*This essay was written for the exhibition ‘Slice of Life’ at Craft, 22 April – 27 May, 2017.
Slice of Life is an exhibition that brings together eight emerging Australian artists working with craft-based practices to explore everyday life and experiences. Using diverse materials including clay, fabric, felt and metal, the artists in the show playfully re-create familiar scenes and objects from daily life to tell intimate stories about history, memory, and identity.
The staples that make up everyday life have long inspired artists, with entire art historical traditions and movements dedicated to this theme. From traditions of still lifes to genre paintings, artists have long turned to their immediate surroundings, peoples and objects for ideas. The everyday is both universal yet also deeply personal, and it is in this interplay between collective experience and individual narrative that the works in this exhibition achieve their potency.
One common theme in the exhibition is a focus on cultural stories told through personal artefacts and objects. The works of Katie Jacobs and Mechelle Bounpraseuth both consider a ‘typical’ Australian identity and experience, albeit through very different lenses. Jacobs’ works are inspired by societal obsessions with sporting achievements and rituals. Using the symbolic form of a trophy emblazoned with sporting language and jargon, Jacobs’ works consider the broader implications of sports culture in society.
Bounpraseuth’s works, on the other hand, is about her experience as a first-generation Australian migrant. Her ceramic sculptures of food items, rubbish and other inconsequential possessions are imbued with a sense of loss and worthlessness, but also display an ironic self-depreciation and humour. Bounspraseuth’s works are autobiographical, but in them we can also recognise a familiar story about the mundanity of Australian suburbia.
Elsewhere in the exhibition, food is also a major source of inspiration for artist Scott Duncan. After a long career as a chef, Duncan has recently taken up ceramics. He creates casts and moulds based on everyday objects and food items to create highly ornate yet still functional vessels. Memory and nostalgia are central to Duncan’s works, whose colour palette and kitsch aesthetic are a nod to a retro past.
This focus on nostalgia is similarly explored in the textile installation by Tricia Page. Her work uses wool blankets and steel cables to create a suspended slide reminiscent of a children’s playground. Page is interested in the playground as a formative place where children are introduced to the wider world. The choice of materials in this case, however, renders the slide useless as an object of play.
Despite being inspired by everyday objects, the artists in Slice of Life are not solely interested in presenting life as it is directly experienced. In the works of Julie Burleigh and Cat Rabbit, our familiar relationships with objects are questioned through a playful interaction with scale. Burleigh’s ceramic dioramas take inspiration from the geometric forms and shapes of cat furniture. Scaled down to a miniature size, Burleigh’s resulting series re-imagine the architectural structures and utopian ideals of human-designed housing for cats. These resulting works invite viewers to focus on the aesthetic, rather than functional, forms of the resulting sculptures.
While Burleigh scales down, Cat Rabbit scales up with her larger than life felted eggs. Eggsellent puns aside, Cat’s work instil character and life by adding friendly faces and expressions in order to personify the inanimate. Cat’s characters draw the viewers into a playful and richly imaginative world.
Personification is also felt strongly in the works of Phil Ferguson (Chili Philly). Ferguson is known for his crocheted wearables that reimagine everyday objects as headwear and accessories, all donned by the artist himself. For Ferguson, the work is not just the finished object, but rather is the act of donning the object and performing for the camera. When displayed as objects on their own, the hats still denote the absence of the body.
This tension between absence and presence is further explored in the video installation and pendants by Josephine Mead. Mead is interested in the history of vessels and urns and their associations with women and femininity. While the pendants make clear a link to antiquity, the video demonstrates another aspect of still lifes and representations – their very impermanence and transience. Poignantly, Mead’s body of work draws attention to the fact that while daily life and experiences can be captured through art-making, their depiction can also be understood as a memento mori.
Slice of Life is an exhibition about everyday experiences, but it is also an exhibition about the past and the inevitability of the future. The eight artists in the show share a common interest in tracing their personal narratives and daily existence. Through a process of hand-making and hand-building, their resulting works are imbued with a sense of intimacy, and highlight the continued inspirations found in the everyday. When viewed in this manner, it is far from ordinary.