Just as Dark MOFO kicked off in June, an exhibition featuring two new works of mine launched at the Allport Library and Musem of Fine Art here in Hobart and I must blog about it before it ends on September 30. When a show has a long run it’s easy to take it for granted and forget to visit or document.
I am one of a terrific group of artists skilfully brought together for Unhoused by curator Emily Bullock, the other artists being Linda Fredheim, Julie Gough, Brigita Ozolins and Elissa Ritson. It’s a great show and everything in it is genuinely worth some of your time.
It’s been an exciting show I think for the Allport, and a new way of bringing artists in, because the works spill out from the gallery and into the historic displays and library behind.
In the curators words:
Occupying a liminal place somewhere between nightmare, memory and imagination, ‘Unhoused’ transforms the experience of visiting the normally staid Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts collection. The lights are low, the usually carefully ordered displays have been unsettled, and surprising objects have been unearthed from the depths of the archival collections. A sense of disturbance and mystery everywhere pervades the Museum’s darkened rooms.
This site-specific intervention is the work of five Tasmanian artists who have engaged with lesser-known items held in the Allport collection. Each artist has chosen to focus on a particular historic figure, artefact, or its absence and has responded using sculpture, audio, video, performance, furniture and collage.
The work is installed in the main gallery, amongst the museum displays and in the Library, offering alternative and surprising ways of understanding one of the most historically significant collections in Hobart.
In researching the exhibition I developed an affection for artist and colonial matriarch Mary Morten Allport and developed a curiosity about a literal dead end on the museums wall-sized family tree – the words four other sons died young.
A portion of Mary’s journal yielded more information on one of these – Gordon Allport who drowned at the age of 5. The same age as my own son at the time of reading. Our shared roles as both artist and mother rang loudly.
I became haunted by the absence of Gordon within the museum and a small amount of digging in the collection unearthed Mary’s sketched portraits of him, one for nearly every year of his life as well as exquisite painted miniatures that while difficult to confirm – by date and comparison to the named sketches would appear to be of Gordon also. In addition, Gordon’s OWN paintings of flowers (he must have watched his mother – a very talented botanical artist) were unearthed in a scrapbook Mary had named her ‘Book of Treasures’. They are now displayed in a case within the gallery for the duration of this exhibition, preserved as freshly as when they were first painted and looking exactly like something my own son would have brought home from school today.
Absorbing all this material + the document of Mary’s own journals, I grieved Gordon’s absence in the family history.
I was also consumed by Mary’s grief for her child. Mary’s journal tragically describes mistaking the sounds of distant peacocks for the cries of her sons tormented spirit in the weeks following his funeral .
…not like a little happy spirit going home…
I felt the heavy presence of the objects collected by the family, Mary’s own harp and the cabinets of crystal glassware situated opposite in the museum. Objects with such an intimate relationship to the hands and mouths of the Allport family and their friends.
The loss of Gordon is held in the history of these intensely handled, domestic objects and so they, as well as the peacock cry became the motifs of my work for this exhibition.
Located in the gallery, For Six Weeks I Believed I Had Heard Poor Gordon’s Voice (after Mary Morten Allport)(2016) is a simple, silent video loop with accompanying objects that is based on one of Mary’s miniature portraits.
Ribbons of dark colouration leach endlessly from the image like smoke while in front of the image, a crystal goblet on a dark wooden stand resonates peacock cries from a small speaker inside. To the other side of the image a significant stack of apparently blank papers sits on the floor. Weighted down with a lace handkerchief full of lead, visitors are welcome to take a page away and use a mirror to discover the faint reversed text that is Mary’s journal entry regarding her fears for Gordon’s ghost and eventual relief; a passage that neatly describes the universal process and progression of human grief.
Slow Serenade for Gordon’s Transation (after Elias Perish Alvars) (2016) is an audio composition for intervention in the museum display that is created to emulate Mary’s music room. The work is a ‘remix’ of Alvars harp composition, Serenade. Alvars was a British harpist and composer of the Victorian era and while it appears none of Mary’s own sheet music remains with the Allport collection, it is not unreasonable to imagine that, as a woman of means who took pride in her musicality, his works may have been amongst new music Mary had shipped to her new home in Tasmania. A sluggish performance of Serenade woven with peacock cries and ringing crystal calls in the manifestation of Mary’s grief and creates a spirit resonation of the fragile family glassware located in the cabinets behind.
Both works I created for this exhibition aspire to honour Gordon Allport’s identity and memory by weaving something from both the immense joy and terrible, transformative grief of his mothers love; containers and release channels for a young boys spirit.
EDIT: Mr Andrew Harper also published another very positive review, this time of Unhoused in The Mecury’s Tas Weekend supplement dated July 9 – 10 2016. Thanks again Harps for your considered thoughts and positive feedback. If you’re interested you can read it HERE.