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Andy and Oz: Parallel Visions
A collaboration between the National Gallery of Australia
and The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, USA
.
11 October until 30 December 2007

Introduction | Two takes on Warhol | God save Oz | Nature & culture, fetish & fantasy | All the world's a stage | The final take | selected works

 

Nature & culture, fetish & fantasy

Fiona Hall 'Temptation of Eve' 1984 gelatin silver photograph Collection of the National gallery of Australia © Fiona HallFiona Hall 'Temptation of Eve' 1984 gelatin silver photograph Collection of the National gallery of Australia © Fiona Hall more detail

The fall from grace and the expulsion from Paradise is a profoundly melancholy tale, but in endorsing subversive readings into the text, Hall finds surprising blessings. The temptation of Eve – glorious, chattering, knowing, incredibly sexy – is the Mae West of monochrome photography.1

Packaging for food, along with ideas of containment and explicit revelation, is at the heart of Fiona Hall’s Paradisus terrestris series. Conceived at her kitchen table and inspired by visits to the Adelaide Botanic Garden and its Museum of Economic Botany in Adelaide in South Australia, Hall used sardine cans as the containers of her extraordinary provocative work. Hall was fascinated by the parallels between humans and nature, by the common aspects of our existence – pointing out that we are nature, sharing things like haemoglobin and a sex life. In Paradisus terrestris Hall juxtaposes explicit images of the male and female body – torsos, breasts, buttocks, genitalia – against intricately carved images of plants. One of the striking aspects of these exquisite, challenging works is the artist’s background in drawing. Similarly, Warhol’s work was informed by his drawing abilities and there are parallels in his quite beautiful erotic and explicit drawings from the 1950s of male nudes in ink on shiny gold leaf and graphic paper. Both artists have also been intrigued by the way that we frequently use plants as erotic metaphors, as in Warhol’s famous image of a half peeled banana on one of the album covers for the rock band, the Velvet Underground. When the first series of Hall’s audacious aluminium sculptures in her Paradisus terrestris series were shown, they caused a sensation. As Julie Ewington writes:

Paradisus terrestris bloomed in February 1990 at the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia. This was the first appearance of Hall’s metal figures … finely worked and blatantly erotic, erudite (even recondite) and salaciously punning, the work was composed of familiar images but completely unexpected in effect. Diminutive in size but artistically and intellectually ambitious, Paradisus terrestris was a miracle of ambiguity in a suite of twenty-three small sculptures; each was made from two cojoined sardine cans with a beaten aluminium insert made from a soft drink can, and was labelled with a small text listing the botanical and common names for each plant.2

In the 1980s Hall had used the containers of sardine tins in Pride 1985 from The seven deadly sins series – photographs based on intricately constructed collages. The combination of religion and sexuality also appeared in the 1984 Paradise series. In Temptation of Eve the smiling lips of women find themselves in a garden that is inhabited by plants and also by corkscrews and penknives. They look surreal, even playful – the bric-a-brac of contemporary life – but also signal danger. The sources and substance of these collages are photocopies of images from popular magazines, medieval engravings, mail-order catalogues, small toy figurines and diminutive metal tools. The intricate, miniaturist scale in Hall’s works serves paradoxically to intensify effect, to create a parallel universe – ‘a realm not of fact but of reverie’.3

The reverse is true of Timothy Horn who transforms natural forms and constructed objects by enlarging them to dazzling effect. Horn notes:

I’ve always responded to the iconic, emblematic and brazen scale of Pop Art. In relation to Warhol: his use of repetition and appropriation; the archetypal portraits of Marilyn, Elvis and Elizabeth Taylor. His work (and life) also capture something of the high camp glamour and of the 60’s – velvet and ruffles, gilt mirrors and flock wallpaper, dusted with clichéd themes of love, death and desire …4

Tim HORN 1964 'Glass slipper (Ugly Blister)' 2001 Australia, Sculpture, lead crystal, nickel-plated bronze, Easter egg foil, silicon, National Gallery of Australia CollectionTim Horn 'Glass slipper (Ugly Blister)' 2001sculpture, lead crystal, nickel-plated bronze, Easter egg foil, silicon click to enlarge

Like Hall, Horn emphasises the fluid correspondences between nature and culture. He shares an obsessive approach to fabricating in his work, relishing the inherent properties of the materials he uses – their sensuality, resilience and mutability. His giant jellyfish chandeliers, Medusa and Stheno, made primarily from silicone rubber, are based upon imagery of the nineteenth-century zoologist Ernst Haeckel who was notorious for embellishing the facts and for his preference for artifice over scientific fact. Suspended in space, the constructed, stitched, stretched, semi-transparent, lacy, dangling forms have a spellbinding presence. They shed an eerie light, mimicking the idea of jellyfish and their bioluminescence to attract prey.

Horn’s over-size shoe Glass slipper (ugly blister), constructed out of lead crystal, silicon, nickel-plated bronze and Easter egg foil, also conveys a tension between luxuriant beauty and repellent excess – a novel take on the Cinderella shoe. Throughout his life, Warhol was fascinated by shoes. His numerous drawings of shoes for the I Miller Shoe Company in the 1950s were legendary and his interest in the subject continued for the next thirty years, with some of the later images given a shimmer with the addition of diamond dust. Warhol even constructed a few lavish sculptural shoes, covered in gold leaf and embellished with floral and leaf patterns. Horn’s glass slipper and jellyfish chandeliers also bring to mind Stephen Frears’ film adaptation Dangerous liaisons, set in pre-Revolutionary, eighteenth-century France. The sumptuous sets, costumes and jewels (essential for preening and courting) complement themes of sexual attraction and duplicity that the viewer can hardly bear to watch but is simultaneously entranced by. Here Horn shares with Warhol a camp sensibility, evoked by Susan Sontag who wrote in her essay Notes on ‘Camp’: ‘The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to “the serious.” One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.’19 On a personal level and in his work, Horn has been inspired by Warhol’s openness in relation to his homosexuality:

[Warhol] was an openly ‘out’ gay artist at a time when homosexuality was considered a psychological disorder and associated with criminal activity. Whilst his peers, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg remained tightly closeted, Warhol immersed himself in the underground current of gay culture …

The first Warhol films I saw were during the 80’s, while I was at college, trying to figure out my own sexuality. A retro cinema in Melbourne screened Lonesome Cowboys, Blow Job and Blood for Dracula, in 3D. I was a lonesome cowboy, in search of a Joe Dellesandro of my own.5

 

Deborah Hart
Senior Curator
Australian Painting and Sculpture after 1920

 

Notes
1 Julie Ewington, Fiona Hall, Piper Press, Annandale, NSW, 2005, p. 67
2 Julie Ewington, Fiona Hall, p. 101
3 Julie Ewington, Fiona Hall, p. 101
4 Correspondence from Timothy Horn to Deborah Hart, 31 July 2007
5 Susan Sontag, ‘Notes on “Camp”, in Against Interpretation, Picador, New York, 2001, p. 275
6 Correspondence from Timothy Horn to Deborah Hart, 31 July 2007

 

This exhibition is proudly supported by the National Gallery of Australia Council Exhibitions Fund