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Sarah crowEST’s The Inexplicable Magnetism of an Alien Object


Sarah crowEST
Purposeful, purposelessness (nothing) 2012
iron, wood, cardboard, coffee, paint, papier‐mâché, glitter
Image courtesy the artist
Photo credit: Andrew Curtis

Sarah crowEST
The Inexplicable Magnetism of an Alien Object
VCA Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Melbourne
10 February – 3 March 2012

Collections of handmade, amorphous non-shapes and mounds inhabit the gallery space. Varying in size and colour, the objects’ surfaces offer a changing spectrum of shades, from rusty browns to shiny white glazes mottled with pearl-pink and blue. Some are hidden in corners, some huddle in masses, and others teeter on the edge of tabletops.

One group of objects sits on a low platform, elevating them slightly from the gallery floor. Their proximity to the floor suggests that they are emerging from somewhere beneath, perhaps as a protrusion from the subconscious into our surroundings. This collection titled 23 things tending towards white 2012, uses the word ‘Things’ to suggest that these objects have not yet been identified and, perhaps, that they are comparable to the abstract thoughts that live in the sub-regions of our minds before they have been forced into the framework of language.1 In direct contrast with the ambiguous shapes of the mounds,2 one object in the group sits higher than the rest on its own personal plinth — a hairspray bottle with the declarative label ‘Sculpture’. The insertion of this labelled, delineated form amongst other abstract forms could be a way for the artist to clarify the ‘things’ we are observing, but, use of the obvious in the word ‘Sculpture’ acts more as an absurd joke than clarification — the bottle sitting amongst the other art objects as if it had just sprayed them into existence.

The titles crowEST uses for her mounds frequently play with the ways that meaning can be created or rather obfuscated by language; for example, a rock-like object that is painted red and brown with dashes of purple. Entitled Purposeful, purposelessness (nothing) 2012, the work sits spiked on top of a plinth, its title a nod to its own potential obscurity. If we begin to reflect on what this work might ‘mean’, the artwork’s title directs us to give up seeking an answer.

The creative joy found in the rejection of meaning was described by Georges Bataille in Inner Experience as transgressive jouissance — a surrendering to the inherently unknowable.3 Instead of trying to fill an absence with meaning, Bataille relinquishes control of knowing. Bataille’s theory of ‘non-knowing’4 could be contrasted with what crowEST has described as ‘the zone of “not knowing”’— a creative space she moves into, through the process of bringing to life animistic mound-like forms that repeat themselves, ad nauseam, in a seemingly meaningless process of evolution.5 In this way, crowEST privileges the act of intuitive art-making above the clarification of what she has made.

To continue on crowEST’s absurdist path without any apparent cynicism strikes me as a heroic move that belies sophistication; the seemingly nonsensical approach takes the artist one step past existential dilemmas and into a new space of creativity, where absurdity fulfils its own purpose.

Alanna Lorenzon is an artist and writer based in Melbourne.

1. Language plays an important role in this exhibition and is used interestingly not only as titles to works but also as sub-titles in the video Channelling Gedi 2012. It also appears in a collection of crowEST’s father’s notes to himself, that when placed side by side on the gallery wall, away from their original context, act as a nonsensical poem.
2. CrowEST has her own idiosyncratic terms for these art objects and although they could be described equally as ‘rock-like’ or ‘blob-like’, she frequently describes them as ‘mounds’ and, in fact, her blog ‘Mound Activity’ is a devoted to the collection of images, which echo the objects she herself makes.
3. Georges Bataille, Inner Experience, State University of New York Press, New York, 1988, p. 34.
4. Ibid., p. 12.
5. Sarah crowEST, The Inexplicable Magnetism of an Alien Object, a guide to the exhibition component of the PhD An Unaccountable Mass: bothersome matter and the humorous life of forms, Victorian College of the Arts, 2012.

Filed under Alanna Lorenzon