Not Quite Square

Reviews May 25, 2012 1 Comment

Sharne Wolff visits Galerie Pompom and Kylie Banyard’s vision of an eco-alternative future…

Next year it will be 40 years since the Aquarius Festival took place in Nimbin, Northern NSW. For those old enough to remember, the Festival was organised by the cultural wing of the Australian Union of Students and many of the attendees were architecture students at the University of Sydney*. Events are currently being planned for 2013 to mark the anniversary and relevant to this week’s exhibition review, Lismore Regional Gallery (LRG) will stage an exhibition entitled ‘Not Quite Square’ tracing the story of Northern Rivers’ architecture since the early 1970s “when radical new ideas were being explored in domestic living spaces”. New Age thinking spawned from this event provided inspiration for the next wave of Australian architects and planners who considered new modes of communal living and helped pioneer reforms to the legal system of property ownership and rigid Council housing requirements. The movement towards this somewhat romantic idea of counter-culturism has, however, not really progressed since the dizzy heights of those days. Some might go so far as to say that it no longer exists – although many multiple occupancy dwellers and alternative lifestyle practitioners still living in the hills behind Lismore and Murwillumbah would definitely beg to differ.

Kylie Banyard, Cosmic Tudor. Oil on canvas, 38x31cms.

Fast forward from 1973 to 2012 to the inner city suburb of Chippendale in Sydney. This tiny inner western suburb is currently enjoying a cultural renaissance – heralded by the construction of the The Chippendale Green’, a brand new city park, and an invasion of cultural spaces including several art galleries – NG Art, Peloton and White Rabbit Gallery have occupied their spots for a while now and the brand new McLemoi Gallery opened in a Chelsea (NY) style warehouse only last week. Around the corner in Abercrombie Street (next door to the MOP artist-run initiative) is the only-slightly-less-new Galerie pompom. Pompom is the new commercial project for Ron and George Adams (founders of MOP), which opened earlier in 2012 and is now on its third show. Apparently this is not to be the last gallery for the suburb as more are due to open soon.

At Galerie pompom, artist and COFA final year PhD student Kylie Banyard is currently exhibiting her solo show ‘Dwelling’. Galerie pompom is a compact and friendly space. It already seems as if it’s already an important part of the neighbourhood with passers by popping in. As you may have already guessed from the title of the show, spaces (and places) are very important to Banyard whose PhD thesis ‘explores the convergence of two figurations of the outmoded within [her] practice-based research, namely, specific optical viewing devices and the alternative social model of the hippy/artist’s commune.’

At first ‘Dwelling’ looks like a smallish show, but Banyard exhibits a diverse array of works that explore varying forms and include a number of watercolours on paper, several oils on canvas & linen, and two geodesic dome sculptures constructed from multi-coloured cardboard. Two found kaleidoscopes placed onto stands also feature and although coupled with two particular works ‘So this is Freetown’ and ‘Andrea and Mike’s Place’ they can be moved around the gallery to view other works as well. The optical device is also referenced in several watercolour works entitled ‘Pattern Thinking’ (1,2 and 3). Here the artist has painted kaleidoscopic patterns bringing together her interest in colour and shape to create harmony. ‘Pattern Thinking 2’ appears almost three dimensional and suspended in space.

The dwellings painted for this exhibition were based on research carried out by the artist on three particular communities dedicated to sustainable alternative living – the Greater World Earthship Community (Taos, New Mexico), Freetown Christiana (Copenhagen, Denmark) and Drop City (Colorado, USA) although some are not unlike those from photographs I’ve previewed for the LRG exhibition. Much comes from Banyard’s imagination because she deliberately hasn’t visited the sites. In the oil paintings, psychedelic skies and vivid landscapes reference hippy themes and colours representative of the era. The artist’s interest in pattern and shape can’t be missed in these pictures and seems to add to her ability to move seamlessly between creating depth and painting flat in ‘Rocky Dome 2012’ and ‘So This is Freetown 2012’.

Like these idealised communities the kaleidoscopes in the show offer a promise to the child in us all. To those who are prepared to come forward and close one eye, a step into alternative reality is the reward. They also provide the link between Banyard’s two thesis subjects as they open up other ways of seeing. Although more recently made with plastic pieces, kaleidoscopes originally contained fragments of glass and brought together disparate objects to form a harmonious whole. Perhaps it could be argued the heydays of 1970s communal living attempted to do something similar – with humans as the pieces of the pattern.

I’m guessing the artist is a too young to have experienced the Aquarius Festival but other experiences in her youth led to her exploring alternative means of living in her artistic practice. In the early 90s she lived for a time in a large share house in Hobart and later spent a year as a young nomad sleeping in the back of a panel van and crossing the deserts of Australia in a convoy of four in a mobile commune of sorts. Banyard admits to being more of an environmental pragmatist these days but the idea of the utopian alternative has never really lost its romance for her. Interestingly, no humans appear in ‘Dwelling’ despite the word being a noun and a verb. This serves to emphasise Banyard’s abandonment thesis while at the same time allowing the romantic notion some hope for survival. What is really intriguing about the ideas stimulated by ‘Dwelling’ is why, only 40 years on from Aquarius the concept of successful alternative lifestyle now seems like old fashioned thinking and unattainable fantasia.

Kylie Banyard
Galerie pompom, Sydney
Until 9 June 2012

*One further fascinating piece of trivia I found when researching this post (if Wikipedia is to be believed) was that the Aquarius Festival was sponsored by Peter Stuyvesant.

Sharne Wolff

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