Review / Old slides inspire artistic storytelling

Art / “Slideshow”, curated by Patsy Payne. At ANCA Gallery, Dickson until March 18. Reviewed by CAREN FLORANCE

A slide from the original collection taken in Wholesalers Street Osaka. Circa mid-20th century

A BOX of slides found in a deceased estate by the parents of one of the artists is the core of this group exhibition.

Removed from any personal context, they became a kind of springboard for storytelling.

The group of six artists – Ali Jane Smith, Elly Kent, Karen Gollard, Heide Lefebvre, Hannah Bath and Rose Montebello – invited by ex-head of ANU’s Printmedia & Drawing Workshop Patsy Payne gathered for a viewing of the slides.

They found themselves in a reverie brought on by the patterns of light and colour, the sounds of the slides clicking in and out of the carousel and the social aspect of the experience, familiar from childhood. The slides, they worked out, were from two separate cruise tours of Asia, one from the 1950s, the other from the 1970s, with destinations such as Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines.

As you walk into the gallery, the small box of slides sits quietly near the floor. At the back of the gallery, there is a simulated slideshow, moving in and out of focus as the slides click over, going from abstract to detail.

The most obvious motif of the show is that of tourism. What cultural damage does it do? Why do we all take the same photos of the same spots, over and over again?

This last question pervades Hannah Bath’s drawings. She gives us a series of small, exquisite drawings of Mt Fuji (#hakoneshrine 1-12), all sourced from hundreds of tourist photos found online taken from the same vantage point. Why is a photo taken by us different from a photo taken by another?

Heidi Lefebvre is thinking about the commodification of other cultures in her cut-out drawings called “We go on holidays while the world goes to hell (in loving memory)”. Her structures – temples, houses, bridges, statues – are beautifully rendered in graphite pencil on manilla card, mounted like a diorama, but muted, odd and airless, robbed of their traditional vitality.

Elly Kent gives us a series of small paintings about Indonesia, mounted on the wing mirrors of motorbikes. The lighting projects reflections upwards on the wall, and the paintings double themselves, simultaneously now and then, presenting a rear vision that echoes the slides themselves.

Sometimes the same slides echo through the works, like the famous Azalea Gardens at Lake Ashi in Japan: a scenic view of bubbling mounds of reds and pinks. Karen Gollard delved into a strange aspect of them: azaleas and rhododendrons are toxic to humans, so when there is a huge mass like this particular garden, the honey made by the local bees is also toxic.

It is dubbed “Mad Honey” and used as a hallucinogen, akin to peyote. Gollard’s work is psychedelic mounds of floral substance, lit up from within, alongside a pair of virtual-reality glasses.

Rose Montebello also uses the Azalea Gardens in her collage work; she connected the slides with her interest in scientific theories of time and space. Watching the slides was for her an example of time folding, fracturing, and re-emerging. She performs this sensation by eliding a number of the scenes digitally, then slicing them up and re-assembling them. They look like a glitch in time, caught and frozen.

The final work is a series of poems by Ali Jane Smith, written directly on to the wall of the gallery. There will be a reading of the poems in the gallery on Sunday. March, and a catalogue of the exhibition will be launched on March 18.  

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