Reviewed by: Natasha Bloomfield
Third Space is a ongoing collaborative project currently exhibiting at Edith Cowan University’s Mount Lawley campus at Spectrum Project Space. Initiated in 2010, the project links up art students and staff from the School of Communications and Arts at ECU with those at the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology in China.
The binding theme of the artworks is an interrogation of Homi Bhabha’s social and cultural theories of third space, in relation to modern hybrid societies and diaspora. In his theories, the formation of new hybrid communities within a rapidly globalising world are described as spaces of conflict and incommensurability. The third space becomes liminal, a shifting and dynamic space between identities, cultural ideologies, and environments. The artists in the program each toured to the other’s home country, with some travels dating back as far as 2003. The resultant artwork became a visual response to this new world.
The first artworks that struck me were two collaborative pieces titled Garden of the Nets 4 and Hidden Forest. Garden of the Nets 4 utilises Chinese calligraphy on rice paper, the words translating to “The water reflecting. Pathways of shadow disperse, the rain dissolves the fluid shapes.” Hidden Forest is a digital print that is largely black in colour with a crescent moon in the upper right corner, and a series of silver, purple and pink cacti filling up the majority of the lower half of the print. The print is inspired by elements of Aboriginal art; circles, dots, and repeated lines. It includes English calligraphy that runs along the lower section of the print.
What also interests me is the placement of the two separate artworks together. The linguistic differences in the cultures, and the effect of seeing the familiar outback turned into fantasy, is perhaps a little unsettling. However, it highlights language and cultural history as systems of cultural identification; systems that appear to be all at once inclusive and dividing. Here, the meaning and symbols of culture have no primordial unity or fixity. The same signs, here language and history, are translated, rehistoricized, and read anew.
Another engaging piece was titled The Flourish of Friendship. It incorporated seven separate pieces which alternated between squares of rice paper and silk, all of which were suspended from the ceiling with fishing wire. The artists interacted with their environments, incorporating outlines of different flowers from their respective countries. The rice paper’s flowers are burnt in by Tibetan incense, the dyed silk’s embroidered and boiled over a campfire. Hung flush in front of each other from smallest to largest in proportion, each piece slightly obstructs the subsequent piece, requiring one to stand side-on to view the next in its entirety. The artworks suggest a progression and expansion of production and experience as a result of the collaboration. They open the way to conceptualizing an international culture, not based on exoticism or the multiculturalism of the diversity of cultures, but rather on the articulation of culture’s hybridity.
Curators Claire Bushby and Donna Franklin have ensured that the large and open exhibition space is free from the familiar boxes that list the artists’ names and the prominent features about their work – for this exhibition, that information is hidden away in the program. The exclusion is disconcerting at first for the expectant viewer, but it allows for the works to have a presence of their own. Third Space thrives on exploring visual art as a language in itself. The amazing output in the exhibition pays homage to a common form of understanding and a language that transcends culture, history, and ideology. Essentially, the artworks, which include everything from etchings and jigsaws, to photographs and sculpture, speak for themselves. And with that, I must encourage you to see the artworks for yourself.