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Strange Altars
by Mason Kimber
Catalogue text - Natalie O’Loughlin, ‘Strange Altars’, Edwina Corlette Gallery, Brisbane
April 2024

It helps to treat artworks as lively personalities in their own right. One strange question I sometimes pose to an object is: yeah, you look pretty good, but are you in tune with the cosmos? It's a way to temporarily step outside of your own biases and consider the life trajectory of more-than-human things. While O'Loughlin’s vessels operate within the traditional bounds of ceramics, they also gesture towards something more vital, even wild.

In her 2017 text ‘Wild Things’, Hilde Bouchez makes the distinction between tame and wild objects. Tame things tend to be stripped of their own power and agency, like commercialized products made by a well-known designer. Wild things, on the other hand, contain a type of ordinary beauty where the material itself speaks, rather than the person who made it. They possess an aura that taps into a deeper level of consciousness. It’s the antithesis to the environment of the shopping centre.

O’Loughlin is a shape-sorcerer who crafts wonky families of ceramic vessels. In one blood- red piece, its proudly glossy exterior gives the impression it came out of the kiln with an air of defiance. Nearby, shyer ones with low-slung bodies covered in chalkboard-dry, scumbly brushwork speak a softer language. Each work feels more like a distant cousin rather than a close sibling. Some strike angular poses like a spinning top as it starts to slow down and lose its centre of gravity.

Staged upon a series of platform steps as if patiently waiting to board a spacecraft, each piece in Strange Altars appears like an offering from a distant planet, beckoning for its own terms of adoration. With an emphasis on craftsmanship and tactility, they speak to the quiet power of the material world in connecting us to outer realms.


Solving the Rectangle
by Mason Kimber
Catalogue text - Nick Modrzewski, ‘Pulping at the Forum’, COMA, Sydney
November 2023

Picture yourself at a meat market full of abstracted intestinal limbs about to run through a human sausage conveyor belt. This scenario echoes the compressive gatherings of figures, body parts and squiggly forms assembled in Nick Modrzewski’s new paintings. Floating heads haggle for a bargain among herds of gooey shapes squished together, manifested through the artist’s scrappily precise methods of applying paint. While his last Sydney exhibition in 2022 focussed on the absurd behaviour of lawyers and bureaucrats, in Pulping at the Forum, the artist takes us out of the courtroom and into some kind of crowded bazaar.

There are plenty of formal tricks to be found: hazy spurts of airbrush spray make guest appearances, but their primacy is overridden by hairy, confident gestures and flourishes of bold colour. Scraped backgrounds are spotted over with opaque punches of deep violet purple. Objects you might find in a neighbourhood garden are also peppered into the mix: ornate vases, sunflowers, spiderwebs, latticing.

I love approaching paintings like a daydreaming detective; I often call it ‘solving the rectangle’. Perhaps this exhibition holds evidence of some kind of foul play? The artist Stanley Whitney talks about how colour can misbehave when certain hues are placed alongside one another. Have you noticed the tiiiiny slither of radioactive green in the centre of Conference? It's cheekily nestled inside an all-over crimson composition that halts the viewer like a referee’s red card. It also works to throw us off our tracks.

There’s a distinctive epidermis-like thickness being conjured up. I feel the artist is surgically operating on the canvas, reordering its entire bodily makeup and implanting foreign painterly microchips of associative potential. Their compositions are arrived at not by design, but by battling it out through endless adjustments and negotiations. I can sense the artist asking himself questions during the process, like: How can the painting become its own agent of consumption? What precious sections of the canvas need forfeiting? What if this round shape becomes a floating boiled egg?

Whatever the setting, nothing in these paintings seem static. Rather, they enter into chaotic states through strategic acts of partial destruction. In mathematics, catastrophe theory describes the sudden disruption of homeostasis to a point where the entire physical laws that govern it have to restart and transform themselves completely. The objects and figures in these paintings seemed to have erupted from this catastrophe phase, ready to mutate to another realm. Modrzewski’s works revels in this model of alien arrival, allowing for virtual, unseen forces to rear their heads.

Semi-figurative details seem crucial to establish some semblance of spatial logic. In the painting Breeder, it’s as if a series of decorative masks have begun to spawn, multiplying and recasting themselves into a new order of amoeba-like forms. They remind me of the clay characters of the Gumby universe. We also see a fragmented zebra missing a head, its stripy pattern interrupting the rest of the pinkish, fleshy jumble of creaturely limbs. When I return to the show for a second visit, the gallery director points out a wispy atmospheric section in the top-left part of the painting; a rare moment of pause amongst the beautiful chaos. It presents an opening, a parting of the clouds that I gravitate towards like an escape route. But I don’t necessarily want to leave just yet.

In A Light Skirmish, two small teams of disfigured limbs hover over some kind of sports field. A visual cacophony of outstretched legs, plumpy fingers and worm-like scribbles are on a friendly collision course. This is when I realise the unique temporality captured in all the paintings. It’s the moment just after the siren has gone off, the whistle has blown, and the trading bell has been rung. Someone, somewhere, has declared “GO!” But instead of human players grounded in Euclidean space, the whole fabric of this slippery painterly reality has begun to mutate.

The artist paints like a coach overseeing a rugby scrum. Each gameplay presents us with a concentrated formation of shapeshifters springing into action, enticing us to follow. Enter the rectangle and blow the whistle – let’s disappear into the crowd.


Surface Activations
by Mason Kimber
ADSR Zine - Issue 10
August 2020

It’s one thing to observe a surface, but another to feel its presence. Much effort has been made recently to disconnect our touching bodies from the world around us: social distancing, masks, sanitization, isolation. The touching of surfaces has literally become a matter of life and death. As a studio-based artist who uses moulding and casting, this period has made me more aware of touching - not as a threat but as an intimate form of reading and understanding through material.

The process of moulding a surface involves slowly pressing silicone putty, which has the consistency of play-doh, into the crevices of an object’s skin. Encountering its topography with the tips of your fingers allows you to develop an intimate understanding of the object and its location. By physically tracing these details, I exercise a subconscious form of bodily reading and memory-making, resulting in a direct engagement with the felt qualities of the object: its composition and temporality within a larger timescale. With heightened awareness to the sense of touch, fingers replace the eyes to temporarily perform the role of vision. Like navigating a pitch-black room at night, you see instead with your hands.

After the mould hardens into thick rubber, it’s carefully removed to reveal two interrelated aspects of the site. The bottom side contains an almost perfect physical recording of the undulating texture beneath. In contrast, the top side tells the story of an encounter. Its forensic impressions trace the meandering fingers as they converse with the object’s surface, finding their way across it. A physical transcription of this conversation is captured, channeled through the silicone putty itself. What results is a literal timestamp of the surface and the performing hand as it seeks to memorialise a place.

After the mould is removed, the process of casting begins back in the studio. This next stage involves a different form of material encounter, one with the facsimile. Various casting compounds (gypsum, resin, wax, sand, foam) are poured and left to harden, producing a physical copy of the object in all its detail. However, my interest lies not in this faithful index, but rather in the experimental reworking of fragments and processes of emergence that a studio-based practice allows.[1]

One way to explore the inner qualities of an object is to provoke it and spring it into action. And the simplest way to achieve this is to break it. Usually, I use a hard tool, like a hammer, or I simply drop the casted object from a height and allow gravity to make the final call as a chance strategy. The pure act of breaking reveals certain behavioral qualities, similar to what architect Anne Holtrop refers to as “material gesture”.[2]

Art is capable of rendering the invisible forces of the earth into visible form by extracting fragments of these forces and containing or framing them within the materials of an artwork.[3] According to philosopher Elizabeth Grosz, one of art’s defining features is that it “enables matter to become expressive…to intensify—to resonate and become more than itself”.[4] Grosz’s understanding of artistic expression takes emphasis away from the determination of the human mind, and over to the inherent nature and forces held within matter itself. Testing these forces by observing and responding to a certain object’s breaking point can be an effective way to expose its inner resonance.

Once broken, it ceases to be an object and instead becomes a material. With objects, we usually attach an understanding of the stillness of form and make sure not to break them. Materials, on the other hand, are usually handled and allowed to perform and transform.[5] This slight shift of understanding opens the fragment up to further possibilities of reconfiguration or bricolage. In Claude Levi-Strauss’s idea of the term, a bricoleur “works with his hands in devious ways, puts pre-existing things together in new ways, and makes do with whatever is at hand”.[6]

By treating fragments as material to excavate and recompose, the artist positions themselves as a quasi-archeologist digging through ruins to uncover hidden forces. Instead of treating archaeology as something purely obsessed with the past, “the archaeological act thus becomes an engagement with the present’s surface: the mediation of the past as a creative engagement with the present and future”.[7] This same strategy of excavating and reconfiguring disparate fragments, or breaks is echoed in early hip hop music, enabled by the invention of the electronic mixer and sampler.

In recapturing, remixing and recasting fragments, a series of actions and gestures can accumulate and embed themselves on and within the growing material. This generative, conversational approach to making is contingent on the behavior of the materials themselves as they undergo transformations, from liquid to solid and back again. Forming into larger panels through a process of growth, it places the maker “as a participant in amongst a world of active materials”.[8]

By moving beyond the limiting view of the artefact as an object of human association, the history of the fragment is then seen as the history of forces, of activations. It reframes archaeology as an open, creative act rather than a purely historical one. Similar to the capturing of two corresponding temporalities within the silicone mould (surface and fingerprints), these processes both carry forth and reimagine the object’s past by recasting its traces firmly into the present.

[1] Grosz, Elizabeth. Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008, 1.
[2] "Material Gesture." Anne Holtrop, 2019, accessed 1 July 2020, https://holtrop.arch.ethz.ch/Material-Gesture.
[3] Grosz, Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth, 22.
[4] ibid, 4.
[5] Ingold, Tim. Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture. London;: Routledge, 2013, 18.
[6] "Claude Levi Strauss’ Concept of Bricolage." Literary Theory and Criticism, 2016, accessed 22 July 2020, https://literariness.org/2016/03/21/claude-levi-strauss-concept-of-bricolage/.
[7] Harrison, Rodney. "Surface Assemblages. Towards an Archaeology in and of the Present." Arch. Dial. 18, no. 2 (2011): 160. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1380203811000195.
[8] Ingold, Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture, 21.


Fig. 1 Pressing the silicone putty into the surface

Fig. 2 Fingerprints embedded within the silicone

Fig. 3 Casted fragment (before being broken)

Fig. 4 Broken fragments embedded within layers of casted material

by Mason Kimber
Catalogue text, Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne
September 2019

Afternoons can be thought of as fragmented time connectors, an in-between state that links morning to evening. This new series, Afternoon, speaks to the golden window of time allowed for the act of painting once a fresco plaster begins to dry, allowing for a transference of warm daylight to infuse within its surface and image. The mornings are reserved for preparing the panels with a fresh mixture of wet lime plaster and sand. The works are then laid to rest until the moisture evaporates in the afternoon—that’s when they become ready to paint. These slabs meditate on that crescendo moment, when time slows and spaces seem to come alive, flooded with rays of light that weave through the openings of buildings to illuminate the material of their surface.