Heather B. Swann
Karen Woodbury Gallery, Melbourne; 20 August – 21 September 2013
Matte black figures cradling an inward gravitational field tumble, roll, prop and fall. Human heads sit like poised flower buds on a charred and jointed branch that dissects the room. Giant black penises threaten in downward trajectories. Heather B. Swann creates surrealist imagery and forms that play off the psycho melodramas of the human figure, their dark surfaces turning to pools that pull in your mind and separate you from your own body.
A grouping of small figures make up a gathering of completely inwardly concerned individuals. Each figure has its head pulled tightly down toward its chest, bundled down with folded arms and hunched back. It’s like a force is dragging their minds into their hearts and their bodies topple with the effort. While they make up a collective, they are clearly invested only with inward focus. Their smaller-than-human scale renders them vulnerable. Their legs trail behind their folded torsos and their toes are the last remnants of individuality.
The botano-human mutation in the centre of the gallery commands the space. A good 7 meters long it lays across the floor like a fallen branch, a charred aftermath. Eight heads protrude from along the form, their shape giving the impression of growths. Their ambiguous sex and age renders them universally human. Perhaps as-yet-defined as they recover from their falling separation from the original source-tree and prepare to blossom anew. Interlocking carpentry joints on the branch bring a technical component to the otherwise organic flavour.
The giant painted penises hang ominously in their place on the walls. Downward direction in the picture frame presses their weight to the bottom of the field and alternately deflects ejaculate (in How the mind works: Marine) and oppresses a figure (in Settler). Or perhaps the figure is fighting back, pushing upwards against the monolithic weight of the phallus, crouched but empowered by a glowing blue aura of strength. The pink ejaculate in How the mind works: Marine floats like a speech bubble, or an inflating chewing-gum bubble, working together with a small narrative written into the painting about infidelity.
The phallus also features in sculptural form, in a large body-sized black protuberance. This time the direction is upward, an erectile form with a white female face at the base. The positioning of the face makes the phallus a giant hat or, worse, a distended cocoon that contains and contorts the implicated female inside. Shifting from absurd adornment to tortured chamber the piece is unsettling enough without recourse to its title, Husband, which loads it even further.
This is a really great show with works that bear a perceptible weight to them – a subtly detectable density. Karen Woodbury’s new gallery space is nicely proportioned and the works have been set into place with balance and consideration. Show runs until 21 September.