Simryn Gill: Gathering

Sifting through a pile of broken pottery and porcelain, you come across a used cigarette lighter. Looking up you only hear the sound of terracotta on china, the noise made by a six year old child also searching through the pile at the secret found objects: a toy truck, the pattern on a discarded cup, two of the few people game enough to crouch down on the cushions and spend a good twenty minutes sifting. Interaction, exploration, objects, photography, and the vague dissolve of boundary between inside and outside, these are all concepts that Sydney-based Malaysian artist Simryn Gill carries into her work, including Gathering, her exhibition currently showing at the Heide Museum of Modern Art. An expansion on a touring exhibition, I spoke to the show’s curator, Russell Storer, who is the head of Asian and Pacific Art at the Queensland Art Gallery. He curated Gill’s original show at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art in late 2008, which has been touring ever since, now placed in the hands of the Heide’s senior curator Linda Markwell.

“Linda really drove the Melbourne show, but I was more involved in the initial realisation, working with her for several years before the first exhibition at MCA.  We first met through the Roslyn Oxley gallery in Sydney, we both had a kind of ‘first day’ there together, and found that we had a lot of shared interests… I feel that this show is a reflection of an ongoing conversation I’m having with her.”

So why the Heide? “Linda and Simryn worked together fifteen years ago, they have a long association, and the Heide is the perfect space for this show, with it’s indoor/outdoor feel. In some ways it reflects the histories of modernism in modern Asia.”

Asked about what the most important aspects of her work are, Russell had two objectives in mind: “First I wanted to look back over her more recent work over the past five or six years. She’s a very international, and internationally shown artist, and a lot of these works have not been seen previously in Australia. I also was interested in her more experimental and ephemeral pieces, looking at that aspect of her practise. She works in a very intimate and experimental way, with small pieces, pieces that she collects, putting them together in her house.  They may not go any further into her larger works, but they’re an important research aspect of her work.” 

Then there are her larger projects, like that of Throwback, for which Gill has collected natural materials, casting them to recreate the machinery of the Tata truck, which used to be seen all over Malaysia, now disappearing along with the economic booms in China and India, and the increase in demand for scrap metal.  “I’m attracted to her art because it’s about understanding the world around you,” Says Storer, “She has a very personal approach I guess, but not biographical. It’s about how to be in the world in a personal way, how the meaning of objects changes over time, what they say about the place they come from. I think she can tap into these things in a very real way: how we travel, how we make a home, her work addresses these in a very real, very open way. It’s not telling you how to think about one thing, not directing you towards how to look at an object.” 

I ask if this is where the ‘audience participation’ comes into play, the allowances to sift and rearrange a lot of her work. “A lot of art is about play and discovery and the involvement of simple activities. Her work is very layered and people experience it in different ways, with different histories towards an object.”

Gill is also an accomplished photographer, but doesn’t interact towards her photographic work in the usual way. “She’s been commissioned as a photographer but doesn’t see herself in that way. One of her great works was done during May 2006, when she took eight hundred snaps of her neighbourhood. These photographs are pinned to the wall, close together. It makes them very present, you can see the photographic paper, the grain, a record of the demise of photographic film.”

A large and varied exhibition, and in a gallery known for its natural surroundings. “They’ve created a lovely way of using the windows in the space. Often the windows are closed off, but for Simryn’s show they’ve left them open, that blurred line between the artificial world and the natural world.” And are there any new works we can look forward to? “There’s a book Simryn’s produced in the veggie garden at the Heide. She’s listened to conversations of people in the garden, and produced in an artists’ book. A beautiful response to that particular place.”


from Beat Magazine, June 2nd 2010

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