Victoria Hynes – Arts Writer
“Cities, like dreams, are made of hopes and fears” — Italo Calvino, The invisible Cities.
At Chrissie Cotter Gallery, nestled between a thriving urban veggie garden and rows of century old terrace houses, four female artists explore the social, political and economic complexities of the domestic sphere. A suite of draughtsman’s drawings hang alongside delicate furnishings created out of molded paper; alluring assemblages of vintage crockery are ensconced next to cluttered Barbie doll dens. Each artist investigates the private interior space as a source of desire and memory, fantasy and drudgery, joy and loss, love and fear.
Susan O’Doherty, Freya Jobbins, Ro Murray and Mandy Burgess are all Sydney based artists who work with mixed media. All began their artistic careers later in life and hence approach the theme of ‘inhabited architecture’ with a fresh eye, based on lived experience. Each artist has created their own physical space within the gallery, filled with assemblages, sculptures and collages. The spaces are not occupied, but the human presence is strongly felt through the domestic iconography on display.
The public face versus the private realm is a thread interlinking all the works on display. As Burgess states, It is: “the tidy façade versus the chaos inside. The clipped nature strip versus the grimy bath. The calm and responsible demeanour which hides the slipping-out-of-control and panic of the heart.”
O’Doherty’s assemblages, paintings and free standing sculptures are as palatable to the eye as a clipping from ‘Home Beautiful’ magazine. Against modernist patterns of soft furnishings – vibrant wallpaper, bedspread, tablecloth and floor tile designs – sit harmonious arrangements of gleaming kitchen implements. Tea and sugar canisters, milk bottles, tea cups and egg beaters float alongside discarded ‘feminine’ items such as lingerie and evening bags, as well as the odd children’s shoe. Skillfully placed within this cosy homage to domesticity are sharpened knives and hammers, pistols and razors. Open scissors are splayed on the floor; handguns are placed inside delicate ceramic vases in place of flowers. Overtones of domestic violence are everywhere in her carefully arranged compositions. O’Doherty highlights the variance between our public and private worlds; in her idealised environments, household order is often a veneer masking emotional tensions and unresolved conflicts.
Freya Jobbins sources her supplies from op shops and garage sales, however you’d likely find her rummaging through the toy section rather than kitchenware. Jobbins has built up a popular following through her elaborate assemblages created entirely from abandoned plastic dolls. Hundreds of dismembered Barbie’s and Bratz dolls are transmuted into playful sculptures. Raiding forlorn toy boxes all over Sydney, Jobbins’ art practice borders on the obsessive and fetishistic, yet her work has a serious intent. She refers to her practice as ‘upcycling’; the process of collecting long discarded childrens items to draw attention to the amount of over-consumption and rampant consumerism that is taking over societies in the First World.
Artist Ro Murray directly draws upon her former life as an architect to inform her current conceptual art practice. She transforms her ‘dead-filed’ architectural plans, overlaying them with bold lino prints in red and black. Using a combination of organic and geometric shapes, they harken back to the stark utilitarian designs of the Constructivist art movement from the early 1900s. The works hang like ethereal banners in the gallery space, fluttering on a long line of pegs.
Mandy Burgess creates sculptural objects out of paper pulp based on domestic interiors. Hand made doors and fireplaces seem to gradually dissolve and slowly disintegrate. The sculptures refer to the home as a site of impermanence and decay. The sculptures are as intangible as memories; like ghostly effigies of homes lived in ones past or in ones imagination.
Each of these four artists presents us with a particularly ‘female’ take on the interior space. Historically seen as a feminine domain, these artists overturn such traditions and present us instead with complex inner worlds. Meticulously crafted and easily accessible, these powerful works help us view the interior space in a new light. The exhibition is both visually compelling and politically charged, the artworks operating like a smoking gun hidden in one of Susan O’Doherty’s dainty satin evening purses. . . .