Exhibited: 4th to 22nd December, 1990 Mori Gallery, Sydney.
Seeing is Believing
It is rejuvenating to find Fiona MacDonald’s work at the Mori Gallery boldly tackling the processes of perception her collages, titled the Gauguin Suite, question the way we see and consume the mythology of art practices. By incising and rearranging well-known images she is pointing to the gap between myth and reality. Not just Gauguin is involved in this but the whole process of seeing as part of perceiving.
An examination of European obsession with the collection and classification of objects is central to MacDonald’s work and here it’s extended to the paintings by Gauguin in Tahiti. Gauguin’s search to objectify subjective experience resulted in his very individual treatment of familiar themes. The objects themselves were not as important in his work as the way he saw and experienced them, and his many paintings of partly clad Tahitian women read like a collection of personal exotica rather than paintings of individuals.
MacDonald draws our attention to this by sticking cowrie shells over a reproduction of Gauguin’s reclining woman on a beach.The overt sexual symbolism of the shells disturbs our uncritical acceptance and recognition of this as a Gauguin – a highly collectible, valuable painting (in the original). We see instead the objectification of woman presented as sexual, collectible object and MacDonald’s commentary on uncritical seeing.
Our attention is being shifted from the acceptable and cultish admiration of Gauguin to interested contemplation of how myths are made. The surface takes on a different meaning as an invaded and changed arena of art experience, paralleling the unavoidable change in a viewed experience today, of a painting made a 100 years ago.
Two or three reproductions of the same Gauguin painting are interwoven in these collages and this highlights the difference in colour and tonal quality of seemingly identical images.
The square patches of the weave take on a life of their own suggesting a sculptural undulation of the surface, or a mosaic, yet faking both and pointing to the fake of reproduction itself, the most usual way of seeing Gauguin paintings.
In another work, a less obviously Gauguin image of sunflowers is smothered in large, black rhinoceros beetles, marching in their pinned state, to the pattern of Gauguin;’s signature.
In another, the face of a Gauguin self portrait is replaced byan image of an exotic fruit. The authorial statement is being collected in this selection, and the invasion by another author – MacDonald, in the form of beetles and fruit – violates the concept of a single meaning.
These collages are charged with a meticulous purposive attention to detail. The fetishistic concept of collecting is being questioned but not subverted. Gauguin’s sensual surface qualities are retained by MacDonald, though having undergone an incisive metamorphosis.
On the opposite wall, MacDonald has similarly altered the textual evidence of Gauguin’s classification by historians. Again collections of beetles, shells and butterflies disrupt, obscure and change our reading of chosen pages from books about Gauguin.
Our attempts to read are frustrated often very subtly, by the alterations to the surface, reflecting the highly subjective selection and rejection of material that informs the way we perceive art.
Jo Saurin. Galleries, Friday 21 December 1990, The Sydney Morning Herald p. 12
Photo Credit: Kalev Maevali – installation views and art work documentation