by Dr Jennifer Jones-O’Neil
Artists will team up for a group exhibition for a wide variety of reasons and imperatives. The best of reasons brings Emma Stoneman and Antonietta Covino-Beehre together for this exhibition, Structures and Facades — having met and worked together in Ballarat through the Artist in Residence program at the Arts Academy, Federation University, they exhibited together at the Post Office Gallery in late 2013. Both have extensive experience in printmaking, but have also explored a wide variety of media, including installation, sculpture and photography. More than that, though, their work shares a lyricism and a sense of the enigmatic, as they both have a strong drive to challenge our perceptions of what lies beneath the structures and facades that humans create.
We are now very used to new estates being created, where the houses are built within a short space of time and have a very similar look and style. They can be boringly homogenous, without any sense of community identity that only time and generations of human activity can create. Covino-Beehre’s houses in The Estate have some of that similarity, but are separated by gates that are individually crafted and have the patina of aged wrought iron. Of course, gates both allow and prevent entry, yet these open forms, curved lines and evocation of earlier times, create a sense of space and community, that stands in contrast to the hard materiality and solidity of the houses. In this way, Covino-Beehre challenges the viewer to engage with the idea of home and place, not just as a collection of houses in a suburban estate, but as a place that simultaneously invites and excludes.
Covino-Beehre is also a very fine printmaker, and she includes works that also work on a number of levels. For instance, Vox populi – Voice of the People makes reference to Caravaggio’s famous representation of just the head of Medusa in a circular format. Covino-Beehre crowns the head of her screaming face with flowers rather than snakes, and portrays the eyes firmly closed. Keeping with the theme of the exhibition, Covino-Beehre alludes to a very different sort of façade — the human face — as it both conveys meaning through expression, yet can confound us through complexity. The flowers have associations of beauty, perhaps happiness, while the open mouth and closed eyes suggest pain, frustration, perhaps anger. What is it that we perceive in the voice of the people?
Emma Stoneman also invites us to workconcurrently through ideas and perceptions. For example, her Osteoporotic Fracture 2014 is at first sight a fascinating conjunction and indeed disjunction of surface and form. Modern architecture, with its clean lines and austere forms fashioned out of steel, stone and glass, can present as devoid of the human touch. However, Stoneman shows her hand in bringing the images together in a sort of geometric jigsaw, highlighting the fact that these structures are made by humans, and can be rearranged here through her photographic intervention. In this particular work, the title references Stoneman’s acute knowledge of the fragility of the human skeletal framework, and posits a comparison with the rigidity and apparent strength of human-made architectural structures. This knowledge developed through personal experience of physical injury adds a powerful note to the historic understanding of how the proportions and components of the organic human body can inform the design of buildings and spaces, and how that leads to human comfort and engagement and good quality architecture. These ideas were investigated in antiquity and remain current today.
Stoneman’s interest in the structures of the built landscape extends to the patterning that occurs when small sections of the surface are isolated and set in grid formations with differing perspectives and viewpoints. This very artful and considered use of photography allows Stoneman to draw our attention to the subtleties and nuances of light and shade, form and space, surface and reflection. The man-made structures that we so often taken for granted are presented to us as poetic forms of tone and colour, encouraging aesthetic considerations while remaining mysterious in their totality.
The structure and facades that Covino-Beehre and Stoneman present to us, though various in their sources and media, are united in their address to the spaces that we create, inhabit and deal with every day. We are invited to appreciate anew the sense of surface, from the humble wrought iron gate, so familiar on suburban streets, to the gleaming, reflective hardness of urban office buildings, yet we are also reminded of what is behind or within. Surface works to invoke depth, not just in the corporeal sense of physical spaces but also in cerebral sense of how we engage with our world.