A Prospect of Prospects

opening talk by Nicholas Jose for solo exhibition at Prospect Gallery, 2017

I have enjoyed following Stephanie Radok’s work around over the years and it is a pleasure to be doing so again today in this Prospect of Prospects. As always Radok’s work asks us to look up close, as close as we can, at the smallest details of marks and traces, as she attends to things we might otherwise miss, such as the weeds under our feet that are identified here by name, place and quality, if you can bend your head round enough to read the curving writing on the disc: Bathurst Burr troublesome; Red Valerian Glen Osmond Road; Apple of Sodom rear pasture. And equally, as always, her work asks us to look faraway, at the long prospect, experienced as dislocation and then as relationship. Which makes us aware of where we are looking from, or through, our place, a museum vitrine, an artist’s vision, our own perspective. Our prospect.

I have followed Stephanie’s work to a variety of sites—to Murray Bridge for A Covenant with the Animals where her naming of species of strange animals was a joy of making familiar and giving dignity; to the Museum of Economic Botany for something similar with seeds and shapes in Talking about Country ; to Fenn Place, where Adelaide’s Chinatown once was, for a celebration of invisible, ephemeral trade and transport in Out of site; to Melbourne for What we bring with us, where the records became another sort of record, as happens again here, and to Artspace for The Immigrant’s Garden, back in 2002, where materiality became the medium for a remaking of the local in terms of the lost and the mythic. Over this time and in these different places there has been a continuity of concern, but with subtle changes too, a kind of wandering in not quite circles—and here again in this multi-dimensional installation. 

What’s new here is the presence, or the memory, of the “beautiful prospects” of others, other artist precursors, who came and looked and made something from their interaction with place under a southern sky. The artist draws on colonial artists whose work has stayed with her, seen in the Art Gallery of South Australia, in Visions of Adelaide 1836-1886 and other exhibitions: Light, Frome, von Guerard, Berkeley. She returns the idea of the sketch, not so much from life as from an inner topography that is at once art historical and personal. So we think of body painting, finger painting, undercoating, painting over. We think of abstraction and calligraphy and desert art. Rothko, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Lee Ufan. We appreciate the muting of colour. ‘Blue is a darkness weakened by light’, in Goethe’s words, which seem to apply to the new work ‘Home Schooling’.

A constant is the book, and Stephanie is also a writer, as you’ll know from her wonderful work called An Opening: twelve love stories about art, the book of an art writer. In this exhibition we are again presented with the casts of books no longer able to be opened, marked by folds and flaws, but offering a surface, or a vessel, for a further process of feeling and making, overlaying the old pattern of the cover with new decorative colour, and the inset glint of mica from the local hills. These books remember a twelve volume set of Goethe’s works published in Germany in the nineteenth century and brought to Adelaide by the artist’s grandparents in the twentieth: Goethe, the universalist, the man of light, whose wisdom could not avert the unseeingness of progress as it unfolded here too. Under the artist’s hand, those complex ideas and emotions become fragile offerings. Little treasures. ‘Search nothing beyond the phenomena, they themselves are the theory,’ said Goethe. His words release us to enjoy Stephanie Radok’s A Prospect of Prospects. Please take the time. It’s a special occasion, this retroprospective.

Image: Stephanie Radok Home Schooling 2017

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