What art is, in reality, is this missing link, not the links which exist. It's not what you see that is art; art is the gap.
Marley Dawson creates sculptures and installations that highlight aspects of our world and selves that can be uncanny, surreal and extraordinary. Working in the field of kinetic sculpture, Dawson's work plays on the transformation of real-world objects into new formations of themselves: brass exoskeletons of previously functional objects or furniture become 'ghosts' of themselves, their past lives discreet and reimagined. The expectation for a slick, smoothed-over sculptural practice falls away as the bones and insides are laid bare.
In hum, Dawson’s first exhibition following his first international museum solo exhibition ghosts, at the Phillips Collection, Washington DC in 2021, the power of the original object is transformed, a ready-made is re-made and Marcel Duchamp may be turning in his grave. Dawson’s ability to play with space, a sort of oscillatory trick, where the objects almost appear as they once were as our minds, our imagination, fill in the blanks allowing the recognisable shapes to flesh out. Finely polished brass rods, threads of metal hold large objects together, the weightlessness of their form floating in space.
hum is the continuation of a body of work Dawson created for ghosts, where he responded to the unique domestic environment of the Phillips Collection, which holds some of the most revered paintings of the past 100 years. hum reflects Dawson's respectful ambivalence for 'great art' where instead, he pays attention to the subtle moments that make experiences memorable: the chair that the docents rest on (Chair (for levitation), 2020), the smell of a place where people once smoked (Ashtray, 2021), the physics of making a painting (Hum, 2021).
The Phillips Collection, America’s first museum of modern art, was opened in 1921 in historic Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, by collector and philanthropist Duncan Phillips. When the collection first opened to the public a specially designed room was added onto the second floor of the family home to show selections from their growing 237-work collection in this now home-cum-gallery. In an ode to this historic relationship of domesticity and art, who art is made for and the stories it holds, Dawson’s sculptures become memorials to the things in a museum one would not necessarily notice, directing our attention to the process and experience of viewing art.
Dawson’s sculptures simultaneously embody presence and absence, past and future. Chair (for levitation), 2020 is both the outline of something that once was or a model of something yet to be realised. In Ashtray, 2021, within the banality of a smoker’s ashtray now elevated in memoriam in luxurious solid brass, we witness history reborn.
As Duchamp’s states, ‘art is… this missing link, not the links which exist… art is the gap.’ Here the gap, the presence of space between two solid components, the absence of presence is where the magic happens. ‘The gap’ becomes Dawson’s play on perception, where the spaces between are highlighted, and realms of liminality explored.
In this gap, this space, a marvellous revelation of mechanisation occurs as workmanship and craft come to the foreground and the kinesis of Dawson's practice is exposed. Sound and movement become integral components in hum where some of the work quite literally 'hums':
“When people talk about Louis, and abstract work in general, they often use words like ‘hum.’ You know: ‘The colours vibrate.’ So, the work I made hums, and vibrates. It does for me the things that I’m meant to see when I look at a painting.”
In Hum, 2021, a wall-mounted sculpture consisting of hundreds of brass rods arranged on a brass track oscillates and shifts. This mechanical wall work was inspired by the gravitational painting process of Morris Louis, an artist of the Washington Colour School, whose process was a refutation of the trademark gesture of the Abstract Expressionists. Here we are compelled to imagine the once vibrant colour of Louis’ original painting, the radiance and glow of colour, the feeling generated in such a paintings presence. If one were to stand in front of this painting and imagine what it would say, the retelling of stories once whispered in the Philips’ original home, its inner thoughts, perhaps this is it - painting in its purest form. Its shimmering energy concentrated to an essence of oscillating gold, simmering down to an ever-constant hum. Providing an optical and cerebral illusion, Dawson's work allows for open-ended equations and allusive narratives in which magical shifts of space and form emerge.
Marley Dawson has exhibited extensively in Australia and has presented work internationally in group exhibitions in Paris, Hong Kong and the USA. They include ghosts, Phillips Collection, Washington D.C, USA (2021); Bowerbird: Clinton Bradley and the Art of Collecting, Western Plains Cultural Centre, Dubbo (2018); Future Eaters, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne (2017); Gravity (and Wonder), Penrith Regional Gallery, NSW (2016); Mine Moonlight, Museum of American Glass, Millville, New Jersey, USA (2016); Counter Compositions, Artbank, Sydney (2016); We Pain, Lump - Project space, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA (2015); Solid State, Casula Powerhouse, Sydney (2015); FLEX, Flex Projects, Washington DC, USA (2013); Seven Points (part one), Embassy of Australia, Washington DC, USA (2013), and Redlands Westpac Art Prize, National Art School, Sydney (2012).
Dawson’s solo exhibitions include Explosion/Resolution, Julio Fine Arts Gallery, Loyola University Maryland, Baltimore, USA (2014); Statics and Dynamics, Hemphill, Washington DC, USA (2014); Big Feelings (going nowhere), Hillyer Art Space, Washington DC, USA (2013); Purliey, Awesome Arts Festival, Perth (2009) and ECR (with Christopher Hanrahan), Performance Space, Sydney (2008).
Dawson has also participated in several commission projects such as Construction (Barangaroo), Barangaroo, Sydney (2016); Construction (T Street NW), 5x5 Public Art Project, Washington DC, USA (2014) and MCR (with Christopher Hanrahan), Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart (2011).
hum is Marley Dawson’s sixth solo show at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.