Making Ground, Breaking Ground
Making Ground, Breaking Ground (14–29 October) was a retrospective exhibition surveying Fiona Gavino’s 25-year career in the visual arts. At the Moores Building in the heart of Freo’s West End, this exhibition consisted of a selection of Gavino’s sculptural and print works that demonstrate strong connections to the tradition of her craft and her idiosyncratic style. Sprinkled with the artist’s sleight-of-hand humour, the works ranged the early years of Gavino’s career, through to the novel material explorations in her recent work. Having matured from tight geometric sculpture to more aerated and formally loose weaves that use abrasive materials, Gavino’s work walks a fine line between the rough and the delicate. With full mastery over this tightrope act, Gavino capitalises on these diametric sensibilities to present punchy and hard-hitting ideas without sacrificing their tender nuances and delicate undertones.
The exhibition was a proper celebration of Gavino as an artist—her presence was immanent from the very first moment one entered the room. Playing in the entryway was (My) Space I, a single-channel video featuring the artist weaving a conspicuously red, nest-like structure. In the video loose strands of shiny plastic await their inclusion in the weave, quivering aggressively in the wind as Gavino silently works to enclose herself from the public world. The work exposes the taxing physical labour, dexterity and strength required to work unforgiving materials into seamlessly repeating, tight-knit patterns. (My) Space I encourages recognition of the endurance required to make the works displayed.
Carrying this thought into the gallery, Gavino’s presence was also felt through her expert curation. Gavino’s organic and stylishly dishevelled works balanced perfectly against the crumpled walls of the Moores Building Art Space, the placement of each work responding to the heritage features of the building. Gavino’s woven steel work encircling the building’s barred rusted window and her fibrous floor-to-ceiling sculpture Cloud.… were two of the pieces that stood in intriguing dialogue with the space. Made from salvaged steel strappings intricately interwoven into tight herringbone weaves, the five metal works (one consisting of a quartet of miniature pieces) each hung upside down with their steel ‘threads’ standing stiff towards the ceiling. The flipped arrangement of each piece highlighted the rigidity of the metal strands, creating an intriguing contrast to the gentle curvature of the steel strips already embedded in the weave. The slight variations of brown in the irregularly degenerating surface of the steel strands matched the naturally eroding window, camouflaging Gavino’s pieces into the history of the building. Cloud.…, the large-scale sculpture sitting adjacent to the metal work, was delicate and hollow—an example of the loose weaving style that has developed in Gavino’s practice in recent years. Despite its airiness, the amorphous floor-to-ceiling sculpture consumed the space, its height accentuated by the natural light spilling through the white cane from the overhead skylight.
In comparison to these later works, the earlier sculptures were not as graceful. Whilst still charming in their own way, the small taut geometric forms displayed on clustered plinths—larger sculptures were left on the floor like an afterthought—didn’t have the dualistic qualities that produce the sense of animacy which characterises Gavino’s recent work. The early sculptures sat heavy and rigid, like sine waves twisting back on themselves, unable to draw attention away from the surrounding wall mounted works.
On the wall was a handful of experimental relief prints. The prints turned the fibrous textures of Gavino’s weaving materials into playful fonts, incorporating into this jovially stylized text satirical and semi-serious remarks. The playfulness on display in the print works is clearly characteristic of the artist, whose black and white portrait—featuring Gavino cradling a giant phallus (a nod to Louise Bourgeois)—was mounted in the arched cavity of the Moores Building wall like a holy image. Amongst the humour, the prints camouflage powerful mantras in delicate textile impressions. Two of the most memorable prints were Fearless and Women’s Rights or Rites? On the latter, the bold red clustered arrangement of letters clearly intended to spell “FUCK” was eye-catching from a distance. But, for those who care to take a closer look, the surface beneath the bright scratchy font quietly contains a delicate lace embossed print encircling the tower of text (Fearless shares this same construction, but with the lace relief print in bright red). Lightly pencilled on the bottom left corner of the work in the artist’s hand is the title Women’s Rights or Rites?, a question pondering whether the liberation of women is an historic event or a rite of passage to be repeated by each generation.
By integrating weaving and textiles into print, Gavino accentuates the textural qualities used in these traditionally feminine practices. Whilst each sculpture displays soft, rounded curves, the prints draw attention to the bristly materials used to craft each piece. For those who have trialled weaving before (or even played with the interactive weaving activity accompanying the exhibition), the practice requires enduring splintering threads as they are guided into delicate entwinements. By tactfully contaminating the gentle with the tough (or perhaps, recognising the tough in the gentle) a silent record of labour is threaded into each work–a silent labour that Gavino refuses to let her audience overlook. It is through these parallelisms and inversions Gavino perfectly balances, she can expose hard truths and capture gentle nuances in the process.
Image credits: Photographs by Christophe Canato of Making Ground Breaking Ground, exhibition installation view Moores Building Art Space, Fremantle.