The Talking Earth
By Amy Walsh
@ The Butler Gallery, Kilkenny, Ireland
Oct 18th– Dec 14th, 2014
Review by Gráinne Tynan
Walking into the current show in The Butler Gallery I was struck by the strangeness of the Australian landscape in comparison to the rolling green fields of Kilkenny. Amy Walsh’s exhibition The Talking Earth succeeds in teleporting the viewer to an otherworldly place: the Australian outback at night. In creating this other place everything is carefully considered: the gallery is painted grey, the lighting is low, the work is spaciously arranged, and in the distance are the sounds of Australian fauna. The viewer is lured through the space by the songs of unfamiliar birds. The feel of the gallery is one of quiet contemplation, a place to consider our place amongst the stars.
A number of years ago while back-packing in Australia I had the unforgettable experience of sleeping out in the bush. As I lay in my swag (a thick canvas sleeping bag) all my anxieties of deadly spiders/snakes, the freezing cold, the non-existent toilet etc disappeared when I looked up at the stars. It was quite simply spectacular. This view was unfamiliar to me for two reasons: there was absolutely no light pollution so each and every star was visible and also the stars themselves were the southern constellations which I had never seen (or thought about) before. Without light pollution the earth’s atmosphere becomes invisible, and our relationship with the stars can no longer be ignored.
By choosing to shoot in the Australian outback at night Walsh succeeded in turning our preconceptions of the landscape on its head. Instead of a palate of earthy rusts, yellow ochres and umbers we saw rich jewel tones of purples, greens, oranges and blues. In fact the entire exhibition seemed set out to challenge everyday assumptions, not only of the antipodean landscape, but also our relationship with outer-space.
The first two galleries displayed 8 photographic images of the outback stretched out against the night sky. The image noise/ film grain gives a pointillism-esque quality to the images, with unexpected notes of magenta and green. Each image was presented as a digital print, using a liquid bonded to acrylic, either as a 40×60 cm or 91×122 cm work. The high gloss surfaces are like luminous screens, and the frameless frames removes the usual barrier between the viewer and the art.
The two video installations in the remaining galleries take the beautiful imagery of the photographs and add the dimension of time. The meditative work The Talking Earth is quietly engrossing. No element of the video is still, the world is in constant movement: the stars gently rotate, clouds zip by at an alarming pace, shooting stars streak by, even the foreground trees etc move as the camera slowly glides through the landscape. Pre-Galilean notions of the universe rotating around a stationary earth are dismantled; everything is in flux. Choppy editing allows us to travel backwards and forwards in time. Animated sequences graphically depict the curved movement of the stars, calling to mind various references including a warp drive sequence in Star Trek, Missoni fabric, or Van Gogh’s The Starry Night.
A floor level projector allows the image to sit in contact with the horizon of the gallery floor where it is reflected onto a mirrored surface. Unlike the floating images in the previous rooms this image is given a meaningful relationship to the gallery architecture. Unfortunately the slightly rippled mylar material is less successful than the glass mirror in the next gallery. None the less, as I sit in a trance like state I enter into an imagined landscape, and the mirror is a still pond.
The immersive installation Songlines in the last gallery moves away from tranquil meditation and towards active hallucination. Two large projections of mirrored footage are shown on adjoining perpendicular walls and the flooring is a pristine mirror. The experience brought to mind a tribal, drug induced, coming-of-age, vision quest. Like moving Rorschach blots creating a psychedelic time-travelling experience. Walsh used clever angles while videoing to increase the otherworldliness of the imagery (e.g. shooting upwards from the base of a eucalyptus tree). The use of state of the art digital equipment and sharp installation finishes creates a rich tension with the subject matter of this primordial landscape. But maybe that’s the nature of any space exploration; the necessity of the futuristic to study the ancient.
As I and look down into the mirrored floor I am surprised to see the ceiling and I am momentarily confused about what is up and what is down. I return to a favourite childhood question: do Australians know they are upside down?
To create this exhibition Walsh has travelled to the other side of the globe twice. What stands out here is the attention to detail, skill and consideration she has put into the work. The beauty of the imagery compels us to stop and take some time to consider our place in the universe.
Images are courtesy of the artist.