During her international artist residency at Two Rooms, Fiona Hall has created a significant new body of work entitled Veneer. This new series follows on from recent work included in the major exhibition Big Game Hunting at Heide Museum of Modern Art in Melbourne earlier in 2013. The Heide show also featured Hall’s compelling installation Fall Prey, commissioned for the prestigious contemporary art exhibition dOCUMENTA (13) held in 2012 in Kassel, Germany.
As in the Fall Prey series, Hall’s underlying theme in Veneer is, as David Hansen wrote in the Big Game Hunting catalogue,
a common one in the artist’s work, as it must be in the minds of all thoughtful humans: that the planet earth is going to hell in a handbasket, whipped and prodded by the apocalyptic monsters of ignorance, greed and self-interest … Hall’s larger message – that our species has pretty much fucked all present life on the planet is patently clear and we know it instinctively anyway.
Hall is an artist who has never limited her creative output to a particular style or medium and in her new series, painted on Tongan barkcloth, she transcends the particular to achieve a more universal, emotionally intense response to twenty-first century global disorder in a dystopian world. In her evocative use of materials and images Hall emphasises the interconnectedness and parasitic relationship between the human and the natural world. Trees, wood and skulls are the dominant images, drawing a parallel between the fragility of the world we inhabit and abuse, and the resulting vulnerability of the human situation.
Skull iconography, a recurring image in Hall’s work, confronts and challenges the viewer in a grotesquely vivid and dramatic way. Human and primate skulls float in a void, or emerge as anarchic presences through holes in a disintegrating map of the world. A decapitated skeleton evokes the macabre architecture of the early Christian martyrs and Jewish victims lining the subterranean chambers and tunnels of the Roman catacombs. Abstracted biomorphic forms, akin to Chatham Island dendroglyphs carved into the trunks of living trees, merge and morph like primitive totems or wrathful Buddhist deities in the veneer woodgrain patterns memorialising the growth rings of fallen logs and decapitated tree stumps in denuded forest landscapes. Tongan ochre splatters over the tapa, setting it on fire, bleeding out of the wood like blood and shredded flesh.
In a world in which we are bombarded by images of war and disaster from the hellholes of the world, Hall transmits a sense of menace, foreboding and physical anguish in a grand lamentation.
Fiona Hall is presented in collaboration with Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney