Date: 15-May-2004 – 13-Jun-2004
Location: Contemporary Art Tasmania
A solo exhibition Promises Promises by Hobart-based artist Sharyn Woods.
Sharyn Woods works with materials that have been created through processes of stress, tension or force (such as concrete, steel, wire and plaster) to create works that bring the violent nature of the materials’ manufacture to the surface. Her own process of working onto and into these materials is similarly industrial: she sears and scorches plaster and wood, prises panels apart to force them back together, and twists steel and other metals. The materials become scarred with her acts as she disputes their immutability.
The visible struggle that has taken place between the artist and her material in the process of making these works gives rise to their psychological impact. It is due to the enormity of this emotional power – equal in force to the density, weight and massivity of her materials – that the artist’s work stays in balance. But the balance is not harmonic, there is no happy agreement in this situation; rather, it is fraught with the tension of forces in overwhelming opposition. The work threatens not merely to collapse under its own weight, but rather to implode or explode in an instant that annihilates everything in its vicinity. A silent apocalypse. For, paradoxically, the weight of silence in this exhibition is a further contrast to the inherent tension in the works. The works are mute, seemingly unable to express what demands to be spoken. Huge, solid shapes appear repressed, possessing a still after-burn reminiscent of a pile of ashes after a fire. Copper words shimmer with an exquisite fragility as though they can offer up no more meaning than themselves; they now exist on the brink of expiration.
The shapes that Woods forces from her material are often symbols or signs – the large ‘X’s that divide the gallery can be read as kisses at the end of a letter, as indicators that an answer is wrong, or as a barrier that cannot be crossed. The sprays that result from her scorched drawings are signs of actions, both random and controlled; the shape of the wire writing is beautiful and restricted, vulnerable and harsh. In Promises Promises, Woods makes works that are like writing in hard form. The only colour is that made by the material itself, or as a scar of her actions upon it.
Woods adds further impact by incorporating the gallery itself into her work. While the individual ‘X’s in the barrier she has created have been prised apart and re-bound with steel – their separation and union caused by a force bigger than themselves – they also exist in a state of tension with the gallery walls to which they are anchored. The barrier simultaneously forces the walls apart and threatens to drag them into a vortex of its making.
Sharyn Woods makes art almost as a performance and the exposed marks and traces of her actions are the evidence of that performance. The acts themselves are private, conducted in her own studio; the documentation of these acts is the work itself, brought into the public arena as though onto a stage. Everything is stripped back. Nothing is left but the necessary elements of material and the artist’s action upon it; there is no time or space or energy for anything else. Ultimately, there is no resolution to the tension between attracting and opposing forces inherent in these works – the meaning is in the struggle to find one.