Exhibition News

O'Possum Skin Cloaks And Narrbongs - Lorraine Connelly-Northey at Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi (2007)

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Published Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Rusty sheet metal, springs and feathers come together once again in this very bold, confident exhibition by one of Australia's most exciting, emerging artists.

It was only two years ago, in August 2005 that I first came across the work of Lorraine Connelly-Northey. It was a relatively unknown exhibition at the Linden Centre for the Contemporary Arts in Melbourne, simply titled Cross Currents .

Her exhibited works were clever variations of narrbong (string bags), reinterpreted as small wire baskets lined with coloured parrot feathers. They were not just beautiful but witty and extremely unusual. All of her works in that exhibition were small whimsical pieces, but they promised a bigger vision for her future art practice, one that encompassed modern sculpture within a broadly indigenous sensibility - that is, she didn't produce the more typical wooden poles, figures or shields, but preferred working with rusty metal objects found in local tips.

In November that year, she held a popular and well received solo exhibition Gathering,at Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi which continued the theme of her exploration of the unique sculptural variations inspired by the traditional forms of narrbongs and possum skin cloaks.

While a projection based on her past exhibitions might have prepared us for her maturing vision and mastery of her sculptures these works in the current exhibition O’Possum Skin Cloaks And Narbongs are stunning.

For, in this show, Connelly-Northey has increased the scale of the individual works, particularly the narrbongs, into bold sculptural pieces. The realisation of her previous works into these bold, tough and quite beautiful assemblages and sculptures shows Connelly-Northey has emerged as an artist of some importance to the Australian art scene.

Right now she is really producing tough works - both aesthetically and materially and her boldness with working with abandoned objects brings to mind the work of Rosalie Gascoigne.
Lorraine Connelly-Northey - image

Perhaps one of the most beautiful pieces in this exhibition is the Woven Mat - a glorious rusty disc with the characteristic fibres radiating out into space. It is almost like looking at the sun through a smoke filled sky, and your eyes keep being drawn to this big burning disc. But, it is also the dry humour in these works, as typified by Woven Mat indicating the way in which the artist interprets her own work, by both acknowledging her links to her Aboriginal heritage and her interest in bringing traditional indigenous objects into a contemporary art practice.
Lorraine Connelly-Northey - image

The O'Possum cloaks are better resolved in this exhibition - their reference to the traditional wraps that Victorian and Tasmanian Aborigines wore are visually striking. Not only is the reference absorbing but the metal objects are unique in their form and attain a sense of both delicacy and durability. The detail in each object also contributes to the integrity of design and vision - the stitching of panels together in a manner similar to the O'Possum pelts in the original cloaks is part of the success. But there is something else about the cloaks that contributes to their success - many of the pieces resolve better visually than in the past, perhaps it s the choice of materials and that the artist has a better control of the materials and their assembly as she gains experience. And at the heart of her imagery lies the tough metaphor of renewal - taking unwanted elements and creating something new of value. It is a statement that might be interpreted as one of cautious optimism for the future of indigenous people in Australia.

Lorraine Connelly-Northey - image

Lorraine Connelly-Northey is working with unparalleled innovation in the sculpture - this isn't just contained to the indigenous art basket but in the broader Australian art movement. In many ways she is treading a similar path to Rosalie Gascoigne (1917-1999) and producing tough, bold and innovative works.

For more information about this Lorraine Connelly-Northey:

Martin Shub, May 2007.

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