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March 19, 2007 | by  | in Visual Arts | [ssba]

Vanessa Crowe Waz Here

Artist-in-Portal Residency
ROAR! Gallery March 8-24

ROAR! Gallery is known for its outsider art, but I was surprised to discover that an artist by the name of Vanessa Crowe had spent three weeks drawing on the walls in the back room. Crowe, who has just started her Masters in Fine Arts at Massey following on from a textile design career, wanted to see what kind of art would flow from spending three working weeks in the room with office products. Over the usual glass of wine you get at these openings I discussed with her the ideas behind this work of art. I was wanting to know why someone would want to spend three weeks drawing on the walls of a room in an art gallery.

Firstly her method was to decorate the walls with squares and keep it in a modernist context, keeping in mind that modernist artists usually rejected the classical emphasis on aesthetic beauty and often liked to reduce things back to their real forms. But this work was not just about doing things like stripping everything back to the abstract; Vanessa’s goal was to find a common ground bridging what she called the tension between modernism and decoration.

She started by making grid patterns on the walls with a rubber stamp she made for the project, and then coloured them in with ink over the three weeks. It was a pattern that grew and changed over the time she was in her little space.

This work for me had a lot of philosophical impact. Psychologically, one of Crowe’s goals was to make herself less inhibited as a person, the idea being that repetition can be a meditative process. This, however, can have the flip side of making one more regimented as a person. I pointed out to her the works of Franz Kafka, who wrote a lot about the claustrophobia of spaces and the existential alientation that could be created from such a thing that Crowe was attempting.

She hadn’t thought about it in that way when she originally undertook this work; her main focus as she earlier mentioned, was about tension: Could she be modernist and decorative at the same time. Would it take on a life of its own? What information and ideas would come through? Considering her background in textile design, she was predisposed to adornment and prettiness. Keeping the patterns as abstract as possible, she found that an interesting visual impact with lots of philosphical ideas started coming through.

People who commented to her at one of her talks drew the connections to the rhythm of music and patterns that occur when digital files are corrupted. The work also had taken on a 3D quality, as when Vanessa glued numerous cardboard squares on top of each other throughout the project. Someone even thought that the pattern of the squares looked like her freckles! The technical achievement that Crowe has shown with Vanessa Crowe Waz Here is phenomenal. That she didn’t go crazy – or even develop tunnel vision – after spending three weeks drawing on a wall, is a testament to her focus as an artist.

I really enjoyed this work by Vanessa Crowe, because as soon as I walked into her special little room I was entranced and actually felt cosy standing in there. Kafka really went deep into the concepts of spaces and the relationship we can have with them when we are confined to them. Whereas he concentrated on the alienation this can cause, fortunately I felt like I belonged in this room.

Vanessa explained that one of the things about the room was that it accurately relates to architecture and spatial structures. Maybe that was why it felt so comfortable in there. When she e-mailed me her diary notes about her experience working on the project, I was wondering if she recounted any intense feelings, positive or negative.

She didn’t seem to have any really intense experiences, but she did mention that as she was doing it people would come through and ask her why she wasn’t doing other things like colouring in the background as well. I found those comments, interesting because if she had done so, it would have taken the project into a different place.

For instance, her goal to create a tension between modernism and decoration wouldn’t have been achieved without extreme difficulty. She noted that she found these questions challenging and wondered whether her reluctance to take them on meant she was being controlling. I am sure thoughts like these will prove valuable when she completes her thesis. Maybe she should keep experimenting with these concepts in future, as it might help her to the discipline of textile design. If you’re after something a little different, you will be pleased that ROAR! Continues to build on its reputation for outsider art, except this time it’s inside a little room.


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