Endgame: A Simple Matter of Balance

Gallery 14, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Queensland

Lyn Plummer: Manipulation of Tradition
by Michel Sourgnes

'What is sculpture?', one may ask. Initially to sculpt meant to carve with a chisel. What does a sculptor attempt to do? - to free a volume and mass into space and to give it form and movement. The articulation of different structural elements, their spatial development, are the support for the skin - the sculptural form. The work, unlike painting, has to be resolved from all angles, hence the appellation of three-dimensional work.

This approach, with its principal concern for volume, mass, movement and form, is the oldest tradition in sculpture. It started with early man and is still current. Some of the best remembered artists from this tradition are Praxiteles, Michelangelo and Rodin.

In 1931 Julio Gonzales, then living and working in Paris, wrote: 'To project and draw in space with the help of new means, to take advantage of this space and to compose with it, as though one were dealing with a newly acquired material - that is all I attempt to do in sculpture'. This in turn led to the idea of sculpture as a drawing in space, exemplified in works by artists such as David Smith, Anthony Caro and, in Australia, Ron Robertson-Swann, Ian McKay and Jan King.

From the late 1960s, a reaction against pretty work, the prevailing aesthetics and increasing commercialisation engendered a new movement called Arte Povera. Arte Povera expresses an approach to art which is basically anti-commercial, precarious banal and anti-formal. This movement is concerned primarily with the physical qualities of the medium and the mutability of the materials. Its importance is in the artist's engagement with every day material and its interpretation of the perceived 'reality' in a way which is subtle, elusive, private and intense.

The best Australian examples of Arte Povera were created in the landscape, hence their name 'environmental sculpture', and were focal points at the Mildura Sculpture Triennials of 1975 and 1978. The main artists involved in this approach were John Davis, Marr Grounds and Ken Unsworth.

In the past thirty years, Australian sculpture has been submitted to these three influences. The 1960s may be defined as the decade of steel sculpture; the 1970s were influenced by the Arte Povera and environmental sculpture; and the 1980s saw the re-emergence of more traditional approaches to mass, volume and form. After a decade of experimentation in the 1970s, there was a decade of consolidation. This adaption of sculptural traditions is displayed in works created by artists such as Tom Risley, Bruce Armstrong, David Wilson, Lou Lambert, Victor Meertens, Fiona Orr and Lyn Plummer.

Risley and Meertens emphasise the role of volume/mass in a sculpture while using materials which are found. For them, to some extent, the material creates the work. Orr and Lambert balance mass (and matter) with space within the work, while still using non-sculptural material. Wilson frees volume and mass into space by dictating his will upon the material. Plummer moves freely between and 'manipulates' these traditions. She creates works which address notions of volume, mass and levity, which are 'drawings in space', while being heavily indebted to the Arte Povera philosophy. She pushes the notions of interplay between matter and space by using translucent material, thus altering again any volume/ mass/space relationship.

I became acquainted with Plummer's work in 1983 at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne. The work she exhibited then is still in my memory. It was a very personal work and resolved as a sculpture. Her works, seen alongside works by other Australian artists, are proof of the growth, strength and innovation which are the marks of contemporary sculpture in Australia.

Michel Sourgnes © 1990
Curator (Contemporary Australian Art)