In recent weeks Tarrawarra Museum has featured an exhibition of “The Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver“. I was aware that this exhibition was happening but in the busy-ness of life I had not managed to make the trip to Tarrawarra. Despite knowing that it was on, I heard about the exhibition recently in a conversation with Patricia Fenner. As she described where she had been and what she had seen, I was envious of her experience – and therefore inspired and encouraged to make time to see this work whilst there was still time. The evening after I heard about the exhibition I made plans to go with a friend.
Upon entering the space my first response was almost one of relief. I breathed deeply as the sculptures seemed to hover gently in the room, inhabiting the place an embodied presence and inviting me to come and see what it was that Oliver had made. I could see what Hannah Fink had meant when she observed that ‘Bronwyn Oliver had that rarest of all skills: she knew how to create beauty.’ Oliver’s commitment to the pursuit of logic in her work was evident in the breadth of artworks that were gathered and offered in this exhibition. Her dedication to the detailed articulation of what she describes as ‘formal, structural and poetic logic’ drew us to wonder about how this work was even possible. Throughout the gallery people moved slowly, as though they were moving in time with the rhythm of the pieces themselves.
As we took time to gaze, I heard audible sounds of breath released by those who were seeing these things alongside me. The depth of the breath and the sound that accompanied it were an expression of something that seemed to require recognition – and so I turned to look at the person who was standing alongside me in this place. As strangers we smiled at one another and laughed. “Don’t you just want to touch it?” she asked. My friend and both laughed freely in response and replied, YES we did! This was such a predictable response to Oliver’s work that there was a collection of materials in a box at reception, so viewers didn’t need to leave the exhibition with an unfulfilled desire to touch.
As my friend and I stood with this stranger we began to talk about the work we were seeing. We enjoyed sharing insights and began to see this artwork in a new way altogether. Whilst I was focused on talking with our new found companions, my friend took a step closer to the work and exhaled slowly but surely – just to see what would happen. There precious tinkling sound as her breath moved through the many copper discs displacing them ever so briefly and setting off a chain of interaction. Those of us who watched were delighted! She had touched the work in a way that had opened a moment of ordinary transcendence – and we waited together whilst the moment remained open.
I had shared a brief but intimate encounter with a dear friend and two people whom I had never met before. The conversation we had shared had nourished us well – and we all knew that we were fortunate to have been able to see The Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver – in this time and place. How good it is to talk about art – the art we make and the art we see. Such conversations invariably lead to creative responses, the confluence of which changes our experience of world, one breath at a time.
Photographs taken by Libby and Patricia, video courtesy of Tarrawarra Museum website: http://www.twma.com.au/exhibition/the-sculpture-of-bronwyn-oliver/