Taut: An Exhibition Review
The first work, Untitled, introduces Ally’s admiration of humble materials. Jute thread is woven randomly through a single sheet of paper mounted on the wall. This work prefaces Ally’s appreciation of form, and the juxtapositions of organic and linear, chaotic and planned which permeate the exhibition. Untitled also establishes a theme of interdependency which recurs throughout the works in Taut: if one loop of thread were to be pulled it would affect every other loop and alter the entire work.
In the central work, Standing, several wooden stakes balance upside down, supported somewhat from below by the floor and from above by a length of string attached to the ceiling. Leaning and unevenly spaced, the precariousness of the stakes is accentuated by the solid structural pole around which they gather in the centre of the gallery space. If one stake fell in this arrangement, a dominoes affect would most likely occur. We become aware of our own movements as we approach the work. Any move could be the wrong one.
The strongest work of the show, Hold, is also the most precise. A linear pattern of strings covers the length of the largest wall, loose nails providing the points of tension. If one nail falls, the entire work would unravel. So Hold also has the highest stakes, so to speak. The pattern of the string relies fully on the nails as a stopper, and in turn the nails rely fully on the tension of the string to keep them in place. I want to see this work on an even larger scale, to enhance the sense of tension and anticipation, along with the potential for error.
The success of Taut is its simple visual metaphors which speak of the fragility of support systems: who is there for us? Are we expected to know the rules and survive on our own? In systems where rules have already been set, either social rules or rules of gravity, we have little choice but to navigate them regardless of how little sense they make or support they afford us. Using simple materials linked to building and construction, Ally reflects on her own vulnerabilities and the resilience required to constantly stay upright against the pressure to collapse and fall within these systems.
Taut was the product of a three-month residency at Wreckers Artspace in Brisbane’s Woolloongabba. Operating out of a renovated bike wreckers workshop, the gallery maintains a sense of industrial utilitarianism that necessarily informs the artwork displayed within. The de-functionalising of a workshop that is no longer used for such a purpose is mirrored in Ally’s use of construction materials; despite the angst and the tension of the works, they do, in the end, render their materials functionless and purposeless. A vague sense of ‘what’s the point of all this?’ comes through the works in the space. For such precisely constructed arrangements like the works in this show and the routines of daily life, the ultimate outcome remains unknown.
Taut is a maturing of Ally’s practice. There is a confidence in the works that we can perhaps partly attribute to the artist working in the space in the months leading up to the exhibition. While much of Ally’s work typically integrates text in some form, Taut relies fully on visual metaphors that speak clearly and powerfully on their own. The restraint in the choice of just three works in the space carries over the deliberacy showcased in the works themselves and emphasises the tension and the gaps. The negative space is just as potent as the positive.
Taut invites us into a beautiful balancing act between tension, failure and endurance. It’s an act we have all at some point been familiar with. Despite their cautiousness, Ally's quiet constructions are a determination to make things work. They embrace fragility and speak of growth and adaptation to new environments.