Don’t dive shallow in dark deep water & From ideas of tending

Don’t dive shallow in dark deep water by Hew Chee Fong and From ideas of tending… by Judith Kentish are simultaneous exhibitions at Caboolture Regional Art Gallery that juxtapose the work of two mid-career artists. Like Yin and Yang, the artists’ work share key differences and yet deep similarities.

Hew Chee Fong’s exhibition consists of an arrangement of stone and wood objects; some carved, sanded and polished whereas others remain seemingly unaltered. Some objects are treated as plinths for others, where smaller forms are perched on top. Particularly striking objects include two large pieces of granite that form Still waters and Calm before the storm, which have been carved to resemble two states of water; one calm and reflective with two small ripples, the other unsettled and violent, and yet the title suggests that there is more to come.

Of particular interest is also Tenacity and adversity are old foes, an elongated rock with an egg-shaped rock seemingly balanced impossibly on top. From this object emerges a forked branch; however, like the other objects in the space no longer seems to be living (or in most cases, never was). The elements of the exhibition feel autonomous, yet are enriched by the others’ presence. One can imagine an infinite arrangement of the various individual objects and yet the composition and placements are highly considered, intentional and sophisticated.

In terms of materials and processes, Judith Kentish’s work operates quite differently. At the beginning of the exhibition are three large and quite overwhelming pieces of fabric titled Inkfolds, all stained with ink and one stitched in the middle to form two troughs. They are splayed and pinned, as if still drying. In the next alcove are Woolworks; similar forms, though filled with wool and resemble cocoons or hammocks. At various points through the space are small, delicate, woven and ink dipped forms, suspended from a single strand. Each form, collectively titled Wovendrops, is unique in size, amount of ink and exhibiting height, and appear to have been created by a bird or insect, as opposed to the artist.

Over time, the similarities and differences between Judith Kentish’s and Hew Chee Fong’s work continue to strengthen. More consciously than many other artists and exhibitions, the artworks oscillate between natural, untouched products of the earth and the refined processes indicating human presence that are imposed on them. More so than Hew Chee Fong, the processes undertaken by Judith Kentish seem to allow a higher degree of chance, such as the dipping of fabric in ink which would undoubtedly behave (to a degree) independently, as well as producing unique folds by draping the fabric each time the works are exhibited. Hew Chee Fong’s materials and processes on the other hand, seem to emerge more slowly due to the rigidity of the materials. Nonetheless, both exhibitions seem to address water and fluidity in nature; Judith Kentish’s through the ink stains which function as evidence of the fabric being previously immersed and Hew Chee Fong’s by shaping the materials to represent water, as well as one of the compositions, Island, containing a shallow pebble-filled pond. While museums are traditionally (physically) dry environments, this focus on liquid, specifically water, is a poignant metaphor for the materials themselves, which, if they ‘spilled’ out of the museum context would ‘evaporate’ back into the world. The artists therefore seem not to be creating heroic representations of nature, but its passive collectors and facilitators.

This passive quality with regards to the materials and processes is extended by the degree of viewer participation in these specific exhibitions, developed and facilitated by the gallery. In Hew Chee Fong’s space, visitors may gently touch the works and arrange pieces of granite to make their own forms. In Judith Kentish’s, visitors may participate in a range of activities such as creating drawings on translucent paper which are then exhibited on an illuminated surface, or contribute to a wall of knots and wool-filled forms. With these activities, the gallery gives visitors agency opportunities to experiment with the materials as the artists have, creating a space of exploration and co-creation. Don’t dive shallow in dark deep water by Hew Chee Fong and From ideas of tending… by Judith Kentish are an example of how the juxtaposition of two or more practices can create unexpected connections and counterpoints that further enrich the experience of the individual practices.

Written by Aaron Butt


Essay from exhibitions: Hew Chee Fong’s – ‘Don’t dive shallow in dark deep water’ and Judith Kentish’s – ‘From ideas of tending’ . Courtesy of Caboolture Regional Art Gallery

Images: Judith Kentish, inkfolds, 2015-2016 (Left). / Hew Chee Fong,Tenacity and adversity are old foes, 2016 (Right).

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