Artists: Rebecca Thomas and Meredith Turnbull, with contributions by Fiona Abicare, Kay Abude, Damiano Bertoli, Terri Bird, Ross Coulter, Sarah crowEST, Andrea Eckersley, Debris Facility Pty Ltd, Christopher L G Hill, Jenny Hector, John Meade, Mascha Moje, Spiros Panigirakis, Sean Peoples, Lisa Radford, Masato Takasaka, Salote Tawale, Sarah Ujmaia, Manon van Kouswijk and Behn Ja Woods
SHE TURNS is an exhibition of and about layering. Artists Rebecca Thomas and Meredith Turnbull consider the material possibilities of the object through a collaborative exchange, which in turn meditates on concepts of work and production. Set within the broader framework of the Material Exchange program, SHE TURNS is facilitated by Meredith Turnbull at c3 Contemporary Art Space. Consisting of a series of three discrete exhibitions, the program considers the idea of mentorship as a circular, non-hierarchical process, with outcomes that are premised on collaboration.
The first instalment in the Material Exchange program saw artists Kate Hill and Isadora Vaughan engaging directly with the physical environment of the Abbotsford Convent for their exhibition Fall Line. For several months prior to the exhibition, the artists worked together to excavate a section of the lower paddock of the convent grounds, extracting material and transforming the earth through various processes of firing and charcoaling. The resulting artwork took the form of slabs of earth installed on the gallery floor, which continued to transform throughout the period of the exhibition: shrivelling, dehydrating, crumbling, growing, and sprouting new plant life, before being returned to the ground at the exhibition’s conclusion.
Where Fall Line was formed from natural materials, SHE TURNS mostly utilises constructed and man-made items — the detritus of our consumerist lives and processes of production. The title of the exhibition plays on the material turn within contemporary art, considering the possibilities of material manipulation and the way in which objects interact with one another, and with us. Spanning the two gallery spaces at the back of c3, the exhibition includes assemblages of material, layered collages and photographic prints.
On one side of the space, Rebecca Thomas’ work On Divers Arts (2017) stretches the length of the dividing wall. A continuous wavering line of small fragile forms, it features twisted and oxidised metal, enamel shapes and etched surfaces. Off-cuts and experiments in metalwork, the line of objects springs and turns in its own pattern. On the opposing wall are several clusters of works — including Dolmen Arch (2017), an assemblage of panels comprised of brass, copper, steel and lacquer. The metal bubbles and corrodes, transformed into layers like topographical maps or geological strata. The atomic structure of the material has been reconfigured, and in its place is something new. Thomas’ delicate works coalesce with Turnbull’s larger works displayed on the floor and wall, consisting of layers of photocopied images on pegboard or fragments of paper and aluminium beneath glass. As with On Divers Arts, these works contain their own rhythm, a pattern that emerges through close-ups of design and ornamentation features. Underlying all these works is a material process of layering.
In the adjoining gallery, on the opposing side of the internal wall, is a large installation, Material/Fragments (2017), a conglomeration of items given by artists who were invited by Turnbull to contribute. This installation is the most interesting part of the show, and the work that best articulates the ideas of collaboration and exchange. It is formed from fragments of material, working processes, found objects and documentation, including, but not limited to: hanging fabric, a string of large yellow beads, industrial rubber offcuts, twists of rope, a chunk of rock sealed in a plastic bag, layered fabric swatches, reflective neon material, a series of linen pockets, and various pieces of documentation, including photographs, an email regarding theoretical texts on work, and post-it notes with handwritten quotes such as ‘Love thy labour – Lawrence Lemaoana’.
Hung evenly across the length of the wall, the chaotic combination of materials has no centre, yet is visually ordered by taxonomy of form, colour and texture. Seemingly innocuous, these objects have layers, and humour; they reference methods of production and labour, and complicate the demands of work defined by capitalism. They are industrial fragments and the materials of consumerism, and they are re-framed into a collaborative action of exchange. Trying to ascribe artist names to the objects becomes a kind of guessing game — matching the list of materials to what you can see — but in the end it doesn’t really matter. The diversification of authorship and the non-hierarchical display asserts an openness of collaboration, allowing the objects to interact with one another equally. Taken individually, these items may be junk or ephemera, but collectively they hold interconnected relationships and social structures, interrogating the means of production and proposing collaboration as a form of work. They layer material, and in turn layer meaning.
Julia Murphy is a writer and emerging curator based in Melbourne.