30 March 2011

Heather B. Swann

We are pleased to launch the highly anticipated exhibition of works by Heather B. Swann this evening from 6-8pm. The show will be officially opened by Professor Sasha Grishin AM, FAHA The Sir William Dobell Professor of Art History, Australian National University.

David Hansen has written a brilliant overview about Heather's work which we have included below:

Breathing down your neck

In this exhibition, Heather B. Swann lays bare one of her central preoccupations" wilderness and containment, and the nexus or relationship between the beast and the body.

Animals appear often in the artist's work; creatures both wild and domesticated, cunning and dumb, with their physical features refined or intensified, abstracted or hybridised.

Here in
Bone we encounter three particular favourites.

The dog has long been a significant brute presence in Swann's work, from her earliest undergraduate etchings to more recent Romanesque-surrealist sculptures such as
Dog Eat Dog (2005, Dubbo Regional Gallery) and the 2007 City of Melbourne Laneways project, Gates of Hell. Then there is the rat, standing on its hind legs and sniffing the air, which has featured in many drawings as well as in the pack of Ratties of 2005 (private collection). Finally, there is the relatively recent addition to the artist's menagerie, the skyhook-tailed monkey which we see in Grinderman (2008, private collection) and Hook (2009 National Gallery of Australia).

But this trio are more than just comfortable familiars. These particular species have been adopted by the artists because of their dark sides, their bad reputations: the snarling, barking, growling, howling canine; the dirty rat of sexual and economic opportunism, of sewers and gangsterism; the lewd, loud incorrigible, mischievous ape. They are troublemakers.

In these works not only is there the possibility of anthropomorphic reading, the possibility that each figure might stand for a particular attitude or emotional or intellectual position. The long history of human interaction with these guys is such as to have produced a rich store of linguistic and pictorial metaphor: the low dog, the black dog, the mad dog, the lap dog; the rat race, rats leaving sinking ships, rats we can smell; the cheeky monkey business in the margins of medieval manuscripts, the monkey on your back of addiction or obsession, the monkey the the long tail of a mortgage. These are not rudderless, cute animalia.

There is also something deeper, something primal happening here. Swann emphasizes this mythic dimension through the three beasts' essential dependence on a human climbing frame of reference. This is fauna in your face, on your back, breathing down your neck, gnawing on your bones; the dog, the rat and the monkey require a structure for their fierce play of dominance and submission.

Swann provides just such zoo-enclosure furniture in the current installation's hard, osseous core, a suite of variously abstracted human backbones: a long torso racked over a wooden wedge to create a strange form somewhere between a vaulting horse, an avil, the pommel of a saddle and a Chinese footbinding shoe; a couple of Duchampian bisexual bicycle wheel vertebra-rings; a massive metacarpal woman knuckle; a corset laced, dark, upright tower; and that familiar, ferocious atavism of sexual coupling, a Rabelaisian-Shakespearean 'beast with two backs'.

Here in this dream space, in the beast mistress 'Platonic cave, homo sapiens' fragile, temporary, frontal-lobe dominance of the earth is revealed as a very nervous system indeed, little more than a pattern of shifting profiles, a vague, ambiguous spinal x-ray, a dance of evolutionary shadows.

David Hansen
Melbourne, January 2011

The exhibition runs until April 30. Please email the gallery on info@kwgallery.com for further information

image details: Ratty 2011 49.0 x 16.0 x 65.0 cm metal and resin

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