‘in silence’ – Dominik Mersch Gallery, Sydney 2017
Essay by Sarah Mosca
Imagine gazing upon the sea from a windy cliff your unstable footing pivoting on steadiness and fragility because you are wearing the wrong shoes. In pursuit of the quiet you tighten your grip on the handrail.
Annette von Droste Hülshoff was born in 1797, a German poetess (lingering somewhere between romanticism and realism), a composer, a daughter of old Catholic aristocracy. Sickness a frequent visitor, ill of body and mind and an itching eye for awkward attachments. She spent most her adult life a recluse, convalescing at her sister’s home near Lake Constance surrounded by the moors of Meersburg. Here she wrote most of her literary prose, her wild muse.
I think of Annette von Droste Hülshoff in this way, wandering along the moors kicking the soil with a handicapped lustre, summoning the life force in the quiet. Her thoughts swimming with composed lyrical ballads of the moors, the loyalty of her pets, the stillness of the lake, her discontent, and the horrifying and baffling moods of the human condition. Witnessing a place in all its loneliness. The mirror her faithful friend.
In 1819, Droste Hülshoff attempted to spend an entire year writing about one topic, spirituality. Against a background of existential disturbances and in connection with a failed love affair, these notes became a personal confession in which her uncertainties about faith were raised. An enchanting form of spiritual lyricism, her relentless observations resulting in what she referred to as a neglect of knowledge to retain faith. This attempt soon abandoned proving only to deem her unabated questioning having the appearance of doubt. This cycle A Spiritual Year, was published posthumously.
She died in the afternoon of May 24th, 1848 in Meersburg, alone by the lake.
Recently I was listening to philosopher Simon Critchley discussing how life can not be well lived unless you are considerate of death. He recalls, ’You must always have death in your mouth’. What does it mean to have death in your mouth? If we do not fear death does it make us reckless and lacking of empathy?
We must all attempt to have death in our mouths.
These are thoughts that could kill us, they stun the spirit, rob any happiness. With a thousandfold murder, the redden on their hands. I gently turn my gaze.
(Instinct, poem, von Droste Hülshoff)
What of the stillness of mind and its mean counterpart, idleness. The car’s engine is not completely off, just humming. The threat of the fuel gurgling out.
We endeavour to find a perfect balance between collapse and stillness. A freeze frame. A lingering glimpse. Terror in the sublime. The delicate bending between desire and reason. Like a tight-rope, stretched taught yet bowing in the centre when you attempt to cross it. The potential of falling. A precarious mission with us its willing participants, perpetual idealists in the pursuit of happiness.
Bird in Space,1923 by Constantin Brancusi, the reduced form gently bends, emulating an action of a bird in a state of flight, its slender physic on the brink of plummeting. Its slight impregnation, a counter balance between stillness and collapse.
Lottie Consalvo’s painting a distant silence, 2017, echoes this same gesture; impregnated bends, repeated – mirrored. Tender tones concealed by determined clumsy marks mimicking the lyrical action of a bird in inverted flight. The ducking and weaving of a psychological transition, the battle of memory and imagination in pursuit of the quiet.
Similarly, in silence, 2017, this repeated precarious insertion cuts-through a heavy black canvas, splitting the stillness, interrupting the calmness of the void. Intuitive severing gestures, a dynamic push-and-pull action revealing or concealing depending on a mood. Consalvo’s unapologetic manner commanding our attention.
Consalvo’s reductive palette again echoes Brancusi’s sculpture, no nauseating colours, no horror, just earthly tones of burden and perhaps sorrow. Her graceful brush strokes sweeping back and fourth like a pendulum. The bold minimal intersections fragmented like a daydream. Almost as if she was going to tell you something but then changed her mind.
A bellowing silence.
Just before noon on the 8th of January, 2015, I arrived in a small town outside of Paris. The day before there had been a terrorist attack in the centre of Paris, twelve people were shot dead inside the offices of the French satirical weekly newspaper, Charlie Hebdo. I was walking into town looking for lunch, then suddenly, over a loud speaker a woman’s voice, “Une minute de silence”, bells chimed three times, then everything simply stopped. The people walking, the cars in the street, the clanking of cutlery and coffee cups at a nearby cafe, everything simply stopped – there was nothing.
The longest of minutes, it was a deafening silence, a suffocating stillness. As if the silence itself carried the heavy burden of grief.
The titles of Consalvo’s paintings imply a nod to existential interference, akin to Droste Hülshoff’s durational poetry A Spiritual Year. A persistent enquiry regarding quietness, intuition and spirit. A particular favourite totemic emptiness, the totem being an empty vessel or a bird who took flight but got stuck and can not retract its wings.
In Consalvo’s painting leaving paradise, 2017, she poses a question. Two monumental forms similar yet set apart, like doors, suggesting entry or exit. Again they are mirrored, as if she painted one door, folded the canvas in half so it left a vague impression. Now there is a choice, two doors. Standing idly in front of an existential quandary. I kick the dust beneath my feet with indecision.
Restlessness, she is dancing away from you now.
Consalvo’s pas de deux with the fall-outs of life’s malleability is familiar territory. Once she undertook a year long performance titled Compartmentalise, where she lived only with essential items packing up the trimmings of her life she then deemed unnecessary hoping it would give her mind more room. More recently she spent another year living out her desires in an attempt to find ultimate happiness.
I imagine Consalvo tread softly on the fulcrum of feeding desire and self destruction.
What if you stayed in the same house for twenty years. Are you content or fearful of the packing and the inevitable unpacking. Does it determine you humble or misled. How do we balance idleness and care? Can staying still be suffocating.
We often curve towards self destruction. Solitude the hunting ground for an unravelling. At what point does the mechanism of care set in. I like moving. It is like hitting the reset button. When you get bored, refresh. Laying down roots we might stabilise our minds although the uprooting is more compulsive. Each of Consalvo’s paintings idle somewhere between fragility and sturdiness, an enticing conundrum. Repetition and flow, together and apart. Her persistent questioning seducing us to hold in our hands a set of wire-cutters letting them hover near the tight-rope.
Sarah Mosca 2017
Momentary Alters – NKN Gallery, August 2016
‘I stood before it and for the first time that day I felt something’
Momentary Alters is a painting exhibition by Lottie Consalvo exploring moments of reverie and awe.
The feeling of awe or ah!-ness that enfolds us when encountering the beauty of a situation, object or person. Within it there is seemingly no past or future, only the present moment. There is no distinction between body and mind. It can overcome us unexpectedly, heightened by an understanding of its inevitable passing.
The paintings in this exhibition abstractly depict stones and arches often symmetrical yet extended gestures in the building of vastly empty spaces.
Consalvo continues to mine her interests in psychological shifts and how places and images alter our consciousness. Making reference to spiritual places such as stone arrangements, religious alters, public and private shrines and natural phenomenas such as waterfalls, great heights and the blurring shift in the act of falling.
Through this body of work the artist investigates the simplicity of form. Consalvo looks at how the assertion of a vertical line differs from a horizontal, how an arch pointing towards the sky differs in mood of that pointing toward the ground and how these subtleties affect the viewer; joy, melancholy, tension and the sense of reverie being the pinnacle of altered states of consciousness.
mid-fall, Alaska Projects 2016
written by Jo Higgins
Lottie Consalvo is contemplating time. Years, nano-seconds, moments of eternity, transition, points of no return – these moments of between and becoming are explored in her current series of abstract paintings. Consalvo’s interdisciplinary practice includes performative and often quite specific autobiographical references and this collection of works represents not one, but a series of moments in time. They are observations of quietly transformative experiences – from her 12-month long durational performance, Compartmentalise in 2012, to her recent travels around Ireland with its rough hewn beauty – all stone circles and limestone – and reverence for spirits and shrines.
Shrines have long been of interest to Consalvo; places for solitude, faith, relief and reflection and in these works, she meditates on the possibilities for transformation that lie within a moment, however fleeting or protracted it might be. By abstracting these notions – by refusing the figurative form a place in her work – Consalvo instead meditates on the power of these places (be they literal, emotional or psychological) to bring about transition and change. So long as you have faith enough to let go.
Two Painters – Sydney April May 2016
Written by Tony Mighell
Showing at 2 of Sydney’s youngish and more adventurous exhibiting spaces during April/May 2016 were exhibitions that celebrated the unique possibilities of paint. The first was by Hayley Megan French at Pom Pom in Chippendale and the second by Lottie Consalvo at Alaska Projects in Kings Cross. It was refreshing to see such strong work and acquainting myself with the projects underlying the work has been interesting and informative. Both use paint with unabashed joy and the paintings sit and sing with sure independence. There is a strongly developed plastic space in both artists’ work; individual, independent and sure.
Plastic space remains such vague and/or romantic term, whether used in either scholarly or popular writing. But how to talk about it? How do you measure it? So much of the writing about painting is either nostalgic for some previous idea of grandeur/ intimacy or else swirls around notions of the death of this or the end of that; endgames, pat surfaces, zombie formalism or irrelevance. But how do you talk about the results of an immersive painting practice?
Both these artists have strongly developed tropes centred on land, earth, and/or landscape. For Consalvo it has grown out of her performance and durational pieces and informed by her journeys around Ireland, evokes a near pantheistic approach to earth and land, referencing stones and altars. The only photo in her exhibition ‘mid- fall (study) 2016’ is a fitting metaphor and to me suggests her wish to internalize these earth/land-based experiences. For French it is her desire to absorb and work through the indigenous paintings of North West Australia and their approach to land. Dealing with the formal and lyric ease in the best indigenous paintings is a familiar ‘problem’ faced by many urban white painters. The land-based worldview of the Kimberley masters, already abstracted via aerial and ambulatory angles and then filtered through familial and symbolic stories (and with a dash of western influence) is further removed via French’s program; her crisp intelligence. It suggests those known indigenous pictures, but in fact is far removed from them.
A striking aspect of both painters was their non-reliance on line or mark to hold the picture plane. The history of modern Australian painting is defined by mark, gesture and/or line. Whether the mid century masters, Fairweather, Williams, Kemp, Miller, Tuckson, the later ones, Sansom, Whiteley, Senbergs, Kovacs, Audette, Whisson or in the majority of indigenous painters, the use of line and gesture to separate, symbolize and measure is ubiquitous. Both Conslavo and French use paint in large mass areas and achieve shape by edge of paint zone as opposed to line or mark. It is immediate and immersive.
Consalvo seems to be attempting to define a space as it approaches her, rushes at her; you feel time is running out; she has to grab it before she is completely enveloped. The magic she is attempting to capture seems elusive and can only ever be suggested;
the smoky tonality suggests earth and soil and holds the remnants of the hand made charcoal she uses; the enfolding space at once sucks you in while the bold forms hold you at the surface and gives the pictures their tension.
For French, although the look suggests those indigenous painters of the Kimberly she is studying, I see a broader, less linear or reference filled picture and like her program, a larger and more open planar space. I see Clyfford Still more than Rusty Peters. In her work the space is expansive, crisp and somehow clean and the breadth of the large and often multi panel pictures is unusual in Australian painting. Her sureness hides the obvious struggles that inform and keep her surface taut.
For both of these painters there is a written exposition of their stated positions, their intellectual and psychological intentions, their aesthetic aims, but when I stood in front of the pictures uninformed by these projects I respond to their ‘singing’, the taut and developed picture space and the sheer love of painting. I trusted them. My one regret was that the readily available support material for their paintings was written expositions and I would have loved to see the sketches, and visual notes that evidence the development of their visual languages.
Both painters embark on their expressive journeys with utter respect for the materials they are using, and leave their theoretical and psychological obsessions to be a fermenting element that adds to the emotional soup required to do this thing painting. The both take big risks; they are both well rewarded.
I look forward to the next showings of both of them.