Kerrie Poliness by Carolyn Barnes

Excerpted from the Know My Name publication (2020).

To enter the realm of Kerrie Poliness’s instruction‑based wall drawings is to be like Alice, falling down the rabbit hole into a world of dynamic change. Her drawings explore the effects of perspectival subjectivity, that the dimension in which we exist affects how we see the world, separating us from actuality. Since 1994, Poliness has produced seven series of instruction‑based drawings, each representing a specific expression of the artist’s proposition of organic geometry, an idea that has grown from simple beginnings to underpin the exploration of complex environmental and scientific questions.

While drawing with a pen and ruler in 1992, Poliness came to think there was something inherently right about being wrong, that mistakes were the essence of invention and learning. This idea informed Red Matter Wall Drawings 1–4 1994, a group of small wall drawings made from diagonal lines in red, the colour of mistakes. The distance between the lines was estimated not measured, small inaccuracies generating powerful disruption within the grids. In the artist’s organic geometry, the diagonal is the basis of a system of form‑making that explores anomalies as a quality that binds everything together, inhabiting generative processes in nature and manual and industrial production. Informed by the instruction‑based formats and wall works developed in the 1960s by Julije Knifer and Sol LeWitt, Poliness’s drawings are made by groups of people in a specific place. An instruction manual teaches participants to use estimation to steer the drawing across a surface to produce a unique expression of organic geometry. Learning by doing is as much a product of the drawings as the intricate grids of adhesive tape, chalk or marker pen left on the drawing surface.

Blue Wall Drawing #1 2007 represents the third of Poliness’s drawing formats. The format was developed to create drawings that could grow horizontally and vertically to fill any length of wall, the wave form providing a major asymmetrical intervention counter to the general illusion of regularity in man‑made forms. The drawings’ blue colour reflects the legacy of primary colours, the monochrome and the ready‑made in the work of the historical avant‑garde, being a standard colour of the large, felt‑tipped markers in which Blue Wall Drawing #1 was made.

Poliness’s early drawing series used non‑objectivity to examine how regularity exists only at the level of appearance, contesting how the artificial world of architecture and industry impoverishes human experience, dividing us from nature. More recent series harness principles of quantum mechanics to explore whether anything can be physically identical. At the quantum scale, where the velocity of minute particles in space determines the nature of matter, nothing can be measured with absolute certainty as nothing exists in the same state between two moments. In her deep concern for the character and characterisation of things, Poliness uses organic geometry to visualise the scope to reconnect design and nature in ways that are sustainable.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR CAROLYN BARNES is Academic Director Research Training, School of Design, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne.

Kerrie Poliness appears in

  • The Book

    With more than 150 artists profiled, the Know My Name book celebrates art by women from across Australia.