“The beauty of a fragment is that it never contains a complete story. The viewer is invited to speculate on what’s missing and fill in the gaps themselves.”
Interview by Simek Shropshire
Featured in your exhibition Slanted Memories at COMA, Sydney, were a series of sculptural tablets that were reminiscent of Greco-Roman marble sculptures, particularly the ornamental reliefs and frescos that adorn the facades of ancient temples. Alongside the inspiration you gleaned from a trip to Quezon City, Philippines, was there a classical influence in this most recent body of work?
My interest in ancient reliefs and fresco painting stems from my 3-month studio residency at the British School at Rome in 2014, which continues to influence the work I make. My research proposal for that residency was based on the concept of ‘architectural memory’, and Rome is an obvious choice because of its many visible layers of history.
I became obsessed with the broken materiality of frescos and their direct connections to a past era. There are so many examples in Italy where art, design and architecture were integrated into a unifying system. Fresco painting itself is a mixture of painting, sculptural relief and architecture. Regardless of location or era, I’m interested in the history that is stored and embedded within the surfaces of things, and how buildings can hold memories and emotions within their skins.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you study?
I was born in Perth, Western Australia and did my undergraduate studies at Curtin University. After living in New York for a year, I moved to Sydney to do an MFA in painting at the National Art School, where I now work as a casual teacher in the painting department.
Most people in my family are entrepreneurs and self-starters, so I grew up in a supportive environment and was encouraged to follow my passions. Looking back, I realise that my leanings towards art can also be traced back to my grandfathers. The one on my father’s side started painting when he retired and taught me traditional painting techniques as a kid. When I was a teenager, my mum revealed to me that I had another grandfather who was an artist and he was associated with the Neo-Expressionist movement in New York during the late 70’s and early 80’s. I discovered he was also a figurative painter making works about memory, and I ended up visiting him in the Hudson Valley, where he still lives.
Throughout your career, you have exhibited paintings and wall-based reliefs that contain collaged, fragmented elements. Some paintings themselves exist as fragments of a whole, such as the frescoes in your exhibition ‘Oltre la Vista’ in which each painted scene has been partially chipped away from the plaster. What are your intentions behind such elemental fragmentation? How do you conceive of fragmentation in relation to memory and recollection?
The beauty of a fragment is that it never contains a complete story. The viewer is invited to speculate on what’s missing and fill in the gaps themselves. It’s this idea of leaving room for the audience.
When making those fresco works, I realised that by almost destroying the painted image it actually opened things up. What’s left is a feeling for something that was once there, a residue of previous gestures and hints of the past. A fragment of something can speak much louder than the whole. The key is to find that sweet spot where just enough visual information is given without revealing the entire story.
I see memory as fragmentary by nature. There are details of my childhood house that appear vivid, such as the concrete floors and blue metal wardrobes, while other aspects of it remain obscured. This speaks to the way that images are recalled in the mind; it’s necessary to focus on some details and forget others. Images of past memories can remain scattered unless they’re given a location or room. It’s said that doorways can destroy memory, so the moment you pass through an architectural threshold, a signal is sent to the mind that a new scene has begun, and that it’s time to refresh. I’d like to think that my wall tablets serve as new homes for lost memories.
You have stated, “My intention is not to recreate the physical exactness of a space or object,’ Kimber says, ‘it’s about capturing their memories and tangible qualities, and turning them into monuments to stories that are worth preserving.” Would you classify your paintings, reliefs, and installations as mnemonic artefacts? If so, what does it mean for these works to serve as archives of memories that may not be your own?
Mnemonic artefacts - that’s a great way to describe them! Memory is never factually accurate or wholly authentic. Instead, I think of memories as subjective fragments from the past that are constantly being re-invented or shaped by our own present circumstances. Because memories are rearranged in the mind, they can offer clues.
The surface moulds I cast are not just a straightforward copy of a place, instead they embrace the uncertainty of remembering. Through an intuitive studio process of breaking, marking, shaping and painting, I am able to insert my own visual language into the narrative of the original object. The work becomes a capsule of the past and present, an intermingling of personal and collective stories. Perhaps they could be thought of as shared archives of remembering?
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day / studio routine? What is your studio like?
I recently moved into Shirlow Street Studios, a new studio complex run by Art Incubator, a philanthropic program for Sydney artists. I have several casual jobs within the arts that sometimes take up my mornings, however most afternoons and evenings are dedicated to studio time.
My studio is divided into two rough zones: one for painting and the other for sculptural stuff, such as mould-making and casting. In recent years, the floor has become more important than the walls. I try to apply an archeological approach to painting, mining the remnants of objects and orphaned fragments scattered throughout the floor for potential future uses. Each contain their own layered histories and may go through years of iterations and identities before finding their final form or location. I like to keep this element of discovery, which is partly why I continuously break and remake fragments. It’s almost as if I’m searching for something that was always there, yet difficult to notice. They just needs to be mined and excavated to reveal their hidden potential.
The best thing about a studio-based practice is that you can think through making.
I prefer responding to things rather than importing my conclusions onto them. I think part of my roles as an artist is to empathise with these stranded objects and give them a new sense of belonging.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
I recently came across an exhibition online by Cayetano Ferrer titled ‘Memory Screen’ at Commonwealth and Council in LA. Ferrer casts remnant components of old buildings and uses them to layer and frame the gallery space in multiple ways. There’s many examples of artists that make casts of historical objects, however Ferrer’s work seems to emphasise and celebrate the fissures, slippages and breakages that distinguish the replica from the original. Combining fragments of LA’s historic architecture such as stained glass windows and archways from across periods, his incomplete, hybrid forms invite you to fill the gaps of what’s missing. These gaps also speak to the film sets of Hollywood, where scenic backdrops, replicas and CGI technology constantly blur the line between reality and imitation.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
I’m most excited about a site-specific project in Paris’ north-eastern arrondissements called PROLOGUE I, held in conjunction with Galerie Allen, Untilthen, and KADIST Foundation, in November 2019.
I’m planning to make moulds and fragments of objects and surfaces that reconfigure the way that we engage with history by listening to local stories and translating them into sculptural forms. Although it’s impossible to faithfully represent someone else’s story, I’m hoping to rediscover traces of the past that have been overlooked. So many dusty narratives remain hidden beneath the surfaces of our built environment. What if they can be animated so that history becomes alive again?
Right now I'm experimenting with a new series of works for a solo show opening in September at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne.
Publish date: 13/06/2019
All images courtsey of the artist