Looking at Art - April

<strong>Carole Wilson</strong><br/>Born 1960, Canberra Resides Ballarat, Victoria<br/><br/><i>Mrs Darwin’s Birds</i> 2010<br/>30 stencilled, hand-cut & collaged maps on paper <br/>1.8 x 1.4m [installation], each bird 34 x 32cm approx.<br/>Purchased through the CDU Foundation for the CDU Art Collection, 2011 – CDU1925<br/>Image © the artist<br/>Photography: Fiona Morrison

Carole Wilson

Mrs Darwin’s Birds 2010 comprises one component of a suite of significant paper-based works by Dr Carole Wilson first exhibited at 24HR Art, now the NCCA – the Northern Territory Centre for Contemporary Art in May-June 2010 and later that year at the Art Gallery of Ballarat, Victoria.

The series was inspired by Wilson’s two-year residency in the Top End of the Northern Territory, when based in Darwin as CDU Lecturer in Studio Practice at the School of Creative Arts and Humanities. Her arrival in the Territory coincided with the imminent bicentenary celebrations held in honour of the naturalist Charles Darwin’s birth: a time of reflection and debate worldwide on his theories of evolution and natural selection. Faced with a seemingly “new order” in the North Australian tropics, Wilson’s first instinct was forensic and empirical: to study the natural world in the immediate surroundings of her work and home. On peregrinations through the landscaped gardens and walkways of CDU’s Casuarina campus, the CBD and further afield, and at weekend “Open Garden” events in Darwin (including Government House) and the rural area, she discovered a new array of cultivated pleasures, ripe for germination in her art.

The series comprising Mrs Darwin’s Birds was an extension of the artist’s existing practice in screen printing, collage, installation and textile-based media. Wilson’s love of gardens and her scholarly and imaginative engagement with garden history, the botanical world, decorative arts, and the era of the great 19th century exhibitions, date back to her earliest leisur

e activities, research and publications. They are the well-spring for her practice as an artist. The resonant and multivalent nature of the things she makes – fashioned from second-hand, cast-off materials and found objects – is enhanced by the careful cutting, stitching and sewing invested in their transformation as works of art.

The physical, contour and road maps deployed to construct Mrs Darwin’s Birds were discovered in an old expanding file in a Ballarat second-hand bookshop in 2006 and marked a shift in the artist’s principal materials. Earlier works had applied the meticulous and meditative techniques of tracing and hand-cutting to salvaged scraps of old rose and plant-patterned Axminster carpet, unearthed in the course of home renovations, or gifted by friends and anonymous supporters.

Elegantly transformed by Wilson into amphorae, vases, jugs, columns, pedestals and other nineteenth century colonial domestic garden objects – themselves a form of recycled classicism – her “carpet” works reconceptualised the origin and functions of their brightly coloured and patterned woven wool fibres. Traditional depictions of cultivated flowers and plant life in carpets, echoed on the patterned ceilings and plasterwork of Victorian homes of the period, brought the outside world into the domestic interior. In Wilson’s work, these motifs make an extended journey in time and space: from garden, to ceiling, to floor and to gallery wall, and from the past to the present. Their silhouetted shapes reconfigure organic emblems as the outer shells and inner shadows of vessels from another era – found languishing or hidden in gardens today.

Wilson’s installation of 30 orange-footed scrub fowls is a multiple rendition of the ubiquitous and territorial Megapodius reinwards – mound-builder, garden forager and protected species – typically seen in the Top End undergrowth striding forth in pairs, Egyptian-fashion. Primarily herbivorous, the creature also assists with seed dispersal of a number of native plants. The use of stencilled and hand-cut maps to recreate the birds’ essential silhouette follows on from Wilson’s Contained Worlds exhibition of collaged map works, held in 2008. Botanical iconography also featured in this exhibition, with leaf, fern and flower motifs creating natural haloes around urns, vessels and trophies.

In this work, sedulous selections of physical or geographic maps – mountains and oceans – give the Territory bush turkey’s plump feathered form mass and shape. Muscle and sinew are articulated in roads, boundaries and territorial borders – imparting a sense of motion within the stillness of the bird’s outline. Fragments of text labels and cartographic colour-coding become new classification devices, subverting the pictorial culture of classic cartography. The incongruous nature of a three-dimensional, living creature reconstructed from a two-dimensional rendition of a three-dimensional world adds to the “scissors and paper” game Wilson employs to great effect. Her art succeeds in making us look more closely at the beauty and wonder of the natural world, at “small things forgotten” in the back of a cupboard or beneath an old floorboard and in making us think, more closely, about the nature of things.

Wilson’s work is held in many public collections including the National Gallery of Australia, the Powerhouse Museum, State Library of Victoria and a number of regional Victorian galleries. Her posters are in museum collections in Finland, Moscow and Poland.

The Nature of Things – featuring work by Carole Wilson opens in the CDU Art Gallery on 13 April and runs until 10 June 2011. The exhibition includes a selected survey of Carole Wilson’s art dating to 2007, as well as works drawn from the CDU Art Collection that capture other artists’ ideas and experiences of nature, gardens and the environment – both natural and cultural – of Northern Australia.

Anita Angel, Curator CDU Art Collection & Art Gallery

1 April 2011

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