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Julia Galloway: Quiescent.

JULIA GALLOWAY'S QUIESCENT IS A LESSON ON BEAUTY AS an instrument of disarmament against complacency and padding the nest. Quiescent is seduction through accessible visual appeal, a reprieve from the elusive and obscure. There is, however, a warning to be heeded as its soothing tones are offered much too loudly to be no more than the sum of their own lovely parts. A closer look is required.

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The installation is accessed only after moving beyond a dark partition adorned with white plates, visual notes out of touch with events to come. Tellingly, the stern positioning of regimented guardian pitchers on geometrically anonymous white pedestals propose a purpose extending beyond the impulse to adorn. Entering, the impression created is one of a glowing implausible cage, one in which auditory and material textures fade in and out of focus or in some cases, completely out of view. Alice's grinning Cheshire comes to mind. The viewer is delighted by the simultaneous tweets, chirps, squawks, peeps and trillings of birds discharged by motion activated sound modules concealed throughout the installation. An increase in movement and numbers of viewers intensifies the volume and serendipity of this unexpected avian chorus.

In homage to John Audubon's watercolour masterpieces, Galloway drew one species of North American bird on each of almost two hundred porcelain cups, each drawing derived from an Audubon original. The cups are arranged in drifts over the walls, each cup resting on a small coarsely constructed wooden shelf. The spare contours of the squared cups and shelves hover against a backdrop of ebulliently drawn, but orderly arabesques, trellis and foliage. The smudged chalk colours echo the dry blue lines and turquoise glazes of the soda-fired cups. On the inside of each lip is the haphazardly stamped name of the illustrated bird allowing the viewer to mouth Boat Tailed Grackle, Red Breasted Grosbeak, Loggerhead Shrike, Yellow-breasted Chat, Brown Booby, Rufous Sided Towhee, the Mangrove Cuckoo and Tufted Titmouse. Best to keep moving or the sounds die and the illusion goes 'poof'.

Familiar with Galloway's earlier work celebrating the solace of domesticity located in the beauty of objects, the viewer is not disappointed, as these attributes are here in abundance. Colours on the walls and objects are seductive, lush. The bird drawings are most often elegant although somewhat laboured. Some appear more as diagrams rather than products of perception. It begs the question of how the images would read if drawn from Galloway's own observations rather than Audubon translations. Happily one has only to turn the cups to re-discover Galloway at her most brilliant. A layering of resist and slip trailed decorations shimmers through washes of turquoise glaze. Rumpled veils of gold lustre glowing over scrolls and loops are positioned, hard edged, against sheaths of mist green barely concealing yet another layer of deftly applied linear adornment. Here Galloway is in her glory. Imagine her, a porcelain cup resting in one hand, the other applying pressure to the trailer, laying down ribbons of slip, raising clef shaped welts on pristine clay. Amplified elegance results with the touch of soda fire, a rich formal combination riffing on shape, pattern, colour and line recalling 9th to 12th century Islamic lustre wares. More, please.

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An initial reading would suggest the display is calculated to delight the viewer with a chorus of sounds, beautiful craftsmanship and calming colours. The precisely spaced arabesques, unwavering vertical patterns and symmetrically drawn foliage of the chalked cage indicate nature held at bay. Enchanted viewers flit and wander, soothed by the disembodied tweets and warbles. The 'birds' are held inside this staged aviary, their animation frozen as decoration on the cups. The viewer as an active participant in the performance, triggers each emission of sound. The atmosphere is relaxed, reverential as cups are handled, compared, scrutinized, then returned carefully to the wall. These are accessible works, visually pleasing with the capacity to inform. But are we finished here?

A second pass through the gallery invites recollections of not just Audubon, the iconic artist, and Julia as a devoted artist paying homage to him but assessments of presentation, context and intent.

Audubon's original paintings were also a product of staging. After hiring hunters to gather specimens, his compositions of birds in their wild environment were achieved in the studio with the deceased bodies of his models positioned in unrealistic poses and environments. A small price to pay for the eventual attention brought to the natural world even as the industrial revolution was literally and figuratively picking up steam and the precipitous decline in the environment under way. Ironically even as once common species so famously illustrated by Audubon disappear from the landscape, the impulse to reproduce and collect specimens intensify. Compounded by the status of almost one third of the birds of North American now in decline, there are some questions regarding at least some of the serenity implied in Quiescence.

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Considering each cup as an individual object destined for isolation from the theatricality of Galloway's display, more work is required of the viewer. Their presentation in the context of multitudes contrasts sharply with the status of each as a lone representative of the whole. Despite user friendly proportions and materials, the cup's every day utility is conditional. Added to the commemorative aspect is the unavoidable comparison with medieval reliquaries containing fragmented artefacts presented in adorned cathedrals, not unlike the fragmented disembodied chirps in Galloway's fandangled bird cage. With its phalanx of guardian pitchers focusing on a distant wall, this exhibition recalls those antique, ritualized interiors. The gallery is also the market and in anticipation of the mass dispersal of her 'birds', Julia Galloway in Quiescent calls attention to environmental peril even as each object is presented as a seductive souvenir, a collectable artefact, delivered for acquisition and display.

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Syd Carpenter is a ceramic sculptor living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the US. Her work is included in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She currently chairs the Department of Art at Swarthmore College.
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Author:Carpenter, Syd
Publication:Ceramics Art & Perception
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2010
Words:1016
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