what we bring with us

In Jean-Paul Sartre’s novel Nausea the narrator repeatedly listens to an American jazz record – Some of these days you’ll miss me honey – and finds it an exemplar of both transience and immortality. A record is a memory. Un ricordo. It goes round and round, its crackly revolutions bringing back what has been forgotten or ghosting what is lost beyond recall. Rescued from a cellar, a shed or a vinyl dealer, a record is a survivor. Latin rhythms, folk wistfulness, the classics, 33 loops per minute for the long players, bowling the past up, full circle, the record’s surface shines, reflecting the viewer’s curiosity. Yet its fine incisions absorb the light of the present in matte black oblivion. The label splits like the moon, dark side and light.

On this unlikely surface Stephanie Radok has painted vessels, their colorful curves intersecting with the record’s grooves to suggest a different kind of remembering. The pots and jugs and vases are household objects brought with her peripatetic family on journeys between Australia and Europe and America. The vessels, like the family, are survivors. They have borne packing and transport, relocation and changing use. Yet their bright aesthetic is testimony to an ample holding capacity. Bold paintstrokes celebrate routine domesticity. Yet layered on black vinyl – the sheen of home entertainment in that lost new world of the 1950s and 1960s – the brushwork of those cherished memories becomes streaked and transparent. What we bring with us are not just things but cultures, customs, bonds. And they are newly lived, in unsettled conjunctions, according to time and place. What remains, when we look back quizzically, are intense, enigmatic, stubborn disruptions of colour and shape. Empty vessels that carry our lives in more complex ways than we knew.

The World-tree series, paintings on loose canvas made by Radok in 2002 for an exhibition called The Immigrant’s Garden, showed a magical tree that a child might draw, branching and curving up with arms outstretched. What we bring with us gives a similar sense of uplift, only now to a syncopated beat, bolder and more shadowed. The artist follows the bouncing ball that keeps getting away, spinning, turning, backwards and forwards in time, in and out of highly charged personal space.

As companion works Radok shows plaster casts of books, delicately coloured fossils. Books are another form of record, containers of cultural knowledge. Rendered in plaster they evoke the elusive and suggestive spaces of memory. What we bring with us is personal, familial, wittily including elements of playful consumption and self-invention. Is this art of losing or finding? Of reducing life to minimal necessities or amplifying it to ever more resonant forms and sensations?

Nicholas Jose
June 2006

what we bring with us: Stephanie Radok, Watson Place Gallery, Melbourne, July, 2006.

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