It’s the Small Things

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Julie Burleigh, ‘Not Titled’, ceramic and glaze

This review based on observations was originally written for Language of Labour and published on 22 February, 2016. See the article here.

It’s Friday night and I have over-committed myself. Facebook reminds me that there are five events I am ‘interested’ in, and I’m planning to make an appearance for at least three. I’m already running late because the tram is being diverted, and I end up catching a cab because I haven’t yet installed Uber on my iPhone.

First up is an exhibition opening at Little Woods Gallery in Collingwood, ‘Small Alterations’, that pairs together artists Julie Burleigh and Matthew Hopkins. I don’t like to be the first at an opening, but time-efficiency is key tonight so I drop into the gallery five minutes before it opens. The artists and curators are behind the bar, welcoming, and my early arrival gives me ample time to look at the artworks.

I am drawn to Julie Burleigh’s ceramic sculptures, which instantly strike me in their intimate scale and simplicity. A cross between modernist compositions and doll-scale dioramas, Burleigh’s self-contained ceramic ‘scenes’ invite a viewer to contemplate everyday situations and moments up close. Three white sculptures displayed alongside each other reveal a tableau of interconnected scenes: a hospital room, waiting at a Laundromat, a forest. Elsewhere in the exhibition, Burleigh tells these narratives through more abstracted means, bringing together overlapping forms and shapes that suggest, rather than depict, interior spaces.

Filling the rest of the gallery are mixed media works by Sydney-based artist Matthew Hopkins, and it is clear why the curator, Monica Syrette, has paired these two artists together. Hopkins’ works on paper and mixed media paintings similarly tell stories of everyday encounters, which are laced with a gentle humour and absurdity. I am particularly enamoured by Hopkins’ interpretation of a pair of white undies and socks, which are larger-than-life yet evoke pathos through stains and chewing gum. Elsewhere, in Hopkins’ ‘Umbrella drawings’, the upturned shape of a defunct umbrella similarly suggests an uncanniness of everyday objects, where they begin to take on human sensibilities and emotions. The vivid pinks in the drawings remind me of a summer storm, an unexpected encounter with the rain, a sunny disposition.

‘Small Alterations’ is an exhibition that brings together two artists based on their common interest in and approach to the subject matter of everyday life. Within the intimate gallery space (22 sqm), Burleigh and Hopkins’ works evoke a playful wistfulness for the banal, and a contemplative interest in the objects or quiet situations that fill our daily lives and go relatively unnoticed.

As I spend time looking at each piece, waiting for my friend to arrive, I think about how fitting it is that I am waiting in an exhibition that is about waiting. Or rather, an exhibition that is about these moments in our days that we don’t first see as significant, moments that are simply ‘fillers’ for what we think our lives should be – events, exhibition openings, work meetings, date nights. It is only with the passage of time that time becomes more precious, and with that, these moments of waiting become a luxury. It is the small things that we long for.

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