Reflections on Penny Coss: Pendulum Acts
For The Long Kiss Goodbye six artists transform familiar materials and symbols into complex meditations on attraction, repulsion, loss and hope.
The following observations are by Jenny Scott, a member of the inaugural Visual Arts Writing Group.
The Long Kiss Goodbye runs until 9 May at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery.
Image: The Long Kiss Goodbye Opening, cr. Ilkka K Photography
OBSERVATIONS BY JENNY SCOTT
Penny Coss will return to her artworks in The Long Kiss Goodbye to gently reveal, move and remove them over a series of distinct performances.
From a raised platform that will form the bedrock of her installation, Coss plans to repeatedly reconfigure the collaged arrangement of her works in front of an audience.
Perhaps the artist will unpin a canvas from the wall to reveal another beneath, or gently fold an un-stretched painting, or slowly manoeuvre an awkwardly bulky sculptural form from one end of the stage to the other. At the time of writing, these performances are only loosely choreographed – we will need to attend all three events to find out.
By continuing to rearrange the unstable landscape of her installation after the exhibition has opened, Coss poses a challenge to the idea of her artworks as immutable objects, or ‘final products’. Instead, the artist gestures to impermanence. In the space of the art museum, with its ethos of conservation and preservation, Coss reminds us that things don’t last.
As she touches and rearranges her artworks, Coss’ onstage actions could be seen to mirror her typical movements at work in the studio. This is an opportunity to watch an artist physically interact with her creations – although as Coss stands on a stage in front of an anticipating audience, the performative nature of her gestures will remain clear. This theatrical context changes how we encounter the associated artworks – a large hanging canvas sheet may begin to resemble a stage backdrop, while the papier-mâché forms on the floor become ‘props’ to the action.
Image: Penny Coss at The Long Kiss Goodbye Opening, cr. Ilkka K Photography
The shifting art objects, moved around by the unpredictable body of the artist, speak to a subtle slipperiness or a shifting of boundaries. This sense of flux is echoed in the exquisite staining techniques Coss uses to colour her canvases, with their traces of seepage and flow, along with the fluid movements of the fabric works being draped and handled. She seems to be cultivating an atmosphere of gentle unruliness; a reminder that, while they have transcended to their current status as ‘art’, these works can still simply exist as objects in the world.
Coss has said that she sees her work in the studio as an ‘extension’ of the time she spends walking in nature. In these performances, she will be walking through a landscape of her own creation, suggesting linkages between the emotional and physical environment. Perhaps she is signalling that the artistic process is often not a slick, linear path but rather a journey with obstacles, second thoughts, dead-ends and unanswered questions.
Over the course of The Long Kiss Goodbye exhibition different visitors will see different arrangements of Coss’ artworks and, without attending the performances, might not even be aware that any change has occurred. It is only through repeated visits that we will be able to perceive the evolution of the ecology of works on display. In this way, Coss explores the role of memory and the passage of time through the act of returning to a place.
The act of an artist repeatedly returning to their works could be interpreted as joyful; an opportunity for experimentation, second chances and artistic agency. However Coss is also deeply aware of the grief and sense of loss inherent to the inevitability of impermanence. Perhaps, as implied by the title of the show, these performances are a slow gesture to the end – of the installation, the exhibition, everything. Once Perth Festival is over every artwork will leave the gallery and in the words of Coss, ‘things just continue – life goes on’.
The Long Kiss Goodbye is on until 9 May at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery.
Main Image: The Long Kiss Goodbye Opening, cr. Ilkka K Photography
ABOUT JENNY SCOTT
Jenny Scott is an arts writer currently working in a curatorial role at a local social history museum. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts (First Class Honours) from the University of Western Australia and has spent the past ten years working in the arts sector on Whadjuk Noongar boodja.