Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Cloud in Sawtooth

A cloud can never die: Ice, water, mist
Phoebe McDonald (QLD)
Sawtooth ARI, @Sawtooth Pop-up #Exhibition
by Patrick Sutczak


I move around the walls of the @Sawtooth space. The gallery is closed. The fluorescents are off but there is ample morning light washing in from skylights above. I have come to meet someone but I am purposefully early so that I can revisit the work by Phoebe McDonald for a second time in silence.

 I pause at each photograph and peer in, perhaps trying to let the frame and the wall behind it dissolve in an attempt to transport myself into the isolation. It doesn’t work of course. I am not going anywhere. These images in the first instance (or even the second) are of familiar things - beautiful things to be sure, but familiar all the same. Distant and precious, the Arctic ice is the very epitome of global conservationist imagery. Lose that and we lose everything. From National Geographic to Instagram, the ice is never far away. It is certainly easy (forgivable even) to see the images for what they appear to be.

With A cloud can never die however, I look more closely and see something else entirely. I continue to visit each photograph and the next, and then I go back to each one again. I know that I am not simply looking at the ice, but rather the light upon the ice at play with a complex series of natural convergences. McDonald has an impressive eye, and an enviable patience. Nature rarely behaves the way we want it to, yet McDonald has recorded images that portfolio her artistic research interests.

The works on exhibition on the walls of the @Sawtooth space are not only stunning for their subject matter, but for their compositional integrity through vision and decision. Landscapes are so often passed through and never lived in, and this is why I think the artist pulls the breaks for us, places a hand upon our chin, turns our head from forward and says ‘Look’.

This is what I am seeing as I move around the walls – the unpredictability of natural forces and the fleetingness of light. Set within the frame is the moment that McDonald placed her finger on the button and captured the instant her heart beat the loudest. Amidst the inevitable change and conditional circumstances witnessed by being there, was a moment that sang to her, or so I believe. With the ever-changing ice, the turbulence of a shifting landscape, the hovering mist and the seductiveness of water, these elements seem to appeal to McDonald’s ongoing fascination with shadow, sunlight, and the subtle transformation of natural landscapes.

This review was first published on the Sawtooth Ari website www.sawtooth.org.au

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