Why a Ferret down your trousers may do you good - Elizabeth Rankin

(Ferret 2, opening February 2 2018)

Few will remember the glorious music hall nonsense of English comedians who, for whatever the reason, put ferrets down their trousers as part of their act. With high cut trousers and buckled belts these martyrs suffered for their art. Bulges appeared and disappeared in the trouser fabric. The discomfort produced erratic movements and the true purpose of the ferret was revealed not just to be busy but to create mischief as the comedian itched, stamped, shimmied and sometimes in desperation dropped their duds altogether. The poor undressed soul became a crazed loon capable of anything.

Ferrets were creatures of discomfort and as such are truly the creatures of art.

And so it is that Ferret in its second manifestation of 2018 also produces a stirring of the senses that is worthy of the rodent’s burrowing into the body. The ferret’s constant movement, its changing form produces a dance of perception in the viewer though all remained clothed on this occasion.

As a guide for any reader who may stumble across this blog on a very googley day I describe the works from the ground floor to the upper floor walking somewhat tentatively amongst artworks from the back of the project space to the front entrance.

Thus I begin…..

Sue Callanan’s work, Filling the Cavity of Time (2018), creates both a new “wall” and a landscape of the mundane in a space at the back of the ground floor.[1] The beauty of this softly architectural piece is the reversal of our anticipation of a wall-here all is transparent, irregular and muted. Plastic film fills the large nook and over the course of the day the natural light transforms the work and shadows create little vignettes that come and go within the piece. This work cannot support any weight as a more conventional wall might do and yet it performs as wall. A nice ambiguity.

Well placed beside this “wall” is Anke Stäcker’s Nach Uns  (2017-2018). It’s the colour of this photographic print that engages the viewer. It is rich in shades of red from pink to carmine. Whilst printed on plastic the photograph is not completely opaque so that both natural and artificial light transform the work making the colour ever more resonant. In conversation with Anke I learn that this abstract work is a photograph of plastic bags and red cellophane paper and this combination explains the subtle variations in tone.[2]

Elizabeth Rankin’s Scream, (2017) is an oil on industrial plastic drawing of a distorted male face. A largish rectangle loosely hung on two pins, the work directly portrays human emotion. The image is smeared but the face is menacing in its distress. The scream is silent but sound is conveyed. The portrait seems barely there and another second image shimmers in the blurring of the shadow against the wall. Here is the psyche, the uncanny return of memory in post-traumatic stress.[3] 

On the floor beside “Scream” is Deborah Prior’s Long Sleep, (2018). The rectangular form of this piece echoes the shape of Scream but here all is apparently more peaceful and contained by the narrow strips of the found pastel woollen blanket, neatly tailored. Balls of the fabric unravel beyond but connected to the form. A cat might play with these as toys in the warm domestic setting that the blanket suggests. The “knitted” piece is imperfect. The edges seem to wobble and the Scream hovers above. Long Sleep  deals with the imperfect geometry of being human.[4]

I almost miss the brain halves that form a rather sneaky floor work. Yes brains, I repeat brains or at least brain creatures. Fiona Kemp’s Untitled (2018) are plastic sculptural parts with horse hair tails. They are very disturbing as the combination of materials might well be but they amuse as well. Will they scuttle away and hide in a corner of the gallery? I rather hope they will play hide and seek.[5]

I must watch my step. Linden Braye’s Retro-fit (2018) is an upturned chair cut to fit into the steps that mark a slight change of level on this floor.[6] Little tiny chairs have placed onto the upturned legs. Our spatial expectations are likewise tipped upside down. The viewer is unsure of the true scale, the real perspective and put simply, which way is up. But all of this is irrelevant to Linden Bray who has enjoyed this exercise immensely and is inviting us to take pleasure in the work. This seems to be a chair straight from Gulliver’s Travels brought into the gallery by Joseph Kosuth.[7]

Michelle Elliot’s one and another (2018) features a handkerchief pinned to a wall at eye level echoed by its watercolour representation placed carefully beside it.[8] The watercolour seems to tattoo the wall with a memory of the original. There is a sweetness in the piece because the handkerchiefs are so simple and ordinary, almost archaic domestic objects. It’s a work for meditation and a consciousness that the handkerchief is a sturdy thing capable of enduring many washes. It’s a digression as an abstract portrait of the cloth as metonym for the human.

This ground level of the project space truly centres upon Emma Wise’s work The Housing Project Sydney, 2015-.[9] Essentially this is a research project into the housing/living experiences in the Sydney area. This research is facilitated by Emma interviewing visitors and mapping their habitation on a large coloured map of Sydney projected on a wall. This is also a performative piece and quite an interactive artwork of interviewer and subject and for that matter the onlookers and the murmured sounds of conversations and stories told. I understand that this research may become an installation of recorded voices but I am already a fan of this small and involving spectacle.

A wonderful cluster of Lisa Sharp’s inarticulations (paintless paintings) (2018) climb the wall and wooden support beams of the space. I know these canvas and gesso sighs from Factory 49 where they were shown in a single row but now they seem to have multiplied. These are non -painting paintings made from solid materials but also from the breath of the artist in shaping the moulds, the act of the body itself to create work. In Articulate these white forms seem somewhat larger as they embrace and bravely explore the space in companion groups that avoid the eye level and so tempt the viewer on a small visual adventure. Lisa Sharp’s work suggests that painting has not died but is absent because it has gone on a walk or even an archaeological dig as a discourse into the nature and history of painting.[10]

Far less meandering is Margaret Roberts’ Everyone can be a site specific artist (43 Junior St) (2018). This a quite disciplined echo of a fence belonging to the site, 43 Junior St Leichhardt.[11] Not representative as such but nevertheless precise in its making. It’s all about line, lines of white string attached to tacks. One can visit the site or even embark with Margaret on an organised tour. Something niggles in my brain—this juxtaposition of fine lines is familiar and I recall the contemplative work of Agnes Martin. And no this is clearly not the desert but the Parramatta Road but as with Martin here is the geometric and the celebration of line and space—the realisation of a sacred geometry. And yes, dear reader, I did make the excursion to 43 Junior St.

Adjacent to Lisa Sharp’s white installation are Ope’s blue drops, rain or tears–Falling down, getting up (2017).[12]  This is an installation of symbols, a personal reflection in public space. The smallish drops are ceramic creations suspended by fishing wire but also resting on the floor-a veil of tears, a shower of quite intense colour. The installation sits well beside Lisa Sharp’s work as if the forms were the words uttered by her white open mouths and there is a conversation just beyond our hearing range. It’s a hopeful work about pain and renewal-life after the rain.

Anya Pesce’s work Large Diagonal Fold Revisited (2017) is an interesting expansion of her marvellous lipstick red resin sculptural forms. In this show the familiar shape appears printed on cloth becoming a representation of the abstract form, a portrait of the sculpture yet seemingly carelessly addressed. Knowing Anya’s work I am a little surprised but quite delighted by this turn of events and the notion of a portrait of a sculpture is in itself intriguing. Placed near the entrance of the project space the fabric moves in the slight breeze and the red image ripples.[13]

On the opposite wall Raymond Mathew’s installation, The Bending of Light (2018) softly recalls Mikala Dwyer but Raymond’s forms are smaller and rather more irregular than Dwyer’s. They tumble down the wall to the floor.[14] In the transparency of the clear plastic the eye forms body parts but these forms were made by moulding pieces over rocks with a heat gun and I think the bodily shapes I see come from my own imagination. Yet surely this is the point that the work is open to such idiosyncratic interpretations.

But reader, I move too quickly forward and must backtrack a moment for under the stairs is Sarah Newell’s long installation, unstable architecture (2018).[15] This is a complex multi piece sculpture of many small plywood shelves interspersed with little pots of succulents. It’s a low long artwork abutting the brick wall. It’s almost an odd piece of student furniture as I remember making from wood and bricks. But here all is Lilliputian.[16] A twist on the domestic.

The work of Tamsin Salehian, Shadow (2018) also references the brick wall of this space.[17] This is a small irregular sculpture of stacked bricks lit by red and green spotlights. It’s tucked near the stairs and almost escapes notice but it has a quiet resonance playing with shape and shadow. Bricks are materials of architecture and the work seems to extend the building’s wall itself in a neat act of self-reflective dexterity. The effect of the work depends upon its use of both colour and the play of intersecting shadows.

The levels of the exhibition space are linked by the long strips of cloth hanging in a column drop from one level to another. The colour of the cloth is a pale calico and relates well to the tones of Lisa Sharp’s work in front of which it falls and a whispering conversation of secrets is created. It is a work of hope—the viewer’s eyes are uplifted and spirits are raised. Even the ties holding the work on the upper level give pleasure. This soaring work is the installation of Laine Hogarty and is aptly named antidote for worry (2018) and indeed it is.[18]

Also linking the two levels of this space is Angus Callander’s Canopy (2018).[19] The work acts almost as both a floor for one level and a false ceiling for the other and artlessly negotiates a liminal border. Canopy weaves ribbon–like across the rafters in bright strips of cotton fabric. Its form seems to further define these rafters and to simultaneously suggest that these rafters might naturally extend or perhaps meant to uphold such colour. This new blue sky is created by colourful and celebratory drapery.

Ambrose Reisch’s small black sculpture sits a little mysteriously on a plinth. Called Toast (2018), it is a found toaster holding not bread but two small identical books.[20] The work is painted almost entirely black. This is a work of wit and perhaps wisdom. It has a very contained formal structure—its darkness uncompromising. The domestic reference is obvious but what is being seared are books, indeed they are burnt. So that Toast questions about books and their worth or even of knowledge and what is permitted in an age of infringement and censorship. But we are not completely let off here with this overly neat analysis as the books have small abstracted landscapes painted on their surface, landscape’s of Reisch’s beloved Hawkesbury.

Kat Sawyer’s Pairs (2012) sits quietly on the wall.[21] This work is a diptych of images, digital prints that document a process of fitting through or squeezing into holes in materials. They are framed works side by side. The images themselves show the almost impossible body parts such as arms and elbows trying to fit into spaces which seem too small. The colours are muted, there is no struggle. The body parts become an intriguing human pattern across the two works that provide a very contemplative experience.

Lily Cummins’ work is an installation of collaged drawing fragments, Last night as I searched for you among the sheets, (2015-2016)[22]. These pieces constitute one work and the poetic and enigmatic title intrigues. Looking closely at the work I think of abstracted sheets, the bed and an imagined body or bodies. It’s oddly erotic—this search for the bed partner who seems just beyond reach. The earth colours play against cooler tones and white folds and the surface of each piece is quite richly worked.

I should have no favourites but I am drawn irresistibly to Kate Scott’s projection at the end of this upstairs space titled A not quite unsightly enough ludic object (work in progress 2018).[23] I embark I confess, dear reader, on a mental search for the meaning of ludic and settle on playful, silly or absurd. I move closer to the work. Curiouser and curiouser. It’s a low small projection through a cardboard structure—a mini theatre. The projected images are abstract. I have no answers and I want none. I realise I have been bitten by the ferret and my perceptions sharpened. It’s dadaesque this work. Nonsense and the possible all at once, not decorative and it will never go well with your drapes no matter what their colour nor sit invitingly in a living room.

Enjoy the Ferret’s progress.


[1] Sue Callanan Filling the Cavity of Time   plastic film, natural and artificial light 800 x 175 x 460 (2018),
[2] Anke Stäcker Nach Uns   digital back-lit print on plastic, 107 x 65cm (2017-2018). www.ankestäcker.com
[3] Elizabeth Rankin Scream oil on plastic 1mx 1.5m (2017)
[4] Deborah Prior Long Sleep, # 1, found woollen blanket, beads, dimensions variable (2018) www.instagram.com/ deborah prior/
[5] Fiona Kemp Untitled plastic brain parts, horse hair (2018) http: //fionakemp.com    
[6] Linden Braye Retro-fit wood, paint, cement floor, variable dimensions (2018)
[7] Johnathon Swift Gulliver’s Travels 1726
[8] Michelle Elliot one and another watercolour, wall, mapping pins, variable dimensions (2018)
[9] Emma Wise The Housing Project Sydney, 2015-.[9]  Conversation, desk, chairs, projection, canvas, drawing materials  emmawise.com.au 
[10] Lisa Sharp inarticulations (paintless paintings) glue, beeswax, varnish, copper tacks (2018)
[11] Margaret Roberts’ Everyone can be a site specific artist (43 Junior St Leichhardt) tacks, string, wall, location (2018). margaretroberts.org 
[12] Ope Falling down, getting up ceramics, glaze, spray paint, fishing wire (2017)
[13] Anya Pesce Large Diagonal Fold Revisited digital print on fabric 1m x1m  (2017)
[14] Raymond Mathew The Bending of Light clear polycarbonate sheet, fishing line (2018).www.instagram.com/ray mathew 9//
[15] Sarah Newell unstable architecture plywood ,dirt, recycled ceramics, plants, recycled plastic bottles, dimensions variable plastic bottles(2018).
[16] Johnathon Swift Gulliver’s Travels 1726.
[17] Tamsin Salehian, Shadow  bricks, lights, cards (2018) @tamsin2076
[18] Laine Hogarty antidote for worry  fabric and threat (2018) www.lainehogarty.com@laineway
[19] Angus Callander Canopy  cotton fabric, dimensions variable (2018).
[20] Ambrose Reisch Toast  mixed media-found toaster, books, paint (2018) https://ambrosereisch.com/
[21] Kat Sawyer’s Pairs digital prints, 50 cm x 75cm (2012)
[22] Lily Cummins Last night as I searched for you among the sheets, gesso, acrylic, charcoal, oil stick, ink and collage on found paper and cardboard  dimensions variable (2015-2016) http://www.lilycummins.com
[23] Kate Scott A not quite unsightly enough ludic object (work in progress) projector, single channel video (5 mins) card, paper, tape, ceramic and polymer clay objects (2018).


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