Interventions in the Present Moment
Interview catalogue essay for Elizabeth Pedler for her show at Blindside Gallery in Melbourne. Opened June 21 2012 in Gallery One until July 7
A Conversation Recorded: 19th May 2012. 3:19pm
Joanna Gould: In this work we have been talking about over the last couple of weeks, there has been a focus on the gaze and the way that different people look at different spaces they enter into, especially when there is an artwork in the space. What role does the gaze have in this work?
Elizabeth Pedler: The gaze I think of as the path of how you focus on things – you might talk about how it might be directed in a painting such as through lines, composition, colour etc and I see this as parallel to the way you physically direct yourself around a space. Put yourself in the viewersʼ position and create multiple points of seeing; paths they can follow much like a video game.
J: Like visual trigger points they can follow around the room?
E: That is a pragmatic way of looking at the gaze and there is also the way the gaze functions and the power construct of the gaze. The way I understand the gaze in art it is often seems to reinforce a modernist one-way gaze. And when you are looking at artwork, if you get into a place where someone else is in the room you almost have to make a conscious avoidance of them. Because if you were to look at one another it would question that one-way gaze. It would really break it down – I hope the playing with mirrors reflects and questions how that one-way gaze works.
J: Do you want this meeting of the gaze and for it to be quite unexpected? Or do you think people will come in and expect it?
E: Some people may, but others might have just walked off the street. The funny thing about mirrors, and I have learnt this from having them around my studio, even when I know they are there they surprise me. I do anticipate the same sort of thing when people come into this space - even if you go in expecting to have your gaze returned, the moment of seeing is always going to be a surprise especially the ones in the periphery. I think it would be very hard for someone to go in there and not have even some tiny amount of surprise.
J: It seems to put people on an even playing field when encountering your work, because they are still going to get that *clicks* moment. No matter what the viewer takes from that, even if it is just looking at the inner workings of a kaleidoscopic optical illusion for a while.
E: … Optical illusions and the science of optics was something I was looking at before I realised that approach would just reinforce that one-way gaze. That scientific way of 'looking at looking', that suddenly I was no longer playing with the idea of the gaze, but I was just presenting very matter-of-fact objects that reinforce that idea. J: Moving from a scientific approach to ʻlookingʼ towards a more playful one - so you intended to bring that playfulness into the installation - do you find it is a major part of your work?
E: The play is a very major part. I believe it would become all too serious - and I think this is the risk of my work because it does come off that way sometimes - because of the very matter-of-fact the way I deal with materials, the way I execute my works ends up being very simple. Unless they [viewers] are in some way doubting, or curious or playful about the works I have not gotten them to achieve anything except look through a kaleidoscope.
J: That is a level of achievement though because getting people to interact with something they are not familiar with, in a space they are not familiar with, is always such an achievement anyway. You have directed it toward federation square so was that part of the 'getting people to look' aspect also?
E: Well yes - I knew people would be curious of the window view – and if there is already gaze there I want to take advantage of it, I don't want to try and work against it …
J: Do think that is some small way do you feel that you are kind of ʻtoyingʼ with that white cube notion of the space by bringing so much of the outside into the space?
E: I think I mess around with the white cube notion because the installation itself was intended to be site specific ,so you cannot help but play with the notion. So even though the white cube is there to house installations and such, it [the exhibition] is almost critical of the space.
J: You talk about the accessibility of the work but you also have this background in phenomenology and Heideggerian thought. I suppose I wanted to ask a little bit about that - and whether you even want people to take their thought with your work that far …
E: It certainly is an extreme of the work - one very far point. It's funny because when I first started making these kind of works I felt it was very important to tell people about this school of thought because it was where it was coming from and I felt it was relevant. But I am not making translation of Heidegger into an artwork.
J: Art scholarship often forces us to do that - when sometimes all you want to do is sit down and have a very frank good conversation. Itʼs nice to be able to look at a work largely for what it is, not for where it has come from. That said I suppose we are giving a little 'tip of the hat' to Heidegger now! You also talk about the work as both an affirmation and contradiction of the viewer - how do you think people will deal with that?
E: I do want to encourage active participation and active engagement but the two aren't the same - and you don't need to do both all the time and you don't need to do one or the other … Whether the works do affirm or deny the viewer at times I think it is relevant because it all draws attention to the presence of the viewer; both work in tandem.
J: Why, in your option, the conversation between two people for your catalogue essay?
E: I think to me it has greater clarity; it if was just a straight essay it would be through that opinion or that view of the author, but with this it opens it up and makes in clearer it the same way I want to make my work clearer to the viewer in the space. Being more transparent is something I always aim for…
J: And of course being reflective …
E: Oh yes and reflective.