Caz Haswell – Mother Tongue

Caz Haswell, Chateau cardboard 2020, calico, cotton thread, 122x40cm. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Pompom, Sydney

Caz Haswell’s mother was an avid list maker. Interspersing typewritten and handwritten text, the work Mothers Attributes is a list compiled by the two women together around 1998. It displays the artist’s late mother’s knack for language and for picking up the local vernacular during her five years running the General Store in Hill End, New South Wales:

Weather forecaster / day keeper / procurer of gunmen to shoot half dead dogs /
fuel quality expert / telephone directory / turkey broker / reporter of escaped horses / rescuer of the injured / post mistress / knitting needle exchange / bank, no interest charged / social director / counsellor / behaviour supervisor / drinker of white wine / pause button pusher / talker / …and poet

This brief but vivid collection immediately conjures the general store as a hub of town life, confirming the undoubted fortitude and good humour that would have been necessary in order to wear so many proverbial hats.

Over the years, Haswell herself has been collecting lists of slang terms and idioms as potential titles for artworks. After coming to the realisation that in generating pages and pages of these colloquialisms she had in fact created a work in itself, Haswell gathered them into a new form for the piece Showing not telling (2020). A banner of flannelette sheet hangs by two tabs, its particular pattern of vertical pastel stripes immediately recognisable to anyone who was regularly tucked into bed in a certain era. Running perpendicular to the stripes are a series of cross-stitched phrases:

COOLING THE HEELS / BUTTER ZONE / TRIPLE THREAT / CLAPS AND SNARES / ICE TO MEET YOU / FUR COAT AND NO KNICKERS / STATE OF NATURE / TENDER LOIN / FORCE OF DETONATION / SUNSET CLAUSE / HONEY TRAP / SHARE OF MOUTH / NO FRILLS NO FAT / RIPPLE AND BLUR / SHOWING NOT TELLING

It is a curious combination: the soft, pastel-hued cotton of the flannelette, with its cosy connotations, disarms us before the block letters hit us with their suggestive implications in stitched black pixels. The artist’s great grandfather made tapestries (an art therapy practice of sorts) and after discovering his large works at home, a young Haswell was introduced to the practice by her aunt. Haswell enjoys the slow, laborious process of needlepoint, its automated, repetitive rhythms allowing space for contemplation.

In the work Chateau cardboard (2020), the phrases sausage roll/tomato sauce/chateau cask are stitched onto an apron. The text was originally jotted down by Haswell’s mother as an end-of-day musing about what to have for dinner after a long day cooking for others in the Hill End General Store café, and one can see parallels between the process of stitching the words and the act of jotting them down in the first place. And of course, an apron is an amusing site to memorialise this gourmet combination.

Haswell also hand builds sculptures from clay, a process which, in contrast to the meditative process of needlepoint, requires continued concentration and a forensic attention to detail. Despite this opposing approach, these clay works nonetheless also seduce with the familiarity of their forms, before inverting these expectations. The sculpture Full lambchop is in fact a to-scale rendering of a lamb chop in white clay, the sexual associations of its title and form providing a connecting thread with the text of Showing not telling.

Meat has made its way into the show via a photograph, taken by Haswell at the age of seven, of her mother after arriving home from the pub having won the meat tray that evening. The photograph, Mother and child, is included in Mother tongue, as is a white clay sculpture of the meat tray itself (from which the subject of Full lambchop originated). The use of clay to sculpt meat evokes rich and varied associations, the cold silky malleability of the clay in wet form echoing the cool give of the meat, before transforming into something quite different: a dry, hard finished product denuded of both colour and context.

Throughout Mother tongue, language and materiality are used to explore evocations of the body, particularly through references to food and sex. Like meat, smoking is also loaded with connotations. Holy Smokes (2020), a framed work on paper listing euphemisms related to this now outmoded vice, rests on casts taken of Haswell’s mother’s ashtray. Once a ubiquitous household object, in Holy smokes the ashtray’s functionality has been converted into a literal prop for the text: selling smoke / smoke without fire / big smoke / passive manslaughter / second hand smoke / smoke house. This set of phrases has its own internal rhythm, with a jarring note midway – another composition formed of unexpected evocations.

Fuck you / very much, declares a 2019 work of the same name. The words are cross-stitched into terry towelling, playfully contaminating the idea of the monogrammed towel signifying domestic bliss. Haswell recently relocated to live in the same country region as Hill End, a place which played a formative role in her life as a young woman during the years her mother lived there. While the works in Mother tongue are, in part, a way for Haswell to gather and interweave the threads of her and her mother’s personalities and lives, the show is also an undertaking to establish boundaries in relation to her past, and to the ongoing formation of her own identity.

Chloé Wolifson, July 2020

Caz Haswell’s exhibition Mother Tongue took place at Galerie Pompom, Sydney from 19 August – 13 September 2020. My above catalogue essay was published to accompany the exhibition.

Floria Tosca – Bearing Witness

Floria Tosca, Pan, Pencil, gouche and ink on paper, 105cmX150cm. Courtesy the artist and Flinders Street Gallery, Sydney

The term ‘animal kingdom’ implies the largest, grandest and most intelligent animals standing regally at the top of the pile, but Floria Tosca invites us to reimagine the order of things. While humans tend to identify with the behaviour our closest primate relatives, Tosca wonders whether we might find more parallels with the ‘hive mind’ of insects and other creatures. Our desire to connect even when not in physical proximity saw us invent networks and modes of communication that mimic those of insects, birds and flying mammals. Now, warned against physical connection for the time being, we continue to be linked by invisible impulses.

That patriarchal phrase ‘animal kingdom’ also implies the crown worn by the monarch. Across the world’s cultures, head adornments are employed to signify power. We might not know the laws of a locality but we can identify who’s in charge by what’s on their head. While humans consider ourselves the righteous rulers of planet Earth, Tosca observes that we are currently being well and truly lorded over by a microscopic agent that also favours the form of a crown: coronavirus.

This menacing form has found its way into Tosca’s new works, insinuated into the corners of compositions amongst the flora, and sprouting mushroom-like from the eyes of skulls. It’s not only microbes that get scaled up: Tosca zooms in on birds, bats and insects, a reminder of where these creatures really belong in the schema of things. Bats in particular, but also ladybirds, are here to remind us of how we have tipped the scales of ecological balance: bats being a host for coronavirus, while ladybirds are symbolic of the collateral damage suffered by creatures through bushfires.

Tosca employs in her practice a visual taxonomy comprised not only of images of birds, insects and other creatures, but also of studies made of the outline form of plants. These elements become the basis for visual arrangements characterised by intuitively balanced form and colour, courting abstraction yet unmistakeable in their organic origins. In works such as Pan the composition respects the boundaries of the paper support, embracing symmetry, while in Remember, the goat hide Tosca has used to work on cuts its own silhouette, its form containing the echoes of a life. Living and dead, joyous yet dark, the subjects in Bearing Witness ponder the singular condition that is both degeneration and regeneration.

Chloé Wolifson, August 2020

Floria Tosca’s exhibition Bearing Witness took place at Flinders Street Gallery, Sydney from 15 August – 5 September 2020. The exhibition text above was published to accompany the exhibition.

Paul Snell – Bleed

Paul Snell’s works seduce and envelop us. In Bleed, Snell takes a soft-edged approach to the colour field rather than the hard-edge aesthetic of his works from the past decade. Playing with appropriated visual imagery to create abstractions that explore the potential of photo-media, some works explore a single or related group of hues, such as a soft fairy floss pink or a harmony of turquoises. In other works, contrasting colours swirl and bleed together, forming tantalising compositions that compel the viewer to search the surface for narrative answers which remain elusive.

While Snell has previously employed glossy surfaces, inviting viewers to reflect on the ubiquity of screen culture, the matte finish used in the Bleed series absorbs rather than reflects light. The photographic image is face-mounted to Matte Plexiglas, embedding colour in the object itself. The viewer is drawn into the image, yet the diffused tonality of the photograph prevents our eye from getting a secure hold on the composition.  The resulting experience is a slow push-pull between image and viewer.

Long interested in non-objective works that embrace object-hood, Snell has recently been applying this to his own practice in an increasingly overt fashion, developing sculptural substrata for his Chromogenic prints. These gnarled, distressed elements, the result of experimentation with chemical reactions on polystyrene and painted and poured concrete, lurk behind the Plexiglas surface. While the photographic images employ bright and pure tonalities, the substrata bear the colours of rusted and oxidised metals. These gritty, crusty components challenge the seductively liquid surfaces of the works – each heightens the experience of the other and evokes further associations, from the microscopic to the macrocosmic.

Snell shares the aesthetic and conceptual concerns of 20th century modernist painters, while taking the 21st century digital image as a material starting point. Bleed explores and exploits the emotive and evocative effects of colour, both in an ocular sense and a physical one – as we stand in front of these works, our eyes seeking an entry point to the abstract and minimalist compositions, the matte surfaces absorb light and seem to absorb us as well.

In the course of developing this body of work, Snell came across the term longing for less, a reaction to the relentless inundation of imagery in the current era. “’Longing for less’ resonated in terms of breaking down this imagery and creating voids, spaces, moments in time, shifts and places for people to sit, contemplate and just lose themselves in the colours.” In introducing the sculptural bases for the works in Bleed, Snell brings this potential of the pixel into sharp (or in this case, soft) relief.

In the course of developing this body of work, Snell came across the term longing for less, a reaction to the relentless inundation of imagery in the current era. “’Longing for less’ resonated in terms of breaking down this imagery and creating voids, spaces, moments in time, shifts and places for people to sit, contemplate and just lose themselves in the colours.” In introducing the sculptural bases for the works in Bleed, Snell brings this potential of the pixel into sharp (or in this case, soft) relief.

Chloé Wolifson, July 2020

Paul Snell’s exhibition Bleed took place at Gallery 9, Sydney from 15 July – 08 August 2020. The exhibition text above accompanied the exhibition and can also be heard in the above video tour.

2020 Adelaide//International at Samstag Museum of Art

In late February, I travelled to Adelaide for the launch of the 2020 Adelaide//International at the Samstag Museum of Art. The launch was timed to coincide with other Adelaide Festival events including the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, and I enjoyed a jam-packed weekend of exhibitions and events, with highlights including a keynote address from stalwart Australian artist Stelarc, a performance by New York-based Australian artist Julian Day and collaborators in a heritage Masonic Lodge setting, and exploring Biennial artists’ works in the gorgeous Adelaide Botanic Gardens.

Of course, this was just before travel restrictions and social distancing came into play, and it was through the lens of a pandemic world that I sat down to write my review of the 2020 Adelaide//International, probably my last press trip for a while. With a focus on architecture as choreographer of human experience, it was hard to ignore our ‘new normal’ when pondering the works in the show. My review can be read here.

Brad Darkson, Research for Hold Me, 2020. Photo: Brad Darkson

It was a pleasure to again write for Artlink. My other reviews for this publication can be found here and here.


22nd Biennale of Sydney: NIRIN

My profile on South African photographer and visual activist Zanele Muholi was published at a precarious time for the art world. Filed in the midst of a very busy day during the media tour of the 22nd Biennale of Sydney in early March, little did we know that soon after, all venues would close to the public amid coronavirus prevention precautions. I feel exceptionally fortunate to have experienced the media preview of NIRIN, travelling to venues across Sydney to take in the many works and experiences of this groundbreaking Biennale. I look forward to again congregating with colleagues and artists, sharing a space of contemplation and stimulation around art.

Muholi’s arresting self-portraits and portraits of the South African LGBTQI+ community were featured at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. My interview with the visual activist was cover story of The Sydney Morning Herald Spectrum on 14 March, and can be read online here.

Stanislava Pinchuk: The Red Carpet

“Seventeen years ago – on March 18, 2003 – David Burgess and Will Saunders climbed the sails of the Sydney Opera House and painted in looming red letters the words NO WAR. The pair were sentenced to nine months’ weekend jail and divided the nation between those appalled at the iconoclasm and those who believed the message made the gesture worthy.

A decade after Burgess and Saunders’ defiant act, on the other side of the world, pro-democracy protests began in Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square, in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. The collective weight of the protesters, accumulated over months, caused the Maidan’s granite slabs to crack. The protests turned tragically fatal and marked the beginning of the Ukrainian revolution and the ongoing civil war.

For Ukrainian-born, Melbourne artist Stanislava Pinchuk, 31, these two public spaces, arguably the hearts of their respective nations, span her two citizenships. Pinchuk has brought both sites together in a new photographic work The Red Carpet, which she will unveil in conjunction with a lecture titled The Thread of War at the All About Women festival at the Sydney Opera House on March 8…”

Read my profile of artist Stanislava Pinchuk, published in The Sydney Morning Herald Spectrum, here.



10 artists forging a new political future

“A sense of urgency is pervading Australian art. Artists are seeking more than ever to spark cultural change. For some, this involves moving away from traditional art-making approaches. Others continue to mine the archives or the natural world for materials that inspire, shock, or lend themselves to 21st century recalibration…”

In my first piece for Guardian Australia, I wrote about ten Australian artists who investigate personal, local and global political themes. You can read the article here.

EXTRA!EXTRA! Read all about it…

Two very different writing projects rounded off the end of 2019 for me.

EXTRA!EXTRA! was a weekly newspaper produced over five weeks at the Art Gallery of New South Wales by The Rizzeria, in response to Kaldor Public Art Projects’ 50 years exhibition. I was invited by editorial team Lucas Ihlein and Ian Milliss to write a reflection of the overall project for the special omnibus edition. You can read that and the entire edition here.

December also saw the launch of Design Anthology’s inaugural Australian edition. It was a pleasure to be invited to contribute to this publication for which I wrote about subsidised studio spaces. The issue can be found via here.

A review of some reviews…

I’ve been very pleased to have had the opportunity to pen some reviews for The Sydney Morning Herald over the past few months, most recently on Simryn Gill’s exhibition at Utopia Art Sydney, which can be read here.

Other reviews have included a piece on the Sydney Contemporary art fair, the Shaun Gladwell survey at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Bill Henson‘s latest show at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, and the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

2018 – Press pass, boots and a baby bump

It feels strange to be marking the end of 2018, a year which for me had its own rhythm, split as it was into three phases each with a distinct pace.

I am pretty used to deadlines, and as I raced towards a major personal one in early May I packed in as much as possible on the work front. As well as continuing my column for Art Monthly Australasia magazine ‘Notes from the Field’, I wrote catalogue essays for Sydney artist Michelle Cawthorn, and for the group exhibition Vanishing Point at Hazelhurst Arts Centre. I led visiting art patron Marilyin Greenberg, previous council chair of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, on a personalised tour of commercial gallery spaces across Sydney.

Marilyn Greenberg visiting Utopia Art Sydney, April 2018

As always, I appreciated the opportunity to travel for art. In early March I visited Adelaide, filing a review of the Adelaide Biennial for Vault. A major highlight was a press trip to Hong Kong Art Week in late March for Art Monthly. I reviewed Encounters (curated by Alexie Glass) at Art Basel Hong Kong and blogged about the fair overall. I also interviewed Suhanya Raffel, Executive Director of M+ and reviewed Samson Young’s exhibition at M+ Pavillion . As I was 32 weeks pregnant it was a challenging trip energy-wise, particularly climbing the many flights of stairs during the site visit to the under-construction West Kowloon Cultural district!

The middle of 2018 saw me take a 4-month professional hiatus as my husband and I welcomed our baby into the world. Despite me stepping back from work, baby’s early months were filled with many gallery visits (including a ferry trip to Cockatoo Island to visit the Biennale of Sydney when he was four weeks old).

Following that personal milestone there continued to be many professional highlights. After an interview with Malaysian artist Minstrel Kuik earlier in the year, I continued to contribute to ArtAsiaPacific, with reviews of Jess Bradford‘s exhibition at Galerie Pompom, and Fearless: Contemporary South Asian Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I resumed ‘Notes from the Field’, including for focus issues on South Australia (November) and Brisbane (for the Asia-Pacific Triennial over Summer).

jpeg.jpg

As well as contributing to these print and online publications, this year I worked as a freelance arts administrator, researcher and editor on a range of diverse projects for clients including consultant John Cruthers, publisher and designer Mark Gowing of Formist, and artist and curator Glenn Barkley. I appreciated the continued work with these art-world contacts and forged new ones, including a meeting with New York Times and Art Newspaper Los Angeles Correspondent Jori Finkel as the year drew to a close.

I’m looking forward to the start of a new year as an opportunity to gather new energy and recalibrate. With a press trip to Singapore Art Week fast approaching, 2019 promises to be action-packed.

Wishing you good health and happiness in the new year.

Chloé