Words - Adam Robertshaw Photos - Julia Howland
Edmund Pearce Gallery, Level 2, 37 Swanston Street Melbourne. Nicole Robertson – ‘Keeping Up Appearances’, Bridget Mac – ‘Elevate’ and Robert Ashton – ‘Postmortem’.
The Edmund Pearce Gallery on the second floor of the ancient listed building on Swanston Street that is The Nicolas Building. You can get there by stairs but if you do go there I would suggest you take the rickety rust-ridden lift just to add a sense of danger to the occasion. Even going up 2 stories you get a tense feeling in your stomach that any moment the cables will snap, sending you plummeting into the basement.
You then have to wind your way through an old, musty corridor, past some weird shop full of old oddities, trinkets and antiques, before stepping into the plush, freshly painted white rooms of The Edmund Pearce Gallery. It’s a nice juxtaposition between the very old and the ultra-modern that almost makes an artistic statement before you’ve even looked at any of the photographs on display.
I was there for the joint opening of 3 separate solo exhibitions: Nicole Robertson – ‘Keeping Up Appearances’, Bridget Mac – ‘Elevate’ and Robert Ashton – ‘Postmortem’.
Given that it is a triple opening, the crowd is undeniably bustling, and I had to worm my way through tight pockets of schmoozing art folk to make my way to the free bar. A nice cold Stella in hand, I was then ready to once again work my way round the busy room and take in the photos.
In the main room is Bridget Mac’s collection ‘Elevate’, a range of collages that are meant to represent masculinity. One wall features a number of black and white photographic collages showing built up hillside landscapes. Stark granite tones pile upon each other to create images of shantytowns climbing mountains. The sharp shadows and angular blocks of grey are quite unnerving. From afar the collages could be standard photographs but up close the angles and lighting are purposely false, creating a jarring effect on the eye.
Notions of masculinity are subtly suggested in the metaphors of mountains, buildings, brick and stone, as well as through the jagged angles. Less subtle are the collages on the opposite walls that depict naked male torsos, with penises made to look like they are made from marble or granite. They give a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘stony eyed’.
Just off the main room is a small, room with black floors, walls and ceilings. The slightly claustrophobic atmosphere in this room is heightened by the macabre images of squashed mosquitoes that Robert Ashton has compiled in super close-up high definition. Once you get over the initial shock of the images they really are quite beautiful. You can see every detail in the wings of these creatures as they lay squashed on glass. Some appear to have hundreds of eggs seeping out from their abdomens, a bold statement about life and death.
The third exhibition being opened at Edmund Pearce was Nicole Robertson’s ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ which injected some much needed colour into the gallery. That said the works appear almost garish when contrasted with the previous two exhibitions. Displayed on lightboxes are a range of photographs depicting families posing in their living rooms, all of which are made up of tacky furniture, brightly coloured wall paper and adorned with a variety of trinkets. On the first lap of the room it seems that the photos are depicting a variety of real life settings.
On closer inspection, however, you notice that everything within the photos is set up, fake. You see from the way the shadows are cast that all the light within the living rooms is natural sunlight, revealing the fact that on the other side of the camera is the outside world. You are not looking at someone’s living room. You are looking at a fabricated set, purposely decorated by Robertson herself. These aren’t families; they are actors on a set. It suggests that we are all playing a part, whoever we are.