Nature of Time

NG Art Gallery, Sydney

A Poetic Thrift
The Nature of Time: Ticking clock minds and hinged suspenders… a midriff fully occupied by a maternal koala and her joey…the centre and heart of a body made of fragments (and of another simulacra)…. sitting atop the counting, atop a game, atop a measuring, of an associative domino effect, suggestive of the ticking female body clock cycle, and, a moment of reflection for the artist.

In Time Scale the literal title plays with our thoughts as much as the items contained in this carry-handled box and permit the viewer (and maker) to enjoy an associative visual play. The aged green enamel casings of the clock and scales are redolent of time past, still capable but outmoded devices. We imagine the key components crushed together should the box resume its purpose and be closed. Clock pressed to scales, time compressed to weight, suggesting implicitly a simultaneous measurement at one moment in time. Two measuring devices crushing together to exclude that being measured; a physical elapse of body and mind. And so on.

Through these assemblages and constructions, which are at the centre of Susan O’Doherty’s practice,
capsules of accumulated connections across time using ready-made forms, objects and items scavenged are collected and associatively re-presented. Her paintings mark time through a more conventional pictorial equivalent to her central concerns, but sustain this persistent enquiry. As the artist states ‘this body of work relates to the passing of time, the ethereal nature of time, recollections, experiences – lives lived and awareness of mortality.’

Susan O’Doherty’s work presents an allusive circuitry of recollection and connection, of collection and
re-connection. As Bakelite dominoes remind us of childhood and old age games, memories unite and
implicitly combine in this literal pastime to punctuate our sense of searching for a lost time. These, and similarly the other identifiable objects, remind us of lost experience and of a conditional urge to attempt to piece these sensations information back together. Another means of marking time, with our predilection for measurement, for comparability, for observation and record.

These works connect to an extensive tradition of women artists using the ready-made to forge potent
association, from Meret Oppenheim to Sarah Lucas; and also something of the confessional. A consistent thematic is elicited through these diminutive and portable tableaux, conveying a direct and vivid presence through their sense of miniaturised and domestic theatre. The associations of poetry and music that permeate the earlier work continue from her previous exhibitions, A Perfect Woman to It’s a Man’s World, and facilitate a further layer of reading and association that punctuates the experience of time passing and facilitate recollection.

These diorama-like passages of time present a clash of quantitative and qualitative information that bridge a need to integrate experiences, to demonstrate an understanding in these assembled vignettes of incident, re-enactment and embodiment. A piecing together of signs to reinforce or re-engage with the present. This is an artistic practice by which ecological and ethical concerns are realised through a constructed commentary and association. Susan O’ Doherty crafts new from the old, pours tenderness and empathy on the discarded and abandoned, and seeks to revive and regenerate once-loved, once-essential items of the past. Her thrift aesthetic conveys something more pressing about our paradoxical time than each piece in isolation, as she persistently roves and gleans in pursuit of creatively imbuing new life and meaning, and embracing the past within the present.

Professor Anita Taylor
National Art School

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