Janine Dello

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Dark Places opening talk by Zoe Freney, Head of Art History, Adelaide Central School of Art


Firstly I too would like to acknowledge the owners of this unceded land, the Kaurna Elders past, present and emerging.


I would like to thank Janine Dello, Kate Dowling and Sharyn Louise Ingham for inviting me to open their exhibition at this beautiful space, the Newmarch Gallery. And, especially on this International Women’s Day weekend, it seems so fitting that the renaming of the Gallery honours artist Ann Newmarch. Ann was a role model for me when I was an art student and a new mother, both undertakings being perhaps questionable career pathway choices, especially both at the same time. As a feminist, an early and leading member of the Women’s Art Movement and a driver of many community art projects here in Prospect, Ann’s work ethic and exploration of her experiences of motherhood in her art were, and still are, inspiring for me and many others.


Dark Places is an exhibition that presents dreamlike, sometimes surrealist imaginings of otherworldly spaces that appeal to our sense of the known and then disconcert it. We look upon reflections of worldly spaces here too, in artworks that make the daily different and strange. Collectively, the artworks in Dark Places cause us to question what we assume to be the emptiness of space, the fixedness of reality and the fastness of physical rules and boundaries. In this show, a flat surface bears the illusion of a room, or opens into a dream, or shows us the vastness of the sky in a shallow puddle. Here, surfaces open into pools for contemplation.


In thinking about reflection and illusion, Kate, Sharyn and Janine invoke Foucault’s essay ‘Of other spaces, Heterotopias,’ from 1967:  For Foucault,

‘The mirror is, after all, a utopia, since it is a placeless place…’

‘In the mirror, I see myself there where I am not, in an unreal, virtual space that opens up behind the surface; I am over there, there where I am not, a sort of shadow that gives my own visibility to myself, that enables me to see myself there where I am absent…’


For the artists here, the mirror space, the virtual world that opens behind the surface, offers a kind of Alice-through-the-looking-glass shift in a sense of space, time and possibility. And in the end maybe what we see are simply aspects of ourselves, reflected back from a new angle.


Janine’s paintings offer intricate layers of looking, through a mirror, through a keyhole, or vicariously through an introspective gaze not our own. We see young women in intimate, domestic settings, not quite alone, at home, never meeting our gaze. The mirror has long been associated with the beauty and vanity of women but here it is the viewer’s own gaze it refracts, as our eyes meet with those of the women’s companions – or guardians? – a bored dog, a watchful cat, a bird with its head cocked on the side so it can stare back at us from the placeless place with its bright piercing eye. The always alert animal gaze turned on us adds to the sense that we have been caught, looking, and we are reflected to ourselves.


Kate’s paintings offer a glimpse into an otherworldly space, a treacle-thick space inhabited by glamourous women, frozen, timeless like characters from Cindy Sherman’s film stills. They are surrounded by the ghostly silhouettes of rabbits or hares that dart about the picture plane – creating a strong tension between movement and stillness. Looking at Kate’s paintings is like half remembering the movement of a flickering dream, when you’re lying still in bed. The filmic dream-like quality may be the result of Kate’s use of photographs of films as source material for these works. The layered mediation of the images freezes frames of narrative sequences to catch a fleeting expression, an unintended moment lengthening into time and space. Like a dream of falling into an Other world.


In Sharyn’s paintings and installation, the expanse of the sky seen in a muddy puddle brings us back to earth. If you go walking through bushland on a wet day you may be surprised to see the sky at your feet, bounded by the eucalypt canopy, a dizzying inversion of the right way up. Take this moment of surprise to imagine yourself as standing in a continuum between the sky and the earth, situated within a series of complex ecological systems. We share this vibrant space with the more than human world. The world looks back like a poet returning the gaze of a lover, ‘My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears’ (John Donne, The Good Morrow, 1633)


Foucault writes that space isn’t empty at all but, ‘… thoroughly imbued with quantities and perhaps thoroughly fantasmatic as well. The space of our primary perception, the space of our dreams and that of our passions hold within themselves qualities that seem intrinsic: there is a light, ethereal, transparent space, or again a dark, rough, encumbered space; a space from above, of summits, or on the contrary a space from below of mud; or again a space that can be flowing like sparkling water, or space that is fixed, congealed, like stone or crystal.’


Perhaps these are internal spaces, inner landscapes, mapped here for us by Sharyn, Kate and Janine. At the same time I think they ask us to look closely outside of ourselves at the teeming spaces of the world. Please enjoy this exhibition, I know I have.