter, Gillman recalls how her earliest experimentation with this medium as a child in Indonesia was already born from a will towards working outside the rules – working towards experimentation. And in the final years of her undergraduate candidature at Queensland College of Art her paintings began to incorporate random small objects, or to release the canvas from its structural support, or to paint on found objects and even to incorporate furniture items. Later on, for the series she produced for her Honours year, she moved further and further away from the process of ‘authoring’ her paintings by the hand-applied gesture. These works are part of that series – works that draw attention to the sheer saturation of colour, or to the opulence of a distressed surface, or to the puzzling nature of materiality through the incorporation of ‘stuff’ like the Indonesian votive material referred to as menyan. In other works she makes sly references to the materiality and processes of visual representation through incorporating items like a canvas from one of her mother’s first “how to paint” classes, or small, almost naively formed and painted clay items of household objects and fruit.
Like the artist herself, these works are quietly compelling – they have a fragile and contingent beauty that reflects the qualities of the other objects in the room around them and that also refracts the beauty of ‘elsewhere’. As viewers we are aware that although so many of the references employed are personal (including images of childhood photographs as well as those taken during more recent trips to Indonesia) the artist has a way of reconstructing these items of memorabilia in ways that can trigger our own responses to the experience of what ethnographer Benedict Anderson has referred to as “the spectre of comparisons”, or that way of daily living that recalls the processes of being simultaneously in two places at once. The capacity of this artwork to invite us into spaces of reminiscence and meandering and pondering is in part what contributes to their poetic quality. It is what builds their purpose as delicate frameworks for our own imaginings.