Exhibition 24 September to 25 October 2014
Opening Saturday 27 September 3-5pm

What does it mean when something you cannot see, or perhaps you didn’t even know existed, disappears forever? Stephanie Valentin’s current exhibition Closer responds to this enigma, bringing the perpetually overlooked up close into a memorable encounter.

Valentin’s new work continues to explore an ongoing interest in the human relationship to the natural world and the ecological effects of climate change. Through her unorthodox use of the electron microscope, the images magnify small and fragile insects up close to the scale of our own bodies. These haunting portrayals of seemingly insignificant creatures engage the viewer in their stark unfamiliarity, and yet their curiously human-like presence invites an interaction, underscoring the kinship we have with other living beings. Quite removed from the cold science that made them possible Valentin engages a distinctly photographic aesthetic, creating warm intimate portraits that invite the viewers’ empathy for an otherwise invisible subject.

Blurring the realms of reality and fantasy, the subseries Adaptations, artfully plays with the limits of nature’s design. Valentin has drawn on the scientific expertise in ion-beam technology at the University of NSW, to create microscopic sculptural interventions on the physical forms of found dead insects. Simulating accelerated evolutionary changes, a specialized electron microscope is employed to literally etch with atoms, sculpting patterns and perforations in the insects’ bodies. While crossing into the realm of science fiction, these speculative adaptations respond to a very real ecological dilemma: the limited ability of many species to move habitat or evolve quickly enough to survive a rapidly changing climate. Imagine insect eyes with physically enhanced structure, scales on a butterfly’s wing mutated for improved flight, or additional breathing holes, multiplied in hexagonal formation.

Valentin brings into view a surprising parallel world, and enables us to better connect with these fellow earth dwellers. At a time when both science and species, are pushed to their limits, her works expand the possibilities of the scientific image to provoke and engage.

The artist would like to thank Professor Paul Munroe at UNSW, whose expertise in Focused Ion Beam technology made the manipulations of the Adaptations series possible.

Stephanie Valentin

© Stephanie Valentin

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Deb Mansfield

© Deb Mansfield

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And Dive Into the Sea

Exhibition 24 September to 25 October 2014
Opening Saturday 27 September 3-5pm

In Deb Mansfield’s new series of photo-tapestries, And dive into the sea, the precarious nature of travel is explored through internet-found images of island crossings and early forays into space. Mansfield is renowned for immersing herself in littoral regions of her research—the geographic spaces that are borders, edges and in-betweens. Through her photography, tapestry and installation works, we have roved with her into the mangroves of Louisana and Queensland, the extreme snows and icy coasts of Newfoundland, and the Tasmanian mountains, at the precipice of a gorge. But beyond the physical, her works also tread the linguistic in-betweens of metaphor and mind—exploring the edges of our consciousness, the intrepid travels of our imaginations.

And dive into the sea thrusts further into this territory of spatial unknowns and the exploration of fantasy frontiers. Now Mansfield’s in-between space is the social imagination of shared images and the immersive digital landscape, along with the choppy seas and jutting islands, transformed within her tapestries.

Circular frames enclose two of these works, creating the sense of glimpsing through the spherical windows of boats and planes. In Ibid (2013), for instance, we observe the world’s largest volcanic stack Balls Pyramid Island. The texture of the tapestry recreates the scratched surface of a porthole, smudging and etching our view to outside. Yet unlike the nondescript grey tones of passenger craft interiors, Mansfield’s monochrome imagery is punctuated with flashes of pink, green, and gold, rejuvenating the seemingly dated craft of tapestry with a touch of Pop Art kitsch. So too, the made-to-order-online process, and single-colour weaved threads, recall Pop artist Andy Warhol’s colour-blocked screen-printing, and the mass-production practices he celebrated in his studio ‘The Factory’.

But while Warhol used excess and repetition to reflect our desensitisation to mass-mediated images, Mansfield’s tapestries offer respite from the visual excesses of network culture. Her appropriations arehighly selective, her digital interventions highly refined. Now, “there are artists who are navigating the Web’s choppy info-ocean”, observes writer Simon Reynolds (2011), epitomized by Mansfield’s sifting and searching through images of floating debris from the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

In devastating recent history, airplane tragedies have shifted us from complacency toward global travel to a newfound fear of flight. These photo-tapestries don’t aim to desensitise us to this reality. Rather they are beautiful, quirky and complex objects that speak to human abstractions—the allure of the unknown, the boundlessness of imagination and a timeless fear of failing.