JOHNS-MESSENGER SENSE OF
Review by John Meade.
Publication- LIKE Art Magazine
No 12- Winter 2000, page 57.
On walking into Natasha Johns-Messenger's show at the George Paton Gallery,
Melbourne University, I was reminded of those fantastic houses jutting out of
cliffs along the Great Ocean Road on Victoria's southwest coast. These late-modernist
houses are built as family viewing devices, designed to look out over the panorama
of a spectacular coastline. Similarly, Johns-Messenger's objects in ‘Sense
of’ are viewing mechanisms, which invite the viewer in via designed apertures
in her objects, then fold their view back out into the gallery space. Much of
this is done with mirrors and reflected light encased in objects. The difference
between Johns-Messenger's objects and the houses on the cliffs is that her devices
lead you out into the void of the gallery space, which is an abstract space
rather than a landscape. Through these viewing devices we are led in a circular
path back to our viewing selves, surrounded by the objects we are looking at.
The objects themselves come in a range of composition and scale. Those that
are mounted on the walls are like white tissue boxes with mirrors inside and
when you look into them, you see your feet. One of the best, the one that reminds
me of the houses on the cliffs: ‘4-way view-box’, is a flat, four-sided
box propped high on a diagonally-placed plinth. When you look into the sides,
you are face-off with a diagonal mirror taking you back out into the space at
right-angles, but, the view is always specific and sometimes leads straight
to another work, which means that some works contain other work.
The sculptures themselves seem to be imminently alert, way before the viewer
arrives. Unlike the story of Jacques Lacan in a fishing boat with a young companion,
Petit Jean, who, on spotting a sardine can glistening in the water, asks him,
'You see that can? Do you see it? Well, it doesn't see you!' - these objects
do see you and are alert to you as soon as you enter the space. A video camera
takes your image and then transmits it further into the space where it arrives
before you do. The objects have a command of the space and, I would say, an
ambition for future spaces because they propose almost an operating model: very
new, comfortably environed but somehow potentially autocratic at the same time.
Entering the L-shaped room the viewer is at once captured and doubled as light,
and from here there is little differentiation between the physical and the image.
The room is mostly physical but it is the image that absorbs you, that calls
you in and bounces you around the room. Some of the sculptures themselves are
made of coloured light. Natasha Johns-Messenger has designed the space in such
a way that everything is purpose-built but not over-determined, allowing the
room to operate on subtle levels. It is a room you want to hang around in, a
room for looking, but in this seduction, the pieces generate an uneasy play,
which turns the viewer around and back, until orientation is rendered subject
and passive to the peculiar conditions of a particular space.