Niagara Galleries

Niagara Galleries

Niagara Gallery artists, Angela Brennan, Sangeeta Sandrasegar and Steven Rendall spoke with Art + Australia about each of their unique experience of the pandemic. From having a child, working as usual and working on the back porch, each artist found ways to adapt and maintain their practice through this difficult time. 

Like, Tomorrow | Angela Brennan
 + How come? Angela Brennan, 2020. oil on linen. 200.5 x 270cm.

Like, tomorrow

During all the Melbourne lockdowns I’ve been in East Brunswick where I live. My studio is at home. I have painted for a solo show and a few group exhibitions. Some planned things have been cancelled or gone ahead with restrictions. I was lucky that I got to have my show Like, tomorrow in March 2021 at Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, when for a rare moment things were relatively open. It’s been very difficult on and off, mainly because I can’t leave Melbourne, and I like to go places.

My approach to making work during the pandemic has been is as it ever was. My studio is a sealed off world that could operate anywhere but at the same time I need the sense of life continuing outside of it and for the last year and a half this has not been happening. In the most recent lockdown I have been attending to my archive, going through old files/images/slides/roomsheets/other artists’ shows/ catalogues/magazines etc., finding lots of blasts from the past. Actually, I came across an edition of Art and Australia that had my painting, Freedom and Necessity (1995) on the cover. I’m thinking of doing something with my archive but not sure what yet.

Over this period I have been making abstract paintings and some of these tilt towards landscape—kind of idealised imaginary places. For me, a utopian space is the flip side of a ‘pandemic-experience’.

 

 + Untitled Angela Brennan, oil on canvas. 183 x 152cm.

On The Field Of Truth | Sangeeta Sandrasegar
 + On the field of Truth on the battlefield of Life IV Sangeeta Sandrasegar, 2021. pierced and cut paper, hand dyed with Indian Madder. Dimensions Variable.

On the Field of Truth

Over the he last eighteen months I have experienced significant changes in my personal life contiguous to the effects of COVID-19 upon my profession, and it is curious how these considerable changes have threaded together. The major personal shift was becoming engaged, pregnant, and married rather late in life and this period towards post-partum is bookended from the first lockdown to LD06 (lockdown six). My husband Mark Feary is Artistic Director at Gertrude Contemporary, across the last eighteen months of lockdowns I have only been able to attend three exhibition events across their two sites (Gertrude Contemporary and Gertrude Glasshouse), whilst observing the sustained mental and physical agility that the exhibition and studio program has undergone across the continued enforcement and easing of State restrictions. For myself, whilst pregnant, I was physically and mentally weary so I was unsure how I would manage the research and practice methodology that sits behind my art making. I was also between studios... When we went into LD01 I had recently begun my relationship with Niagara Galleries. As the lockdowns continued my first scheduled solo show with Niagara Galleries was postponed.

 + On the field of Truth on the battlefield of Life IV Sangeeta Sandrasegar, pierced and cut paper, hand dyed in Indian Indigo. 40 x 25cm (each, irregular).
 

Fortuitously at the start of 2020 I was privileged to be invited to teach some classes at Monash University and RMIT. After 20 years of practicing professionally as an artist this was my first opportunity to engage with the tertiary sector as an educator—and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of working with young artists and their burgeoning ideas. Whilst this was entirely new terrain for me, my colleagues and the students were likewise subject to adjustments, as we moved to online education. This was undeniably tough on the students and likewise the supervisors and administrators, but as it was new to me, I could embrace such uncertainty through my pedagogical naiveté. In tangent, whilst I didn’t have the energy to develop my work due to pregnancy malaise and as my professional artistic projects were either cancelled or postponed, I was fortunate to remain engaged with the art sector through the curriculums, lecturers and students I was working with. Likewise, whilst running Zoom class rooms and tutorials carried their particular hazards, it did lend some kind of community amidst the growing social isolation last year engendered. Add to this the opportunity to have a reliable income in uncertain times and to layer the nest egg in advance of having a baby without paid maternity-leave, the brief contract work at the University was helpful.

 

 + On the field of Truth on the battlefield of Life IV Sangeeta Sandrasegar, pierced and cut paper, hand dyed in Indian Indigo. 40 x 25cm (each, irregular).
 

On Christmas Eve I gave birth to a girl, and the start of this year meant declining contract university work as I began thinking through my practice with baby rearing. The opening up of the state meant I could resume the portion of the latest project that is undertaken in collaboration with master dyer Heather Thomas. This proved another fitting synchronicity between the changes of COVID-19 and being a mother, as it was a gentle way to resume my artmaking with a child—the continued collaborative work provided educational and social invigoration, and the exhibition provided professional aim and focus. As many previous opportunities, such as international travel and residencies have been put on hold, I also spent the early part of this year writing applications for new types of projects and funding. It has been interesting to note how these opportunities and the goals of arts bodies have shifted alongside the impact of COVID-19 and how this then affects our roles and ways of making as artists. Unfortunately, the show with Niagara Galleries was only open to the public for one day, as it was installed after LD05 ended only to be greeted rather quickly with LD06. Whilst I could not share any of the work that comprises some of the great changes of this last 18 months in person, I am grateful that the show was well documented and that hopefully people may have some reserve energy to engage with the work and Niagara Galleries online.

 + On the Field of Truth on the Battlefield of Life Sangeeta Sandrasegar, pierced and cut paper, hand dyed with Indian Madden.

Things In The Garden | Steven Rendall
 + Augmented Reality version of The Things Between Other Things Steven Rendall, 2021.

Things in the Garden

I fortunately gained permanency in my employment in 2019 (I’m 52—it took a while to get things like holiday & sick pay...) so the mortgage payments are up to date (possibly) and I’m no longer dependent on casual positions and the caprices of the market. I dread to think how we would have gotten by through the COVID closures and lockdown otherwise. 

Where have I been during this period? Mostly at home. I've been working at home (teaching online and working on paintings, sculptures and videos) in a 2 x 3m boxed in section of the back veranda. There’s 3mm of plywood, sheets of corrugated metal & some rather nice silver tarpaulin between me and the elements. It is deafening in the rain… The cold is manageable, but I hope I don’t have to work in there on a 40 degree summer day.

I also have a studio space at 49 John Street—but restrictions and home schooling the children have made working there a rarer proposition over the past eighteen months.

I was fortunate in that my practice has always been responsive to circumstances. Prior to the lockdowns I had already started scavenged plastic-sculpture experiments, and these sculptural experiments became a much more viable and expanded option because of their scale and requirements. They have been made in the kitchen and back veranda, in between cooking and washing up. I position them somewhere between the works of Louise Nevelson (1899-1988) and fantasy gaming figurines. They have been exhibited in SPRING1883 in Sydney (2019), The Space We Live, the Air We Breathe at Counihan Gallery (2021) and in The McClelland Gallery’s Small Sculpture Prize (2020, online). Deliberately distorted documentation photographs of the larger sculptural works were also exhibited in The new (ab)normal at the RMIT Gallery (2020, online).

 + The Thing in the Garden Steven Rendall, iphone photographs and videos of sculptures in the back garden Scavenged plastic & other detritus. 200 x 50 x 70cm.

In the Counihan Gallery I was able to place the sculptures on the interior window frames so they could be seen from the street, particularly useful when the gallery had to shut for lockdowns. I also liked the fact that these sculptures in the window space meant that Counihan Gallery had to keep the blinds up 24/7 (sculpture with a function), which made the exhibition space more visible from the street. There was also an augmented reality component to this exhibition.

 + The Things Between Other Things Steven Rendall, scavenged plastic, time, polymer emulsion, glue, screws and various other things . dimensions variable.

I have also been making paintings at home. These use acrylic polymer, so in some ways they are the same material as the plastic sculptures. There’s a chemical basis that provides a series of connections between the works: acrylic polymer paint, like the scavenged plastic, is a beneficiary of the petrochemical industry. Most plastics and acrylic polymers are derived from hydrocarbons— from crude oil, coal or natural gas extracted from the earth. The acrylic polymer that makes up the medium of the paint I’m using has an oil-based chemistry. This chemical legacy is both fascinating and troubling: ‘On a molecular level, oil embodies death, as “hydrocarbon corpse juice”, or “Devil’s excrement”: or “the planetary archive of putrification and cumulative decrepitude’ in terms used by Reza Negarestani in the horror fiction of Cyclonopedia (2008). There is a chemical relation between acrylic polymers and grease… and artworks have been positioned as grease in and for the capitalist economy—for example Terry Atkinson’s Greaser Slat V (1990).

I’m still not sure where these inquiries are going but the relations between the ‘hydrocarbon corpse juice’ origin of plastic and acrylic polymer products, imagery drawn from encyclopedias of the occult and the strange, and uncertain circumstances we are living with all flow through the works. The documentation of these works in non-gallery formats is also part of the exploration. I have a lot of questions about these works and their contexts. Can this photographic and video-based documentation be transformed into something more central to my practice? Are reproductions of selected paintings a viable way of extending the boundaries of a painting based practice? What form should these reproductions take? How might the convoluted and strange narrative texts be incorporated into this documentation. Can the reproductions be hybridised with painting based methods? Am I making a form of petrofiction? Might these paintings be part of a genre outlined on the Orbistertius website called Petrohorror?

 + 4 paintings in the garden at night (all 2021) Steven Rendall, acrylic polymer on metal. dimensions variable.

I am also working on portraits/heads including a  portrait of Rupert Murdoch that embodies a fragment of a network narrated through references to the occult, hydrocarbon extraction, ruins of a house fire and New Corps bias. I hope to extend the possibilities of these studies into something more significant.

During the lockdowns I would say my posts on Instagram are the best response to my experience. I am very interested in the possibilities and limitations of Instagram as a site for experiments in documentation of paintings and sculptures. I used Instagram as a way of experimenting with images in relation to the Disordered Things exhibition at Niagara Galleries that was delivered online—I was interested in the strange half-life that paintings take on when only encountered via a screen as well as the relations between my social media accounts and those of Niagara Galleries. I continue to experiment with a range of possibilities and circumstances in relation to photographing paintings and sculptures, such as the panoramic function of the iPhone camera; stop motion animation; neon light; darkness & low light; nighttime; abandoned houses; panning videos; photographing through screen doors; conveyor belt set ups. I still don’t know how these experiments might be presented. In lockdowns they found a sort of twitching half life on social media.

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