Restraint by Antony Densham, Catherine Ellis, Wendy Kawabata, Clare Kim, Charlotte Nancy and Alexandra Odelle

Restraint installation view

Restraint

Antony Densham, Catherine Ellis, Wendy Kawabata, Clare Kim, Charlotte Nancy and Alexandra Odelle

21 February to 04 March 2012

Restraint focuses on artists who eschew notions of 'free,' expressive or gestural techniques in favour of rigorous, often repetitive and highly time-consuming methods to create their works. This attention to detail suggests a devotion to process and demands scrutiny from the viewer in return.

By imposing aesthetic rules, which include restricted palettes and repeated mark-making, many of these works seems to evolve from small inputs. This creates a harmonious organic patterning in which the handmade aspect of the work is evident in the subtle variations in line and form.

There is an element of the obsessive in these pieces – the viewer is immediately made aware of the investment of time in the works’ making; however, the delicate nature of the results suggests devotion rather than labourious toil. By harnessing effort and close attention towards the creation of something precious the artists are clearly engaging in fruitful labour not wasting time.

Many of the artists in Restraint utilise the repetition of small tasks toward an aesthetic goal in a manner reminiscent of needlepoint, knitting, crochet and other (traditionally female) craft-based art forms. Alexandra Odelle, Charlotte Nancy and Clare Kim all make extensive use of repetitive forms and regular, small mark-making to create their pieces, while Wendy Kawabata (origami) and Catherine Ellis (ceramics) provide a direct link to craft-based techniques.

The painted and drawn works of Alexandra Odelle, Charlotte Nancy and Clare Kim have transmuted the important movement begun by feminist artists the late 1960s to 'reclaim' historically relegated 'feminine' art forms and bring them into museums and art institutions. While the delicate, highly-finished renderings of these artists are clearly influenced by this art historical context for craft work, this aspect of political content of the works in Restraint is tacitly, rather than overtly, stated. The increasing recognition of craft-based techniques in fine art means that rather than taking a subversive approach by making works that are delicate (or feminine), the responses of these artists can be seen to harness the particular qualities that viewing such works can provide, without the expectation of a negative judgment about being accused of being decorative or 'low-brow'. They are clearly linked to craft, but are also clearly fine art works – an important evolution of this mode of expression.

Wendy Kawabata's Withdrawn from Circulation series is a superb example of the use of craft techniques of repetition to create a spectacular effect. The same folding pattern is used on every page of every book – up to 30 books used for each work. The folding has the effect of negating the content of the book and heightens the nature of the book as an object. Although all the books used in Withdrawn were discarded from a University library and are clearly no longer valued for their content, they still retain a power drawn from the historically-potent, almost 'sacred' status of books in all their forms. Many people (the artist included) find it difficult to destroy a book no matter how irrelevant to their interests or their lives. Kawabata's deliberate work on each page is a beautiful act of reclamation of the object, recycling the object and drawing attention to the uncomfortable nature of destroying a book.

The robust structures in the drawings of Antony Densham make a striking statement with their scale, however the long view is not the only aspect of these works. Closer inspection reveals maze-like and intricate figurations behind the main drawing made from the architectural drawings that form the substrate of the drawing. When removed from the technical realm, these drawings become a powerful artistic metaphor for the time investment required in all aspects of creative endeavour;  their mind-boggling complexity and depth creating the clear implication that everything around us has a huge level of consideration required to bring it into being.

As objects, these works demand respect and close consideration from the viewer; and, as the viewer comes to realise, and relate to, the effort required to create the work, a deeper link between the viewer and the artist is created. Spending more time studying the piece seems only fair - and is deeply rewarding in itself. In this way, the artists create a space for reflection,  providing a quiet and very personal experience, intimate in scale and almost impossible to convey to anyone else.


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