One of my earliest memories is visiting the National Gallery of Victoria. As a toddler, I was lifted up to view the paintings and work in the display cases. I was told not to touch, but through the act of looking, I discovered sensory clues that allowed me to imagine the weight and texture of things. Afterwards, I laid on the carpet in The Great Hall, gazing up at the canopy of Leonard French's stained glass ceiling. The experience created a meditative place that made room for daydreaming. Art galleries have been my special place ever since.
I was reminded of this formative experience when I visited Bridget Currie's Message from the meadow at ACE Open. With her finely tuned sensitivity, Currie created a space that left room for contemplation. Small sculptures rested on wooden tables and were nestled in crate-like shelving units. Made in collaboration with Dean Toepfer of Mixed Goods Studios, the domestic reference held within the furniture was familiar and reassuring. Currie describes the tables and display case as ‘ecosystems for small sculptural forms’.(1) They helped anchor the organic forms as they crumpled and crawled, conveying a human fragility despite their physical resoluteness.
The folds and creases within the sculptures recorded movement and the bodily presence of the artist. Currie states that: ‘A sculpture is evidence of a thought, a gesture, an accident, a plan.’(2) There was tension within all the forms as they simultaneously collapsed and attempted to resurrect themselves. The strain perhaps coming from the collision or artist's intentions and autonomy given to the materials:
These objects here in this room have been given direction, but they have talked back to. Physical feedback loops, an endless number of gestures, decisions, failures. Fall until you balance. (3)
It is here that Currie suggests the reciprocal obligation we share. As an audience, we are asked to catch these forms, to prop them up and find meaning within them. Currie has invited us into the space with an open generosity, and according to Derrida’s concept of conditional hospitality, we also have responsibilities as guests. The exhibition provides a comfortable space but asks of us in return to be receptive, meditative and seek to meet the work on multiple levels.
The encounter that is presented is integrated with comfort. Lying on the lounges created a private space for meditative thought. Accompanying the exhibition was an audio guide featuring spoken word pieces by Bridget Currie, Teri Hoskin, Julia McInerney and Maria Zagala. Each offered a different perspective of the show, allowing alternate access points and understandings without being didactic. The personalised listening experience afforded by headphones prompted divergent channels of thought to emerge in response. I was forced to slow down, listen intently and look deeply.
Viewing soft insides was an intimate experience. Behind a cocoon of soft velvet curtains sat a fluffy curved bench, the sensory experience of the surroundings enhanced by the visual and auditory stimuli intended to induce ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response), a tingling sensation felt by some down their neck and spine. In addition to the multi-sensory experiences, the film featured images of sucking children and a slug exploring Currie's white forms. The slug is slow and steady in its path. It is thought to symbolise the initial stages of spiritual awakening. The slug is also hermaphrodite, and as it embraces both the masculine and feminine it is often a symbol of fertility. Currie has an affinity with slugs and they are a reoccurring motif in her work. She equates their body with a tongue, an entirely sensory being. She also describes her breastfeeding experience as an intense feeling, one that is both loving and animalistic. She recalls looking down at her son as being reminded of a ‘slug gently nibbling on a lettuce leaf’.(4)
Just as the slug is a receptive sensory being so are humans when they are first born. In the pre-verbal stage babies don't perceive a separation between themselves and the world. In this state we are completely vulnerable and exposed but also more receptive to the world around us. Message from the meadow asked us to be as open as a child. To let down our defences. It is only when you are in the state of being that you are open to the experiences being offered, more giving as a beholder and co-creator of meaning.
Currie's interest in the symbolic potential of meadows sprung from her residency at Rupert in Vilnius, Lithuania. In Europe meadows are wild and let grow rampant. They can be harvested for hay and used to feed livestock, often intensifying the taste of the cheese made from their milk. There is an interdependent relationship, an unconscious collaboration between humans and nature.(5)
The meadow is a place of horizontal structure, where despite the diversity, no-one species dominates.(6) Within this democratic ecology, all organisms live in symbiosis. The title also references the grasslands of the Adelaide plains, on which ACE Open stands. This area was rich with over a hundred different species of plants, prior to European settlement.(6) Through their mutual relationship of care, the Kaurna people nurtured the plants and their long-term sustainability, and in return the vegetation provided a source of nourishment.(7) In examining Currie's metaphor of the meadow we uncover broader social and political concerns surrounding reciprocal care. The meadow challenges patriarchal constructs that sought to dominate nature and colonial thinking that prioritised certain systems of knowledge over others.
The meadow can be field of research, an open space for meditative thought. It allows for sensory ways of knowing, asking us to come as a guest and tread gently. What I discovered as a child, is the power the gallery to create a transformative space. One built on the reciprocal relationship between the art and the beholder. Currie’s work draws awareness to the present and our own state of being. She offers us small sensuous moments but in return asks us to be open to the message the meadow has to tell.