“One thing I was really clear on from the very beginning was that I didn’t want to do very much.”
To be fair, a lot of work has in fact gone into Kate Newby’s current exhibition at Gertrude Contemporary. Install took a couple of weeks and there was a lot of time spent high up on a ladder painting the entire ceiling of both downstairs gallery spaces in a vivid shade of achtung yellow. It’s just that the art itself isn’t trying to do very much.
Allow me a brief aside. I have a friend who doesn’t like narrative films because, as she always says, “I don’t like the acting”. What she really means is she doesn’t like acting acting, acting that announces itself, acting that’s too actorly. I would hazard a guess that you could say something similar of Kate Newby. I don’t think she likes art that acts too much like art, art that announces itself, art that’s too much about art and not enough about the world. As she says, in various ways and at multiple times during our interview, “I don’t really like galleries. I like real life and people and situations.”
Earlier this year for NEW15, Newby constructed little “concrete puddles” in the gravel outside ACCA and made mini portable sculptures that visitors were invited to hold as they made their way through the exhibition, allowing for the possibility that people might forget they were even carrying ‘the art’ and would accidentally take it home with them. In another series Newby sculpted little porcelain pebbles which she then invited friends to skip across water, making artwork so ephemeral it’s quite literally throwaway. Newby’s current exhibition Always Humming (at Gertrude Contemporary until 29 August) continues her interest in making art that isn’t obviously art and/or in spaces that aren’t necessarily art galleries.
Two massive sheets of white gauze have been hung below the gallery’s freshly-painted yellow ceiling. Before installing them, both pieces of fabric had been left to weather outside for lengthy periods. One was hung on a washing line in Brunswick and on a roof outside the Gertrude studios; another had been rinsed in the ocean near Newby's home in New Zealand and later laid out in her mum’s garden for several weeks. The fabric is streaked with the environmental stains culminating from this exposure so that their patina is also a kind of field recording.
The other works in Always Humming are situated outside the gallery. There’s a collection of small, temporary sculptures on the roof of the building across the road that can be glimpsed from the street or through the window of the front gallery. They are public art without being Public Art. In the back offices there’s a hushed sound recording, made by Newby's frequent collaborator Samuel Holloway, which consists of ambient recordings of the surrounding neighbourhood abstracted into a minimal score. The two artists also made clay wind chimes that have been installed up high in the laneway out the back of the gallery. As Newby explains, “What I really love - and there’s an element of risk to this - is the idea that you can encounter it and that it exists outside of gallery hours and those restrictions that come with institutions and gallery spaces.”
Newby tends to make site specific works that mirror in an odd way what already exists (or might likely exist) in a space. Pebbles, puddles, sounds, ceilings and so on are remade using new materials. It’s an approach Newby describes in terms of choreography and collaboration rather than installation or intervention. Of the wind chimes placed in the rear laneway, for example, Newby says “I like making this thing that only works with something I can’t control, which is the weather. I can set up the potential for something but I can’t control it.” And with the floating fabric “ceiling mural”, she likes the way it makes you look up, how it warms the space, the way it makes it seem like the lights are on. Of the amendments she’s made to Gertrude Contemporary and its surrounds, Newby says, “I think it’s on scale of what could be termed experiential, visceral and atmospheric, it’s on the low end of them, but it’s still on the scale.”
It would be hard to miss the floating yellow ceiling but other works in Always Humming are so ‘low on the scale’ that unless you’ve read up on the show (why hello there!) and come prepared, you might not even notice them, so peripheral are they to the Gertrude galleries proper. And that’s okay with Newby. “My experience in the past is that more people see things than you realise, and it’s often not the people you expect. I just like toying with that formula. I’m not upset if no-one notices it but I’m way more excited if they do.” Always Humming encourages you to take notice of your experience of the spaces in and around Gertrude Street, but it doesn’t dictate what those experiences should be. It creates an opportunity for revelation, but only if you’re amenable. Or as Newby puts it, “I don’t think art is about teaching lessons, but I do think it’s an invitation to pay attention.”
>> Maura Edmond
>> 13 August 2015
GO SEE IT:
17 July–29 August 2015
Tues - Fri 11am - 5.30pm
Sat 11am - 4.30pm