Review of Photography Exhibitions
Sky Eternal | Cat Wilson
Up in the Air | Claire Grant
Photo Access | 30 June – 30 July
The artists in these two exhibitions have used sky space to explore our human condition. They invite us to reflect on the importance of the surface of our planet and the sky space above – and the care needed to keep everything in good condition.
Blue moon. Blue Monday. Blue blood. Is blue hardwired into our psyche? Did it contribute to our evolutionary development – as hunter-gatherers who learnt to survive among blue skies and oceans? It is the major colour of the works in these shows. Most appropriately, an accompanying Photo Access members’ exhibition has the theme “Wild Blue Yonder.”
Across the ages, blue has been used when visualising something from our imagination, out of reach or the divine. As a pigment, blue is extremely rare in nature, despite being found in the environment around us – from the tranquil light blue of a sky to the melancholy deep blue of an ocean. Unlike particular reds, browns and yellows, blue pigment cannot be created from materials within our easy grasp. Arguably, blue represents an entirely new world beyond our own.
Sky Eternal by Cat Wilson is an immersive video installation, which mirrors moving cloudscapes. The immediate reaction on entering the room regardless of the point the video has reached is that one is looking at a Rorschach inkblot. I wonder what Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli would make of this slowly changing inkblot. Accompanied by an ambient soundscape, composed by Jamie Saxe, this is a captivating work. The catalogue suggests it “mediates on the ways in which the universal and timeless sky unites us all, a metaphor for innovation, positivity, hope and heaven.” When I joined them, I wanted to ask others viewing it what they saw in the inkblot. As they were transfixed, I couldn’t interrupt.
Up in the Air by Claire Grant includes three things. Firstly, there is a 90 x 400 cm composite of 57 A4-sized cyanotypes each printed on fragile paper ephemera that the artist collected during employment as a flight attendant. The papers originally were crew briefings providing details of routes she would be flying, so amongst the imagery she has created there is text and lines and also creases and marks – as she folded the paper to fit in her pocket during each trip.
The images are aerial vignettes framed by Grant’s ‘office’ windows, the plane’s portholes. They are, truly, landscapes. As the aircraft flew over an outback mine, we can see that open cut mine’s landscape in regional Queensland laid out below us. Some of the cyanotypes are essentially white images of the clouds below the plane. Others reveal different aspects of the atmosphere. We are looking at skies filled with navigational charts to and from different destinations around Australia.
It is also worth noting that the artist captured the initial works with a phone camera, making use of its technical limitations to obtain the pixelated and repetitive images that she wanted for her pe-visualised end product. It is quite wonderful.
On the opposite wall of the gallery is a series of individual artworks, each being cyanotypes and encaustic on washi paper – renowned for strength not fragility. Each image is framed by a porthole. Reflecting the recent period of air travel disruptions, many show terminal boards indicating numerous cancelled flights.
On the end wall of the “aircraft’s corridor” is one further work – a large cyanotype portrayal of Employee 152578’s pre-employment dental record adding a final piece to this clever interpretation of Grant’s previous career. The whole exhibition opens up a shutdown world.