Opening Address

Anne Mallaby's opening address for the Caught in the Moment exhibition

The Caught in the Moment Exhibition was opened at the Centre for Theology & Ministry on 17 October, 2015.

The opening address was delivered by Anne Mallaby. These are her words.


Thank you to all you artists who have caught us in your moments. Indeed, within moments of walking into the gallery space on Wednesday, I was caught. I found myself wondering about this intriguing interaction between art which is held within a frame, contained within a space, seeking to capture a moment, and the other end of the spectrum, where art itself extends the moment, both for the artist and for the viewer. This is art which demands a process to come to be, as well as reaches toward a viewer which to extend its reach. So both process and moment co-exist in the space, and that is intriguing.

Congratulations to all of you for challenging me further.

Engaging with art as an intentional process is critical in extending beyond a glance to seeing. James Elkins wonders about the use of terms to describe these ways of seeing. He considers the term glance almost as akin to blindness, claiming “intense interest and intense disinterest both result in quick looks that see relatively little.”(1) He contrasts this with the word glimpse, “because in a glance we see only for a second, and in a glimpse the object shows itself only for a second.”(2) The notion is that when we glance at something, our eyes may fix only for a moment before we are distracted, but in a glimpse something is revealed that catches us and extends us, and elevates our seeing and insight.

Consider for a moment Karin Till’s video work, Walk the Talk. She describes sitting in a coffee shop, where the potential to glance at people wandering along a street, was challenged by the invitation to see, to engage. The figures reveal themselves extending those who see to really consider who they are; people seeking refugee from Turkey and Syria, seeking a pathway that is their human right. This revealing is itself transformative, as layer by layer the visuals move us to recognize the layers of human story that form the montage of our own human story.

Diana Gilbert’s Wilderness Tarns does a similar thing. The temptation is to glance, and not see, especially because of the miniature scale of this watercolour. But by allowing the work to beckon, to call out, and reveal itself to you, it reveals layer upon layer, of change and movement and depth.

In Michael Donnelly’s painting, Splash, there is this glimpse of a bike rider who ‘happens’ to notice a dog in just the right moment. This notion of ‘chance’ – a happening – is bedded in such moments, which when attended to, invite us to attend to the various minutia of life with all their nuance.

One work which particularly grabbed me as it holds this sense of mystery and moment closely together is that of Jan Garood’s Tea Bag Quilt. How exquisite to see this delicate, airy, almost ephemeral media, stitched together in the minutia of dailiness. The mundane and the mystery expressed in tea-cups and feathers, in the glimpses of birds and the savouring of hospitality. Your work, Jan, took me to Judith Wright’s poem, Grace, “Living is dailiness, a simple bread that’s worth the eating…”, that unfolds into this profound connection between the simplicity of our living and the mystery of God breaking through to extend meaning into such moments. Thank you.

The meditative, stilling of moment upon moment, prayer upon prayer is held so beautifully in a number of works, – Mary McCowan’s Moments, Marina Holland’s BabyGro 2001, and Christine MacDowall’s Peace with Cyclamen. The materials themselves create the moment… and for Christine, to take this vintage paper – salvaged from moments long gone – and claim it to connect moments as meditative practice, and hence allow both the present and the mystery to be, is beautiful.

And that is the thing, isn’t it, that there is the dimension of time that is present in the moment? … but it is not static time, that passes with the ticking of the clock – chronos time, contained and linear. But time, the leaning into infinity, the extending of time into Kairos, the God moments, those moments that are caught, and that catch us.

Rachel Peter’s work, Take this Cup, does that. In this meditative and dream-like painting, where the moment transcends time, as it is held in memory, both eucharistically, in suffering and in transcendence. Thank you, Rachel, for holding a remembrance of time, for taking the tragic moment of the life and death of Myuran Sukamaran and Andrew Chan, and allowing them to be held in Kairos.

It is intriguing to consider both the playful and the sober, the weighty in these moments. Consider for a moment Kate Richardson’s exploration of pain, in her painting, Flight: But I am Wingless, as that which catches, constrains and constricts; a pain which closes down time, where moments extend in suffering. Consider this alongside Graham Willoughby’s work, Caught Running Late. The statement intrigued me. At first sight, the work seems playful, and in the beautiful and exquisite style of decorative watercolour we recognise in Graham’s work. But look carefully, and observe humanity, where beauty and potency sit closely together, in an almost dangerous pose, where some are on the verge of not waiting any more. The frustration of those who are close to giving up, feeling the impatience to act, or frozen in indecision about how to act, challenges the viewer.

There is something about being caught in a moment that allows us to almost hover in time. Consider Helen Cannon’s landscape, Follow, where you gain an aerial view, a glimpse of a landscape stretching beyond the canvas, broad in scope, and yet complex and detailed in its lines and movement. In hovering, we look both far and near.

 

Shadow

Above: Sheena Jones, Shadow, digital image
Image on the ‘landing page’: Deborah Lasky-Davison, Arachnid, acrylic

And that is the thing about being caught in the moment, it is multi-dimensional. We are aware of being situated on various planes, and in various times. Eleni Rivers, with her ancient rocks which teeter precariously, also captures the depth and distance in her landscape, Grotto Rock. This multidimensional moment, skilfully expressed to offer both depth and time, allows the perspective of our own moment, our own encounter to occur.

Kaye Shanks does something of this too. I’m curious about how this landscape, of sea sky and land meet here in the experience of her daughter playing joyfully at the beach. If there were not an insert, if there were not an overlay of the human encounter, would there be a moment? In Laura at the Beach, I found myself pondering that sense of the sea meeting the land, when there are none to witness it. I’m intrigued how Kaye has captured our anthropocentric reality, very simply overlaid here and celebrated, yet it is transient, temporary. This is about me in the landscape, experiencing a moment. And yet it is also about me not in the landscape, and there still being moments.

I am curious about how the imagination is present in the moment. Ponder what Jeanette Acland presents, as she takes just a passing reference, a line or two, in the Annunciation, and allows the moment to guide her. She proposes what several imagined encounters might have looked like. Staying in the moment, this one encounter transcends its limits; it allows you as artist, and me as viewer, to extend toward wonder. Sally McFague writes:

We use what we have, who we are, where we are to grope toward what we dimly feel, think and envision we might have, who we might be, where we might be. We do this through a process in which the imagination is the chief mover, setting the familiar in an unfamiliar context so that new possibilities can be glimpsed. The future is never an abstraction totally unrelated to our particular and familiar presents and pasts.(3)

I think Sheena Jones’ Shadow does this, playing as it does in that connection between the expected and unexpected, the anticipated and the surprise. There is this sense in which the moment is both. I pondered how Sheena might actually scratch beneath the surface to glimpse something which draws her further and further, to more and more.

But there are maybe some surprises that many of us would rather not experience. Who has not been driving and seen a huntsman crawl across the windscreen, and known what it is like to be frozen… caught in a moment? But, Deborah Lasky-Davison’s Arachnid is not sinister, it is not threatening. It’s big, and its bold, painted with free-abandon, and in being like this, it invites the viewer, and probably the artist, to surrender, to abandon presuppositions and be immersed in the experience. The bold strokes and the fabulous textures prompt us to look further, to see more, and to experience awe.

I would like also to comment on the range of techniques, from oils to textiles, brushes to stitches, from still to moving images. It’s a wonderful breadth of media. Take a moment to notice some of the lines that move on paper, and draw the eye in. The pen work, for example, in Liz Johnson’s landscape, Mickey’s Beach, Tasmania, is beautiful. Remember, we can’t be caught in a moment until we are drawn within it to see.

Congratulations! You have caught us in your moment. I declare the exhibition open.


Rev. Dr. Anne Mallaby lectures in Pastoral Studies at Whitley College, and is a minister sharing leadership at Box Hill Baptist Church, where she initiated the Chapel on Station Art Gallery. Anne invites us to engage in art as theological conversation. She has been a friend and encouraging inspiratrix of the VicTas Art and Spirituality Network.
(1) James Elkins, The Object Stares Back  (San Diego: Harvest, 1997) p.206
(2) James Elkins, The Object Stares Back  p.207
(3) Sallie McFague, Speaking in Parables  p.57