Gallery: Sculpture: Text by Elizabeth Presa |
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Text by Elizabeth Presa

Calculation of the Rainbow

Spinoza experimented with the exacting art of grinding lenses for microscopes and telescopes. He was fascinated by optics and allegedly wrote a treatise on rainbows. Scholars speculate on how the geometrical structure of this treatise might have been reflected in the form and structure of his Ethics. I approach Spinoza through a phenomenology of glass — of grinding and engraving, of splintering shards and floating particles, of light and water. A multiplicity of words, reflections and prismatic affects gather in the work. A short text by Jean-Luc Nancy ‘Attention: Fragile!’ focuses my perception. (And as I work emails arrive: an Israeli friend writes of the bombings in Lebanon and of his three and a half year old son returning from kindergarten having been taught to hate; in London another friend is shunned by a young man, with whom he has had sex, for loving him; and an Italian student, flying home, sends a text to say goodbye which contains the line, “...snails live and leave in the same place, at the same time”.) Between the fragility of glass and the fragility of bodies, skin, shell, love and democracy the world is stretched to breaking point. Jean-Luc Nancy writes of this. He calls for another sort of attentiveness, an attentiveness that “handles with care”, and I think of Spinoza's delicate hands shaping an exacting world with words, and refracted light. Perhaps this is his Ethics of glass.

Au Fond des Images

This work takes its title from a text by the French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, Au fond des images (Galilée, 2003).

This work is a reminiscence upon the time spent in a small studio with my daughters overlooking the Seine in Paris. It is comprised of the remnants of memories, emotions, sensations, materials, and the often unnoticed traces of daily routines, actions and habits that shaped this time. As such it bears more the sadness of a souvenir than the beauty of work of art.

These fragments — the long dark hair collected from the hair brushes and sink each day, the frayed white satin lining of a summer dress, the tangled fibres and threads of a soft piece of cotton cloth, the puddle of milk — have been gathered, knotted and tied together, laid and poured out as a remapping of this site. The lengths of entwined hair become a rosary of threaded moments, recollected and recited each time anew. In sequence and repetition the knots trace the passages of time shared. Now the remainder of these days, their residue of textures and gestures, synthesise and accrue as images — images somatically imprinted.

This is then “for one who lives all the time there” the ground behind the image.

Moon Water

This installation entitled “Moon Water” includes a sequence of photographs of the moon taken during one night, from my bed overlooking the Seine in Paris. It also includes hundreds of plaster and gauze moulds of jellyfish, and a collection of mirrors whose silver tain has worn away with the passing of time. Each morning, over many weeks in Autumn and Winter, I collected and moulded the large iridescent blue jellyfish that had washed up on the shores of Hampton and Beaumaris on Port Phillip Bay. Within days the luminous blue liquid bodies of the jellyfish evaporated, leaving only a barely perceptible skin clinging to each mould's interior surface. The moulds swarm, face-up, across the floor. The mirrors shimmer like frozen tidal pools at dusk. What was once living and liquid, petrifies to a silvery stillness.

As a forensic medium the plaster gives permanence and shape to that which is transitory, and often concealed. In this work plaster records not only traces of death but also the process of evaporation. The moulding process transforms the voluminous and heavy liquidity of the jellyfish to a state of “weightless grace”. The process exposes all the scratches, wounds, bruising and swellings caused by the turbulence of storms, tides and currents. But what was hidden is now revealed in reverse, as opaque slivers and lumps drawn across delicate epidermal layers of wrinkles and folds embossed with tresses of tentacles and seaweed. The sea's motion inscribed in the soft bodies of the creatures is now frozen, held intact, hardened and set in time.

The photos and moulds bring together a nocturnal scene between two hemispheres; between the sky and the water, and the river and the sea. The alchemist and astrologer Paracelsus believed that the moon impregnates the substance of water with a noxious influence, and that water, which has been exposed to lunar rays for a long time, remains poisoned water. He wrote that the moon gives to those whom it influences a taste for water from the Styx.

The plaster moulds become vessels of white opaque skin — small sepulchres for the delicate remains of creatures that once swarmed in the moonlight. Each takes on the lunar roundness of a face. A face that exposes, with the hard resistance of eyes without protection, what is softest and most uncovered. Like a lunar skin, they reflect the grace and violence of the sea.

Current Project

I am currently working on an installation based on Charles Darwin's Journal of Researches. The installation includes found insects, nests and things, some of which are covered in gold leaf. The title of this work, Distribution of Organic Beings, is an entry from Charles Darwin's Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries visited during the voyage of the HMS “Beagle” round the world. This entry sits between Distribution of Shells and Tameness of the Birds in chapter XVII of the Journal. Following the form of the Journal my work also gathers itself through observations and facts collected during travels round my world.

— April 2007