From the show catalogue “MOVING IMAGERY”, published by the Goulburn Regional Art Gallery in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name, October 2011. Available for purchase from the gallery: show-special price $10; $20 thereafter.


CREATIVE CHANNELS

Some twenty years ago Kaye Mahoney moved to New York from Sydney to pursue her art. In the city once described as a ‘granite beehive, where people jostle and whir like molecules in an overheated jar…’1 her artistic direction developed a language of its own.

The frenetic activity of the city suited Mahoney, who is never complacent, who thrives on ideas and on new ways of doing things. Yet the final repository of all that inspiration is in art that conveys harmony and serenity. Here is work of ethereal beauty. Abstract paintings such as Elemental Arrangement and Trios draw on a tradition of minimalism and expressionism practised by artists across continents — the Russian suprematist Malevich, American minimalists Agnes Martin and Robert Ryman, Emily Kngwarreye from Utopia in the Northern Territory and Australian landscape painter Fred Williams, to name a few. For some viewers, the aesthetic quality of Mahoney’s works may be all they need to satisfy their senses and to transport them beyond the mundane.

For those who wish to delve further, Mahoney’s art has much to offer. She has given us road maps, scores and frames to prompt diverse experiences of perception using our eyes, ears, minds and memories. Mahoney wants us to spend enough time with her art so that we start to move between dimensions: ‘My work aims at being pithy; initially it is spare but in the next instant it invokes other levels of forceful expression.’

 

These multiple layers in Mahoney’s art and thinking are reflected throughout this show, aptly named MOVING IMAGERY. Finely balanced, uncluttered paintings such as Riverline and Mountain Air 3 contain many points of view: panorama, landscape, aerial scan, map, musical score and microscopic vision. In the silent Interior videos, inanimate objects coexist in the same time and space while undergoing, at different rates, their own process of change (through light and human intervention).

Human Multiple 8 x ∞/12 is an example of how Mahoney plays with the idea that multiplicity exists in singularity. What initially appears as one abstract painting turns out to be double-sided, viewable in eight different aspects (‘right’ side up, upside down, back and front, in both portrait and landscape orientation) repeated twelve times, with all 96 frames encapsulated in a continuous loop in a video progression. Mahoney dubs this an ‘infographic of the inaccuracies of the human being as a copying machine’.

2.5 Dimensional Composition #4, Double sided/oil on Plexiglas, 14” x 16”, 41cm x 35cm

And the seemingly still 2.5 Dimensional Compositions move out from the picture plane towards the third dimension by virtue of Mahoney’s multilayered and double-sided painting technique. These colourful abstractions on thick Plexiglas were painted since Mahoney moved back to Australia. They reflect the power the Antipodean light exerts on visual artists. Another strong influence on Mahoney’s work is her affinity with music. A leitmotif in this exhibition is her impulse to interpret music visually, (though in the case of the Pleinair series, it was her silent imagery that inspired Australian composer, Tim Smith, to write the score, which now accompanies these works). Mahoney uses not only light, tone and shape but also dimensions and the moving image to give us her interpretation of music. Her Gymnopedie is ‘a visual performance of Erik Satie’s seminal piece, wherein piano music unfolds through aqueous dabs of red, blue and yellow paint; they float on a sheet of staves before dissolving evanescently together like musical chords…’. This visualisation is suggestive of synesthesia, in which one sensory experience of sound, for instance, translates into a different sense of colour. Like other painters, she finds a parallel between abstract art and music, but as the reviewer John Zeaman has pointed out, for Mahoney, ‘the relationship is more direct. Her dots, looping lines and seemingly random colours are records of how she experiences the music’2.

The focus on music is not just sensory; Mahoney wants to explore how music is made. In MOVING IMAGERY it is in the Trio series that she explores the process of composition and improvisation. These still, silent paintings were created primarily through experimentation and the incorporation of the unintended. They call to mind the strategies and philosophy of John Cage, a proponent of aleatoric music, in which some element of the composition is left to chance. The dominance of serene white is disturbed only by markings in a neutral palette modulated by layers of scumbled3 whites. This leaves an impression of silence – the kind of silence which resonates with Cage’s composition 4’33, in which he instructs performers not to play their instrument throughout three movements of a score. Instead the audience hears the sounds of the environment in which they are listening.

Mahoney’s art crystallises philosophical musings that tussle with truth, existence and perception. Take for instance the installation, An Arrangement of Notes, where Mahoney arranges her artistic ‘notes’ in types of catalogues: shelves in a library, a map-like grid, web pages or the staff lines and boxes for a musical score. ‘I have juxtaposed images, objects, sounds, tools, words and ideas in the hope that people adopt them as a springboard for their own creative interpretations.’ What is presented here includes the artist’s own source material: colour pigments arranged in chromatic sequence; a solid glass muller for grinding pigments and a blurred fresco called Leonetto’s Garden (created in her days as a muralist); works tending towards the conceptual (for example Massively Grave, which is made up of ready-made heart trinkets buried in sand); sound and video pieces; and works by influential artist friends. With one textbased piece, Fragile Lie, Mahoney manipulated ready-made “FRAGILE” packing tape so that an underlying “LIE” is perceptible. The play on words makes us think about the essential fragility of a lie. An Arrangement of Notes also pays homage to conceptual influences on Mahoney. In a nod to both the iconoclasm of Dada and the strategies of John Cage and poet Jackson Mac Low (another who was predisposed to working with chance) one piece in the installation, Dada by Word, is a type-face sequence of the letters d a d a produced in the order available from a Microsoft word menu and mounted on a readymade art panel branded with a sticker image of the Mona Lisa. In Spoken Passage the titles of works from An Arrangement of Notes were recorded randomly to counterbalance the deliberative element involved in arranging the notes.

A crucible for many ideas and experimentation, this installation is an echo of Mahoney’s artistic journey. In 1995 Mahoney gained a Masters of Fine Art (MFA) from the New York Academy of Art, an institution that espouses technical rigour and the idea that the artist must learn to control the medium. In tandem with the MFA she studied fresco painting at Il Laboratorio per Affresco in Italy. This too was a part of her technical grounding — but with a difference. The fresco technique must be quick and it is multilayered. With its time limitations, it is somewhat performative in nature.4 There is plenty of room for imperfection — and improvisation if need be. While working primarily as a muralist Mahoney found herself drawn to a circle of artists and intellectuals whose aesthetics were antithetical to her classical grounding. Most of the members of this circle — Jean Dupuy, Alison Knowles, Larry Miller, Christian Xatrec, Olga Adorno5 — are associated with the Fluxus movement6 and the influence of experimental composer John Cage. Their work highlights the role of chance, happenings, performance and event scores in the creative process. Confronted with these liberating strategies, Mahoney created assemblages, videos and mixed-media works to explore their impact on the painting process and to express her ideas. Like a classically trained musician, she was able to apply the technical rigour of her academic education to the conversion of chance into art.

Sometimes Mahoney’s artistic role becomes that of the musical conductor or theatre director. She seeks help with technical processes7 while keeping control of the vision or laying the ground for creative activity that, paradoxically, can include unintended happenings and mistakes. Thus, the videos you see in this exhibition (with the exception of Storm) are unedited. The Pleinair progressions, for example, are not a sequential animation but a meld of stop-motion photography. Every painterly and photographic accident is revealed in the order they happened, as is the effect of moving outdoor light. In this way, the Pleinair series perhaps harks back to what was the radicalism of the Impressionists, who took their easels out of the academy and depicted light as they saw it in the field.

Fluxus artist, Ken Friedman, has explained that one of the movement’s central notions is that of ‘intermedia’8. With strong foundations in music, Zen, design and architecture, as well as performance, for Fluxus artists, the use of technology is not an end in itself but rather the means by which to express philosophical concepts. MOVING IMAGERY is one manifestation of this thinking. Mahoney does not allow technology to dictate or complicate the direction of art. One of its most important functions is to make visible the evolution of an idea into art. And so, paintings that had once been her sole medium are now just one, albeit a vocal, element of the entire creative process. They join a cast of videos, assemblages, found objects, ready-mades, custom-mades, sounds, words and music that make up this exhibition.

MOVING IMAGERY represents Kaye Mahoney’s strong drive to absorb, experiment and express. Her sophisticated and thought-provoking work touches on the mysteries of perception. We are invited to interpret the same thing in different ways, to appreciate how multiple viewpoints can exist in the one, to blur dimensions of being, and to feel music in what we see.

  — Francesca Beddie (based on interviews with the artist)

Francesca Beddie is an author and reviewer whose articles appear in journals and newspapers including The Australian, The Australian Book Review and the Canberra Times. She is a current member of the Professional Historians Association (NSW) and The Australian Society of Authors.  She previously served as an Australian diplomat in Indonesia, Russia and Germany.

 1 Nigel Goslin, http://thoughts.forbes.com/thoughts/ nigel-goslin

2 John Zeaman, Newark Star Ledger, 16 November 2009 http://www.nj.com/entertainment/arts/index. ssf/2009/11/newarks_sumei_center_reborn_in.html (viewed 6 September 2011)

3 Scumbling is a painting technique where a thin or broken layer of colour is brushed over another so that patches of the colour beneath show through.

4 Fresco is an ancient painting technique popular during the Italian Renaissance in which ground pigments are painted into wet plastered walls made with lime and sand. As the wall dries the pigments are permanently bonded into the plaster. In order to achieve the effects of ‘buonfresco’ the artist is limited to painting while the plaster is wet – usually between six to eight hours.

5 These artists are represented in the Emily Harvey Foundation see http://www.emilyharveyfoundation. org/collection.html

6 Fluxus is an international network of artists, composers and designers established in the 1960s, whose blending of different artistic media and disciplines into art challenges the control and precision of traditional academic painting.

7 Mahoney relied on her husband Scott Hull to do the photography and digital processing of the video progressions. Musician and sound artist Boyd worked on the sound activation for An Arrangement of Notes. 8 Ken Friedman, Forty Years of Fluxus, http://www. artnotart.com/fluxus/kfriedman-fourtyyears.html (viewed 24 August 2011)