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thing in itself

Wellington Street Projects  30 Aug- 10 Sept 2017

Kath Fries, Ara Dolatian, Zhu Ohmu, Kai Wasikowski, Hannah Rose Carroll Harris

thing in itself presents new works by Ara Dolatian, Kath Fries, Hannah Rose Carroll Harris, Zhu Ohmu and Kai Wasikowski. This exhibition is concerned with the hybridised and symbiotic relationship between human and non-human ecologies in the age of the Anthropocene. Acting as a provocation towards the destabilisation of humanist thought, thing in itself explores the poetics of viewing objects within the new geological age as artworks exist within an entangled ecosystem, exploring the mutually dependent web of living and non-living materials. This relationship will cultivate and degenerate as artworks adapt, transform and dissipate over the course of the exhibition.  

‘A sculpture that physically reacts to its environment is no longer to be regarded as an object. It merges with the environment in a relationship that is better understood as a “system” of interdependent processes. These processes evolve without the viewer’s empathy. He becomes a witness. A system is not imagined, it is real.’  - Hans Haacke, 1968

thing in itself is concerned with the hybridised and symbiotic relationship between human and non-human ecologies. Exploring the poetics of viewing objects within the new geological age, artworks exist within an entangled ecosystem, exploring the mutually dependent web of living and non-living materials. Artists Ara Dolatian, Kath Fries, Hannah Rose Carroll Harris, Zhu Ohmu and Kai Wasikowski employ the aesthetics of nature through complex and embodied encounters with the natural world. This exhibition will unpack anthropogenic processes that have allowed humans to inexorably change the environment around them and to act as a provocation towards the destabilisation of humanist thought.

This exhibition adopts its title from Immanuel Kant’s theory in which objects in nature exist in a world that sits beyond the rationality of the human mind rendering them intrinsically unknowable. Contemporary philosophies particularly post-humanist theories like Object Oriented Ontology and Speculative Realism have attempted to understand the potentialities within objects – whether living, synthetic, conceptual or otherwise. Likewise, this exhibition rejects an anthropocentric way of thinking about the world but imagines one in which nature and the mind are intimately related. Foregrounding the importance of non-human objects, these artists reject the correlationist dyad of subject/object as artworks adapt, transform and dissipate beyond human intervention.

Artists seeking to expose the economics of power embedded within global catastrophes such as climate change, disrupt our comfortable understanding of the things around us and speculate on the conditions of living in urgent times. European philosopher Santiago Zabala posits that the biggest emergency today is the very absence of a sense of emergency in the hermetic circles of politics, big business and the mainstream media. This is, in part a legacy of the Kantian divide between object and subject which has led to the disembodied language of the global climate crisis.


Ara Dolatian’s practice examines the relationship between contemporary cultural landscapes and natural ecosystems. Gendered Machines resembles a hybridised biological experiment that uses a circulatory system to pass water between two transparent biomorphic vessels. Here, water is an ephemeral and transitory element that flows and dissolves into an incorporeal vapour from one ecosystem to another. This fragile process conjures the visible barriers controlling real and imagined ecologies as the futile act of endlessly transmitting from one place to another whilst imitating the relentless flow of data and energy circulating the earth. Dolatian states, ‘The work has the characteristic of a mechanical metropolis, seen as an imaginative projection of a new place where commodification of biological material, space and technology is visible.’ This work speaks to the failed potential of science fiction and speculates on the utopian future that never arrived. The relationship to the organic world is prefigured by the mediation of the synthetic sterile plastic, yet not entirely enclosed the mist leaks and evaporates beyond its controlled boundaries.


Water and mist is also occupied in Zhu Ohmu’s, Water when dry to the first knuckle, mist frequently, which is composed of English ivy, ceramic, soil, an uprooted Australian grass tree trunk and a mister. The inseparability of each element forms part of a symbiotic relationship held within a precarious balance and suspended by ceramic chain mail that the ivy extends towards. Known for her ceramic work, Ohmu is attracted to materials that are capricious or unstable and in doing so allows materials like clay to guide her towards their final form. The use of living plant matter demands a level of care and unpredictability beyond the duration of the exhibition and speaks to the history of ikebana in which nature and humanity become entwined. The ontological description of ‘thingness’ when describing plants and non-human matter is navigated through the strange alchemy of becoming an ‘art object’ which imbues it with a different value. The title of the work requires an action from the audience, a request to ‘mist frequently’ to implicate each visitor into the act of cultivating and nurturing. An act which Ohmu considers as both meditative and political.


Kath Fries’ practice is similarly marked by a transformational process through the use of organic materials like beeswax and mushrooms to explore new ways of encountering natural phenomena. Sporadically scattered along the gallery floor as if having sprouted, Within and Without, are made using beeswax containing a network of fungus that will grow living oyster mushrooms. These corporeal sculptures are a series of becomings that by their nature are never complete. They generate and degenerate throughout the life span of the exhibition and beyond. Her second series Gather presents dried oyster mushrooms collected from previous sculptures, which have a sense of crossing from one state to another.

The use of organic and found materials is common to Hannah Rose Carroll Harris’s practice. In her series, Your Other Half, Harris manipulates organic and synthetic materials to complicate our understanding of what is classified as natural. Through the process of collection and assemblage, Harris transforms these objects into venerated hybrid forms that transcend their material capacities. The combination of materials undermines the experience of encountering a natural phenomenon as these works subtly negotiate inside/outside, public/private, real/imaginary. The arrangement of these works placed directly onto a stack of pallets highlights the consumption of natural raw materials driven by economic desire. These sediments are marked by a transformational process that question the conventional distinctions between what nature has created and things produced by human intervention.

Kai Wasikowski’s often large scale photographs focus on the ideological aestheticisation of nature by confounding our understanding of it as a perceptual experience. His images of ubiquitous landscapes are often mediated by techniques like lenticular imagery or synthetic signifiers of an uncanny environment – a nature that is not really there. As we so often witness sublime natural landscapes behind a screen these works make visible the cultural contingency of our experience of nature. The series Moments of Love and Apathy complicates the idea that nature exists because we see it, rather, objects in nature appear profoundly unknowable, occupying a state of infinite recess. In two of the works, Wasikowski uses a technique of printing images onto artificial leaves and placing them back into the landscape which disrupts the interface of the scene and imagines nature as something mutable, something readily manipulated by human creativity that ultimately becomes a manifestation of the end of nature.


The artists in thing in itself are concerned with the complexity of material transformations to imagine a nature beyond human understanding. They collapse the boundaries between the organic and synthetic through experiential and sensory manifestations. This exhibition demonstrates that the interdependent relationship between humans and the things they are surrounded by act upon each other - existing in a space of aesthetic awareness. Shifting away from the notion of pure ideas and objective experiences this exhibition unfolds within a realm of interconnected relations as we advance towards a transcendental anthropocentrism.

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