Mrs Harris’ Shop, Torrensville – October 2022
The duality of dark and light is an oft-repeated metaphor for absence and presence. The nameless and what is named. Concealed and unconcealed. Confusion and clarity.
And while in Western culture darkness is associated mostly with the negative, putting it beneath light in the metaphysical hierarchy, light cannot exist without it. Philosopher Martin Heidegger tells us that “in the darkness we see the stars”. Even with our eyes closed, we see phosphenes – flashes of light and coloured spots.
In this work, I have actively sought the light. These pieces are digital photographs from literally and figuratively dark scenes on television – news reports, documentaries and dramas concerned with death, violence and degradation – which I have enlarged to no more than pixels in order to find evidence of light.
The distortion which occurs through this reduction in resolution helps to remove any reference to their origin, and leaves just the essence of hope.
Opening Address from Caroline Reid – October 7, 2022
Light from Dark Places, Visual Art Exhibition by Donna Gordge
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Kaurna people. Sovereignty was never ceded. Before I talk about the work I’d like to begin with 2 Quotes:
1 – The first is from Margaret Atwood – her book Negotiating With The Dead
“Possibly, then, Writing [and ART] has to do with darkness, and a desire or perhaps a compulsion to enter it, and, with luck, to illuminate it, and to bring something back out to the light.”
2 – The second quote is a song lyric from The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy who in 1992 wrote:
“Television, the drug of a nation
Breeding ignorance & feeding radiation
T.V., it satellite links our United States of unconsciousness
Apathetic therapeutic and extremely addictive …
absorbed in its world it’s so hard to find us …”
For this exhibition, the artist took around 5000 photographs – all of them of the T.V. She focussed on stories to do with women, mostly Police Drama, Documentaries, Unsolved Murder Cases & News reports – many on domestic violence.
She took shots of the dark areas on the T.V. screen.
She noticed when you zoom into the dark there are patches of colour.
And these zoomed-in images are what you see on these walls.
I was curious – what led to this almost obsessive photographing of a screen? (5000 photographs is a lot of photographs!) The artist told me it began with the 2019/2020 Bush Fires which was quickly followed by Covid. She had a strong emotional response to what was happening and watched the T.V. news reports, early, every morning, to check updates on death tallies.
‘I was seeking the negative,’ she said ‘The art making was a distraction. So it wasn’t all miserable and crappy.’
There’s that compulsion to enter the darkness that Margaret Atwood writes about. So the process of making art became a salve for the artist, temporarily easing painful emotional responses to scenes of death and degradation.
But what about you, the viewer? What might ‘Light from Dark Places’ offer you?
When I first saw the works I was struck by a number of things:
– the vibrant colours, which immediately filled me with cheer. Who doesn’t like a wall or two exploding with colour? 😀
– the next was a sense of expansion and contraction which occurred almost simultaneously. What I mean is, I began to imagine what was beyond each frame (so expansion); then, as I peered closer at the pixelated images I felt a strong desire to zoom in even further (a kind of contraction but also an internal expansion). I asked myself: Where are the limits of my imagination? I’m talking about imagining a material world but also metaphysically. (Art is fun like that, it offers us the opportunity for self reflection). If I zoom in, like the artist’s camera, what will I see in my internal world? How well do I know my self? Do I even want to look? And what about the wide shot, the expansion? What limits do I put on myself? What boxes does the world put me in? And can I imagine myself beyond that framing?
Interestingly, I was half way through writing this introduction, already interpreting the images as invitations to reflect on an internal life, before I thought to look at the titles of the work:
Titles like: “Thoughts insinuating themselves”, “Places of self-invention” “Bigger on the inside”, “Soft Boundaries”, “Tiny Victories”.
For me, these titles confirmed the artist’s invitation for us to imagine; to ‘think outside the box’, yes, but also to contemplate what’s inside the box. And how far inside that box are we willing to go?
“T.V … is it the reflector or the director?
does it imitate us or do we imitate it?
because a child watches 1500 hundred murders before he’s 12 years old.”
The Disposable Heroes sang those lyrics 30 years ago. Our relationship with television and now the internet continues to be an ambiguous one. We’re fascinated by the televised darkness and we also fear it.
In her artist’s statement, Donna Gordge wrote: “I actively sought the light … from dark scenes on television.”
As a result of actively seeking light, I propose that the art you see here tonight offers a Rallying Cry: To Reclaim the Dark, which has parallels with The Reclaim the Night rallies. To Reclaim Consciousness by deconstructing images fed to us on television; and To Reclaim Power, by creating a thing of beauty where there is disaster, fear and death.
The installation of 96 images ‘Learning to See in the Dark’, suggests to me a wall of televisions. We might be window shopping at The Good Guys or JB Hi Fi. The artist has created a vision of what the beauty of television could be.
Each image is blurry; abstract yet uncannily familiar. Are those car headlights, streetlights? Is that rain on a window, a woman’s dress, a drop of blood, a moonlit river, a curve of kerb, or something less tangible? – A scrap of wall, reflection off plastic, soft shapes of space, cool night air? Some are murky, some contain darkness; some of the shapes are un-nameable, their composition unfamiliar; yet there is colour and light in each one.
And there’s evidence of a human touch but it’s not heavy handed. The artist physically manipulated each image using oil sticks, adding a dab, a spot, a patch, smear or smudge .. What I love is the distinct lack of sold lines. Where lines do appear they’re pale, thin, they highlight without intruding. Another element I love is when you look for long enough, there’s the miraculous illusion of movement. As if someone has turned on all of the televisions ..
“sugar sweet sit coms. soda pop stars.
fast food culture. new and improved.
On Television, the drug of a nation …”
Donna spoke to me a while back about the work she was making for this exhibition, but I only saw the pieces for the first time about a week ago. I came to the gallery, took a few photos, made some notes but what I was really doing is what all writers do: eavesdropping on the conversation that gallery owner Jo Harris and the artist Donna Gordge were having .. Jo was telling Donna about seeing a boobook owl in the tree outside the shop (also known as the mopoke)… well, I thought, owls see in the dark .. that connects to this exhibition … so i did some research .. i didn’t know what I was looking for .. until I came across a site that referenced symbolism in Australian Aboriginal mythology. I read that if you hear a mopoke’s mournful call, it’s less about signifying a literal death, more likely to signify a new phase in life; a letting go of something that no longer serves you. Mopoke as a symbol may also refer to a need to lighten up and not put too much significance upon seemingly negative things.
Wow, I thought. That’s exactly what Donna was seeking: The driving force behind the making of this work was the artist’s compulsion to ‘lighten up’ and downplay the negativity associated with the dark. And wow, this colour! It’s magnificent. What a success!
So, as you gaze at these gorgeous images, I encourage you to imagine, to contemplate your inner world, to expand and contract; but if that’s too much for you on a Friday night, just lean into the salve, the joy and hope in these images, in the Light that the artist Donna Gordge brought back, for you, from the Dark.
© Caroline Reid
Work still available for purchase is listed in my store.