Kylie Stilman's exhibition 'The Informal Garden', 2005.

story illustration
Published Tuesday, 12 July 2005

Kylie Stillman's exhibition reveals an artist with the technical facility to create these lovely objects within an intriguing intellectual framework.
Kylie Stillman – exhibition at Gertrude Street Artists’ Space, June 2005

At first the eye is uncertain as to what you are seeing – is the object printed, drawn or carved on the books? Then as you approach another step or two the image resolves and delicately carved spaces appear to be niches waiting the replenishment of the subject – either life sized birds or bonsais. The carved facia of the book is a mould for the endless replication and duplication of the subject - an anachronism out of step with our age of digital rather than the outdated forms of mechanical replication. And yet it isn’t just the subject’s mould but also a reference to a host of issues about the transmission of information through our media.

The viewer is invited to consider the relationship between books as information transmitters and the secreting of objects within roughly carved spaces within the books as you might see in a film or newspaper cutting, where an object is interred from all but the genuine recipient’s gaze.

Ornithological and botanical books are a common meeting place for packaging art and information – we can reflect on the botanical or ornithological subject’s absence – their hidden details including information about its colour and texture lost from transmission.

The artist, in an unpublished essay on this exhibition states that:
Like the experience of visiting a zoo enclosure – not knowing whether to look for a well-camouflaged animal, or give up assuming the enclosure is in fact empty... The viewer may begin to ponder the function of the altered object – is it a memorial to a plant that once existed, a smuggling device for a precious species, a botanist’s tool or an object a child uses for keeping secret pets?

Such is the viewer’s position that you could consider the artist has stolen the object from us, the objects’ recessed essence clean shaved from its existence – however you could not walk away from the exhibits without contemplating the exquisite skill and finish that make these pieces desirable in their own right.

The bonsais carved from the leading edge of a stack of books creates a grid like effect that contains the spreading limbs and foliage as they rest on an oriental inspired base - referencing themes that string all the way back to European artists including Delacroix, Matisse and Van Gogh who explored their interest in Japanese woodblocks in their own work by flattening the picture space using panels of colour.

Yellow-throated Honeyeater Bonsais

Again, within the Western development of sculpture the artist has played on the importance of balancing space and solids or voids and mass – investigations that were central to the work of the twentieth century sculptors such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

Kylie Stillman’s exhibition is a successful resolution of all these themes – but most of all it reveals an artist with the technical facility to create these lovely objects within an intriguing intellectual framework.

Reviewed by Martin Shub, July 2005.

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