Prelude to Arcadia

8 - 30 May 2020

This new body of work is a prelude to “Glass House Arcadia”, a collaborative interdisciplinary public art project scheduled for 2021. This will comprise one or more exhibitions and events with a full scale artglass house. As such, ‘Prelude to Arcadia’ is the first in a series of new exhibitions and events which will take place over the coming years.


‘Prelude to Arcadia’, among other works, contains a series of small paintings entitled 'Sturm und Drang'. I borrow this concept from the German literature movement in the late 1700s, which I studied in Austria. I am interested in how upheaval and shifting realities play out on the stage of the environment and in a broader sense, the human experience. This is a kind of phenomenological geophilosophical response to my surrounds, and an observation of the extreme challenges the climate and indeed, humankind currently face.


The boxed layers of glass and image are vignettes of momentary experience. In one sense, these works capture the experience of change, but more importantly, they are a prelude to a somewhat utopian existence beyond the forces of Sturm und Drang, where an as yet unknowable Arcadia awaits.


In many of these works the direct marks, the texture and the movement of the paint are stilled and contained in glazed boxed forms. To an extent, I see this as a flattening and glossing over of human experience, contained within four walls where sensory engagement is at times limited; two dimensional; viewed through a screen or sectioned and limited by a window frame. These boxed walls offer a space of safety, of home, of the familiar, as opposed to the experience beyond into the unknown. It is possible to sense with some trepidation that a new, somewhat unfathomable experience lurks within the void of the unknowable. Perhaps this is Arcadia; the sensation of unfulfilled longing for a utopian sublime.


In terms of the environment I often work with natural materials and concepts that are subjected to almost inconceivable forces; such as heat and fire that have been harnessed to make these glass paintings. The image is literally melted between or onto glass. At the same time I have represented concepts that relate to the energy of fire and lightning strikes; forces that recently devastated so much of Australia.

I have also incorporated etchings I made some years ago based on the explorations of Ludwig Leichhardt, who traversed northern Australia in the 1800s. In these works, I consider the notion of violence as an act of climatic force, as a legacy of settlement and as an ever present threat facing the relative frailty, susceptibility and culpability of humankind. The words, ‘violent’ have been reproduced from Leichhardt’s field journal, in which the German explorer noted in the far north settlement of Port Essington, that the ‘trees had been thrown down by a violent wind’. These early expeditions were part of the opening up of Australia to settlement, and as such, resulted in largely inevitable forces of violence, both through natural phenomena such as cyclones, but also through invasion. In a contemporary sense, I would also suggest that in dystopian times such as those human kind currently faces through the new pandemic, violence is once again a force enacted on and perhaps by humankind.


To a certain extent I am aware of the limitations I face with two dimensional work and over the last few years have begun working in more sculptural forms and installation. These two dimensional works, as the title suggests, are a prelude to another time, another exhibition; an Arcadian ideal that arises from the dystopia of current times. To this end I have been building glass houses that will house endemic plant species which channel sound, as meta data, generated by their own biorhythms. The resulting works will be interdisciplinary, including music and plant biology; a celebration of a time yet to come. As such, ‘Prelude to Arcadia’ heralds a utopian ideal, longed for but still just beyond reach.


Caroline Rannersberger, 2020