November 30: Play is the wellspring of creativity, and the player seizes on what is at hand without preconception, exercising praxis rather than invoking thesis.
Shan Turner-Carroll (*1987), an Australian installation and performance artist, closes his exhibition today at the Grace Cossington-Smith Gallery in Abbotsleigh Anglican Boarding School, Gate 7, 1666 Pacific Highway, Wahroonga NSW 2076, while Viviane Sassen (*1972, Amsterdam) opens Roxane II at Stevenson Gallery in the Buchanan Building at 160 Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock, South Africa 7925.
Both artists describe childhood experience of environments which encouraged play.
Sassen’s father ran the polio clinic in a remote village in Kenya, and when she was five he decided to return to Amsterdam. The culture shock she experienced in moving from bright sunlight and dark shadows left her with;
the deep feeling that I belong to Africa and not in Holland, and that my real life would go on without me in Africa. I was kind of stuck in this parallel universe.
Turner-Carroll also moved at the age of two, to rural New South Wales, and though born in Australia he identifies himself as having a Burmese parentage on his father’s side, and takes his name from Myanmar’s Shan tribal people.
My own children have grown up in regional Australia, and making things from the natural surroundings, making do with places and things around them, occupied their early years. This artist has not stopped.
He describes the construction of The Cubby Cave as a revisiting “of the past in the present” via the hideaway he built with his cousin as a child. Beginning February 2014 and continuing on and off for the next year he built this new structure, organic, makeshift and improvised from materials available;
The Cubby/Cave is almost the residue, a relic of the artwork, which included the time making it, the time reconnecting with family, land and self.
His initial practice as site-specific and installation artist affirmed his use of photography, which he had first used merely for travel pictures, to sympathetically record and augment what he has made, enchanting it with the addition of glancing artificial light at dusk.
Likewise Sassen has made an oblique journey into photography. She studied fashion design, then worked as a model and became interested in photography, learning it from the from the professionals who hired her, then formalised her skills at the Utrecht School of the Arts (HKU) and Ateliers Arnhem.
There is a fashion element throughout Turner-Carroll’s oeuvre. The series Hattie and Nellie began with costumes overlaid with bark, seedpods, twigs and leaves, and cut-out photographs of moths and butterflies. Even more elaborate garments and regalia follow in more recent series; examples of the obsessive intensity of this artist’s process. The series was commissioned for the exhibition Ash Island and its Transformations at the Lock Up Gallery, Newcastle, in 2015 based on the legacy of the Scott sisters, two of 19th century Australia’s most prominent natural history illustrators.
Sassen regards her artwork as an extension of her fashion work which she describes as ‘little explosions of colours and ideas…very energetic’ but something of which she had grown tired while assembling seventeen years of fashion photography into a survey show. On a return to a village, this time Pikin Slee in Suriname, South America, she decided to slow the process down, to create something more ‘sculptural’ – which is Turner-Carroll motivating interest – the connections between the two are illuminating, though it is quite probable that they have never met, and may not have heard of each other.
This impulse continues in her series Umbra, also released as a book, which refers to that darkest part of the shadow, emphasised here through highlight exposure of the sand of the Namibian desert where the series was shot, and where a shift from the preconceived to playful inventiveness took place;
…it was by accident that this happened because I set myself a goal to make a photographic version of the black square of Malevich. I had these really square things in mind and using the landscape. Almost like Rothko, you know? All those references are there, but then I also brought a mirror, but I didn’t know what to do with it. At one point we were just resting a bit, drinking some water because we were in the desert in Namibia…
When we put the mirror in the sand to free our hands, I saw the reflection of the sky. That was really beautiful! So we started experimenting with making shadows on top of the mirror. That is basically what you see. For instance that arrow here in the very corner, just a very thin line in the middle. That’s the mirror itself, seen from above. That dark piece on the right is the shadow of the mirror and the light piece is the reflection of the sun in the mirror. They became very graphic, but I like the human element in them, that you still see the shadows of the hand.
The colour overlays are not added in printing but are projected shadows of sheets of coloured filters that the photographer also brought with her.
This process continues in the current show, a collaboration with her muse and model, the fashion editor Roxane Danset, in which again strong and light coloured filters are employed, as well as a return to the painting she used in earlier series, both on the photograph, and on the subject prior to photographing. This show is also manifested in a book, Viviane Sassen: Roxane II
Sasson encapsulates the process of creative play…
I get inspired by certain things that I find on my path, and then I just go for it and most of the time it isn’t until much later that I realize what it has meant to me…
…and it is possible to sum up Shan Turner-Carroll’s creative quest in an image Traveller from his just-finished show Relics, a shamanic figure endowed with portable memory, the paraphernalia of play.