un Projects is based on the unceded sovereign land and waters of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation; we pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.
un Projects

tender effacement, become undone


Futures Gallery, Collingwood, VIC

Alice Ramsden - Murmurations


The blue in Quiescence embodies what the title suggests: a stillness, a latency, a tenuous space between calm and activity. Fading and blending into the surrounding hues, it seems a dampened blue, reminiscent of water damage. A blue conceded, yet, also, a blue birth. A blue takeover, soon to blend into its neighbouring colours. This is a blue that could be dwindling or growing, although it seems a contradiction. As I write this, I am wondering whether they are not entirely different, the becoming and the undoing. Both exist in liminal spaces, not quite formed or formed no longer, and knowing what came first—the colour or the blank space—is a task a viewer can only imagine.

This act of encompassing inconsistencies, of being one thing then morphing into its antithesis when looked at differently, is repeated across the paintings in Alice Ramsden’s Murmurations. Much of this is because of that relationship between muted hues and deeper saturation which animates each painting. Certain colours meet and merge like bodies swimming while others are a force of interruption, drawing the eye’s attention and holding it. Through cyclical layering and effacement, the colours appear as if in flux, perpetually moving, held together by fragile fingers. Held: a word that came to mind when I encountered Murmurations. Perhaps the reason was in Murmurations’ restlessness, its potential to come undone. Soft murmurs of colour and shapes surrender themselves to ephemerality, to an unreachable horizon. All feelings are delicate. Like a window left ajar, I receive such fragility openly and am reminded that sometimes, the undoing is an act of liberation. 

Alice Ramsden, Quiescence, 2024, oil on canvas, 112x122cm. Image courtesy of Alice Ramsden and Futures Gallery.

Both nature and healing follow the same pattern of liminality and transformation. Having derived its name from the dance of the starlings, Murmurations refracts this very phenomenon via the use of colour and texture. (ominous fluttering) is perhaps the strongest example, having at its centre, dark strokes of black paint mirroring birds in unison. Lingering shades of black lie separate from the dark centre—birds fallen behind, soon to join the group. Like healing’s lineage, murmurations are shaped by a support system, a closeness to those who carry with them a sense of home and order. Nature’s cadency and cyclical patterns live distinctly in Murmurations just as they do in healing: forming, withering, repeating. This cycle is primal to both nature and the human, although I am hesitant to draw a binary between the two. While healing is recognised as nonlinear, its dismantling effects on the mind/body interplay remain elusive—the mind figures one thing, yet the body feels another. In the midst of healing, sight is not always reliable or in accordance with what the body feels to be true. Murmurations embodies this in its restlessness. The eye looks one way while the body turns another. Witnessing shapeshifting murmurations has the same effect. Precisely why murmuration occurs remains unknown, although theories exist. There is no single truth, only feeling, yet knowing this does not make the yearning for truth any less powerful. Truth is control, feeling is relinquishing. Once again, contrasting entities coexist. An artist I repeatedly turn to as a model for this is Louise Bourgeois and her venerable spiders, ceaselessly weaving new webs in an act of survival. ‘I do, I undo, I redo’. This is the persevering message. I wonder if the periodic flight of the starlings is the same thing. 

Alice Ramsden, (ominous fluttering), 2024, oil on canvas, 55 x 70cm. Image courtesy of Alice Ramsden and Futures Gallery.

There's a tenderness in Murmurations as well as a harshness, particularly in Wool-Gathering, *Feigning8 and Fluvial Groan. Parts of the paint have been scratched in an act of effacement that lends itself to violence, while simultaneously mimicking light. Murmurations embraces opposing forces. The birthing of light from a typically harsh act—scratching— makes me think that perhaps contradiction is the point. This technique lends the work to no fixed feelings or interpretations, promoting a sense of malleability and change. In art, the abstract is often emblematic of a more sensitive and intricate reality, less discernible to the eye. Perhaps the body is more adept, having registered what is yet to be articulated. Ramsden’s attention to detail—the scratches in various sizes, slight changes in pigment—produce a whole that, while composed of tiny details, nevertheless transcend their sum. Largely due to the collection’s innate adaptability, the state of my mind, at the time of looking, significantly informs whether I see Murmurations’ effacement as the beginning of a decline or something new. I believe it to be hopeful. I feel the answer lies in some ineffable place. I am looking at the tiny scars lining my fingertips. Once a source of pain, now they are a point of tenderness. When I hold another’s hand, write or carefully remove a fallen eyelash from the top of mine or another’s cheek, my tiny scars experience what was once out of reach: gentleness. The scratches in Murmurations are a reminder of this. 

Alice Ramsden, feigning 8, 2024, oil on canvas, 70 x 55cm. Image courtesy of Alice Ramsden and Futures Gallery.

In the language of art, erasure is often considered deletion. To erase an image is to eradicate its existence and label it a ‘mistake.’ By contrast, art-making is conceptualised as creation, something materialised and shaped. This binary is predicated on the understanding that if art-making is creation then its antipode, erasure, is destruction. Within this perspective, it is difficult to see the vast creative possibilities in the act of erasing. The process of effacement in Murmurations highlights such potential, framing it as an active, intentional art-making decision as opposed to a means of rectifying so-called ‘mistakes.’ Even by destruction one is creating, if not merely to engender conversation on what is meant by ‘creation.’ There is nothing passive about the effacement in Ramsden's collection. Not only is it integral to the aesthetics of the work, effacement is a gesture, a recording of the artist’s movements and decisions throughout the artistic process. It is also a display of time; time passing, and with it, the memory of what might have been. Wool-Gathering, *Feigning8 and Fluvial Groan reveal the capacity for effacement to add to a work rather than destroy, to the co-existence of strength and fragility, tenderness and harshness. There is no single painting in Murmurations most apt at instantiating this. They all do it with a sense of quiet insistence. It feels relevant to mention this, for it mirrors the very nature of strength and fragility. Like the becoming and the undoing, their enmeshment often goes unnoticed. The truth erupts beneath the inadvertent.  

To me, Murmurations depicts the colours of the ocean if all the life it carried, both physical and symbolic, were brought to life. There is something to be said of the countless meanings inscribed upon the ocean; an entity that is only one colour. Perhaps blue is not so much a colour but a matter of distance. The expansive blue, the stream of life. We stand by the shore and place thoughts, feelings, relics and the ashes of life into the blue. Believing the blue will cradle them, take them elsewhere, all while secretly hoping it will return them home, renewed. So much has been written about the colour blue; Joni Mitchell’s seminal album Blue, Rebecca Solnit’s The Blue of Distance, and Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, which I have been meaning to lend to my mother. Her Carolina blue eyes were my introduction to and remain my primary point of reference for the colour blue. ‘The blue was beating,’ wrote Nelson in Bluets. Yes, the blue in Murmurations is beating, quietly and steadily. Where it beats the most—Quiescence, (ominous fluttering) and Wool-gathering—are also the most golden. I am reminded of the golden lanterns in Yayoi Kusama’s Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity. I feel they embody the impermanence of memory. Flickering, dwindling, reigniting: memory’s sequence. Only now am I realising that I have associated the act of remembering with both gold and blue. At first glance, I thought the pale blue effacement in Wool-gathering was white. A deceiving blue, similar to that which Joan Didion wrote about in Blue Nights: ‘The blue nights are the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but they are also its warning.’ I am no longer surprised by the prevalence of contradictions coexisting and relying on each other. Loss is always blue. So is serenity and nostalgia. We return to blue to remember. I am shifting my gaze between each painting in Murmurations and for all their hues, there is one quietly breathing in all. 

Tara Grace is a nonfiction writer and poet from Melbourne. She writes art and cultural criticism with publications in various literary journals. Holding degrees in creative writing and sociology from the University of Melbourne, she currently resides in Vienna. 

This text was commissioned through the Emerging Writers’ Program. An annual collaborative project, from KINGS and un Projects, that supports critical arts writing, fiction, poetry, experimental, cross-genre and digital text forms. The Emerging Writers’ Program provides professional publishing opportunities and fosters dialogue between artists and arts writers. Each emerging writer in the program receives critical feedback and editorial assistance from KINGS and un Projects personnel.

Supported by Creative Victoria, City of Melbourne and City of Yarra.