Exhibited: 17th September to 5th October, Mori Gallery, Sydney.
Fiona MacDonald’s exhibition projects have explored the intimate bonds that exist between objects, owners’ desires and the cultural space they inhabit. MacDonald’s earlier exhibitions (Elective Affinities, 1984, Salon des Ciseaux, I and II 1987 and the Presence of the Past of 1988) isolated categories of connoisseurship thereby making manifest implicit cultural beliefs and values. Successively, these ‘displays’ were of the Renaissance court grotesque, the eighteenth century ‘cabinet of curiosities’ and the nineteenth century Natural History Museum. Her fantastical mimicry of such ’empirical taxonomy’ exposed the equally fantastic foundations of rationalist western culture.
The particular cut of MacDonald’s scissors is between two hemispheres, through lines of thought, preconceptions, assumptions that characterise an ageing European history against emerging post-colonial vitalities.
These displays culminated in Cyclopaedia, an installation for the Historic Houses Trust, Sydney in January 1990. Cyclopaedia was a perceptively constructed, visually extravagant, humorous critique of the colonial European obsession with classifications of the natural world.
Although MacDonald’s collages analyse discourses of interpretation, the strength of her work derives from a profound interest in ideologies of perception and the transferrin of style across cultural and historical borders. MacDonald uses the process of collage itself to undertake a systematic dismantling of the techniques of the archive and the printed image, thus parodying the empiricist equation between vision and knowledge as truth.
Cyclopaedia, a Question of Time, 1990 (for the touring Out of Asia, which explored notions of Orientalism) and Gauguin Suite 1990-1991 (Chicago International Art Fair, 1991) both again impact from illusionism and the curious rearrangement of supporting information.
Never one thing or the other, her works ultimately focus on the relations between elements; between the legible and illegible, image and surround, the world outside the frame and what conventionally belongs inside it.
O Tahiti Nevermore, whilst a tribute to the beauty of modernist art and its revolutionary assertion of the pluralist experience of perception, still refuses to assume a traditional avant-gardist attitude. MacDonald’s projects are purely contingent, with an interest in relativising interpretation and aesthetics. The work has been described as an encyclopaedia without a centre: the symmetry between language and perception is not static but interactive.
Mori Gallery Media Release (quotes Ewen McDonald Salon des Ciseaux exhibition essay)
Photo Credit: Kalev Maevali – installation views and art work documentation