Stills Gallery


Exhibition 24 September to 25 October 2014

Stephanie Valentin’s new work continues to explore the human relationship to the natural world and its changing ecology. Through her unorthodox use of the electron microscope, the images magnify extremely small and fragile insects up close, to the scale of our own bodies. These haunting portrayals of miniature creatures, engage the viewer in their stark unfamiliarity, while inviting a correspondence with our own presence as fellow species.

Some of the works exhibited respond to an emerging ecological dilemma: the limited ability of many species to move habitat or evolve/adapt quickly enough to survive a rapidly changing climate. Here Valentin has drawn on scientific expertise in focused ion-beam technology at the University of NSW, to create microscopic sculptural interventions on the physical forms of dead insects, simulating accelerated morphological changes. The imagery arising from these speculative adaptations is both compelling and disquieting.

Stephanie Valentin is represented in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, Parliament House Collection, Artbank and numerous private collections. Her work is exhibited in both national and international exhibitions including: Terra Cognita, Noorderlicht Photofestival 2012, Heerenveen, Netherlands; 2112 Imagining the Future, RMIT (2012); Stormy Weather, National Gallery of Victoria (2011); The Challenged Landscape, UTS Gallery, Sydney, NSW (2010); Flora, Hazelhurst Regional Art Gallery (2008-2009); Signs of Truth: Photography and Science, Altana Gallery, Germany (2006-2007).

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

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.