OVER AND OVER
Palimsest Solo Exhibition catalogue essay
Here is how Sue Robey animates matter: first of all, paper is crumpled and creased but kept relatively flat. From this a mould is made. A slip of clay mixed with paper is cast on this mould; the resultant sheets are then fragmented, assembled into a small provocative object and fired. The paper relief is thus given permanency through the clay, which in turn looks even more like the paper from which it is cast.
In summary, this is how Sue Robey's pieces are made - stage by stage. And it is also how we can look at these works, except that we can imagine the process either way, from the paper to the object or from the object back to the paper.
Materials are always taken through such transformations on their way to their embodiment as objects, and there is always an enabling image. Even where artists have attempted to make object-less works with matter, materials still form such things as heaps, lumps or cubes.
In most cases, the enabling image is a type, something given or pre-existing, like a cup or chair or house. In Robey's pieces the enabling image is a fusion of a number of types. It produces a simple object with a complex image which can be read as a building, an animal, a paper bag, or a vessel and which equally inhabits tangible and imaginary worlds.
Robey's complex images are held together through an appeal to architectural space, to a discourse regarding inside and outside, where an object can be defined through the boundary between the one kind of space and the other.
Robey's objects play with this boundary. As vessels they are hollow by deduction, being ceramic but light to lift; they are bags because they are the right size and texture, with a shape that indicates they have only just been emptied. As buildings, a further poetic device takes over. The objects are models of the kind that suggest interiors which are miniature, intricate, but also Babylonian and void.
Robey's fusion of types is her individual invention, yet the imaginary world that these objects propose is a social one, of the body corporate, of the institution. As buildings, these objects have one floor over far too many columns and far too many windows under one roof for an individual's dwelling. Seen as animals, one senses a bilateral symmetry and also a direction of movement in these pieces, both in the body and the legs under it, which again are too many, suggesting a complex organism. Seen as vessels, they are impenetrable, light and empty; despite their domestic scale, they do not imply personal, secretive interiors. Further, the objects gain by being set up in groups - cities and herds appear.
And there is the writing on some of the pieces. This writing goes across some of these objects as if to streamline our thoughts about what is being suggested and to remind us that the function of these things is semantic, not through the meaning of the words written on them, but in the way the objects bump against understanding and still remain upright.
Alex Selenitsch is a poet and architect and a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Architecture Building and Planning in the University of Melbourne.