& Peter Westwood
Unbecoming is a group exhibition of work from nine artists at different stages of their careers whose painting practices embrace a process of change, duration and imagination. For a painting to form into something, to coalesce materially and conceptually, to shape itself to its final destination, it must necessarily go through a series of transformations. These transformations of state, where paint acts as the slippage from thought into action, from one type of material manifestation to another, characterise painting as fundamentally unpredictable. Un-making and making are equally valued – the painting through the nature of its process ‘unbecomes’ in order to become something new. It is in this period of to-ing and fro-ing, of one thing becoming another, then on to another, that new and different ideas emerge. And in bringing forth the new, paint has the capacity to parallel imagination, free to summon impossible realities, combine disparate imageries and hold close incompatible forces.
David Palliser & Julia Powles
Co-Curators + Participating Artists
Georgia Biggs, Julia Powles & Peter Westwood are Represented by Block Projects | Alex Hamilton is Represented by Jacob Hoerner Galleries & Patrick Heide (London) | David Palliser is Represented by Jacob Hoerner Galleries | Moya McKenna is Represented by Neon Parc | Gareth Sansom is Represented by Station Gallery | Dord Burrough is Represented by Lon | Beatrice Dahllof is Represented by Huxley-Parlour (London).
The title of this exhibition might be a good place to start. Used as a pejorative the term unbecoming outlines certain actions or objects as unsuitable; subjectively deemed inappropriate for the context in which they operate. Questions of taste come into play, we wonder if the gesture, action or artefact fits in? Is it ok? Can it be tolerated? The idea that contemporary art might be seen as unbecoming – indecorous, off-putting or ugly – is not new, it is a narrative that runs in tandem to art making from the mid nineteenth century onwards. By placing a naked woman at the centre of what would have otherwise been a quaint scene of friends enjoying a picnic lunch, Édouard Manet broke with the conventional rules of the times and challenged what could be depicted. Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe created a rupture in not only painterly technique and choice of imagery, but also in the thinking of audiences. The figures appear discordant, jarring in their relationship to each other – the clothed men chat nonchalantly to each other while the naked woman stares out of the canvas at us –– what were they doing, what had they been doing in this rural idyll?
The appropriateness of responding tastefully to a modern world capable of unimaginable atrocities was legitimately challenged by twentieth century artists to such an extent that this question now sits outside any meaningful conversation on contemporary art. Yet to be unbecoming, to be not quite right – to not really fit in – is a quality that still has the power to unnerve us. Art at its essence exists to pose questions. Sometimes this is done in a jarring, forthright or shocking manner, and other times it is more nuanced, the questions more probing of our inner selves and our unthinking certainties. By making us examine what we see before us, art asks us to reconsider our accepted understanding of the way things are – and it is here, in the space of finding a new way of thinking, that the second meaning of unbecoming comes to the forefront.
For a painting to form into something, to coalesce materially and conceptually, to shape itself to its final iteration, it must necessarily go through a series of changes. These changes of state, where paint becomes the slippage from thought into action, from one type of material manifestation to another, characterise painting as fundamentally mutable. At any point in the process of arriving at the finished work, a painting might have reached its completion; when we look at a painting, we can often see that embedded within it are its previous manifestations. Sometimes we can see the decision making of the artist, while at other times we know from the thickness of the paint, the wipes and smears, or via an awareness of the layering of colour upon colour, or the reveal that happens through the scraping of a surface, that earlier versions and differing possibilities are embedded within the painting. We are looking at not only the painting as it is before us, here in the moment, but also the duration of its making. Such an encounter with duration – time spent – brings into focus the sense of becoming intrinsic to painting, which is, as Australian philosopher Elizabeth Grosz more accurately articulates, an engagement with unbecoming (1).
The unbecoming of one thing to become another is an inherent part of making paintings. The painter makes a mark, she forms that into something on the canvas – a shape, a face, a chair, and then after consideration she alters that thing, changing it into something else. The paint and the brush and the mind integrate to form a sequence of becomings, of solidifications; manifestations of ideas that come into being through first unbecoming the thing they were.
Change requires a process of un-making as much as making. Painting through the nature of its process unbecomes to become something new. It is in this period of to-ing and fro-ing, of one thing becoming another, and on to be yet another that new and different awareness’s appear. And in bringing forth the new, paint has the ability to parallel imagination, free to summon impossible realities, combine disparate imageries and hold close incompatible forces.
It is painting’s inextricable engagement with duration that underscores this experience for the viewer. Duration – the space between actions – is the place, according to French philosopher Henri Bergson, that the new can be developed (2). Something happens, something unknown takes form and shape in the elliptical qualities of duration, where thought loops back on itself and undoes at the same time as it creates. In developing the concept of duration Bergson sought to understand the way that time can be perceived within us, as non-linear. Clock-time, to use Bergson’s term is mechanical, measurable, and unalterable, whereas for an individual, time is both fast and slow, time is partial, incomplete. We return to past thoughts, we pick up where we left off, we experience time concurrently and separately, our inner lives are not necessarily experienced sequentially. Painting is an encounter with both clock time and interior time. Not only does the physicality of its making reside within the final iteration of the painting (we see that this painting took time to create) but within the myriad of readings attributable we bump up against the inner world of the artist, whose themes, motifs and ideas run to a separate, internal timeframe. Memories, snippets of conversations, dreams, research, and future imaginings co-exist within an internal duration. We can summon up references from our past instantly, juxtaposing unrelated events, forming new and impossibly fanciful structures. In this manner we can find time, painting and thought analogous, where each could be conceived of as a shape, a space of action, or a heterotopia.
Thought, says American poet and art critic, Susan Stewart is like water (3). We dive into it and re-surface, it engulfs us, it carries us along, and we belong to it in a manner that is elemental; thought untethers us from the material world – in our thoughts we too are able to unbecome.
Julia is an artist, curator, and writer, living and working in Naam/Melbourne. She respectfully pays tribute to the people of the Kulin Nations, and their Ancestors and Elders, past, present, and future on whose unceded lands she lives and works.
1. Elizabeth Grosz (2005) Bergson, ‘Deleuze and the Becoming of Unbecoming’, Parallax, 11:2, 4-13. Routledge.
2. Henri Bergson, (2010) The Creative Mind: An Introduction to Metaphysics, Dover Publications
3. Susan Stewart (2005) Open Studio: Essays on Art and Aesthetics University of Chicago Press
Jacob Hoerner Galleries
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