Art can make you soft again: spotlight on Rosie Deacon

Giselle Stanborough

I believe that art is a worthwhile investment because it has the ability to offer a counter-argument to an individual’s innate solipsism. Art allows an imaginative connection to realities experienced and articulated by a consciousness other than one’s own. It navigates both the subjective and the empirical. It is both nominal and phenomenal. However soul-hardening the unavoidable effluvium of economic rationalism may seem to those with a jaded interpretation of what is meant by the phrase ‘creative enterprise’; art can make you soft again.

The feeling that I am attempting to describe is a kind of “I know what you mean” moment where the ‘you’ is experienced as authentic, immediate and separate from ‘I’ but capable of equal complexity and intensity. It is when you are reminded that your experience is not the only one out there. It provides a context for internal contemplation with spectral company. Art provides existential comradery.

As an aside, I apologise for beginning, not with a specific string of words about the artist, but with a Sisyphean rumination on “what is the role of art?”. This question manages to be both profoundly abstruse and the kind of insipid cliché produced by banal, pontificating naval-gazers at every art opening you’ve ever been to.

It is in this vein that I give my thanks to you, dear reader, for having tolerated me thus far. I pinkie promise to bore you with my rhetoric no longer. Disclaimer though: I make this promise on the condition that you agree to just keep such questions in the back of your mind as I attempt to more explicitly address the topic for which this writing is intended: the new work of Rosie Deacon.

Deacon’s work is most often sculptural and is responsive to a universalised noun/theme (not ‘my cat’ but ‘cat’) that has gleaned her interest. Then she starts making. Then she keeps making. And it is not long before her level of interest has magnified from something gleaned to something engulfed. Deacon is a prolific and unrelenting maker, with a methodology of creation that is fervent and android. Her work accumulates in multiples in a maniacal production line so fecund as to make Deacon appear fanatical. To say the work has ‘character’ is putting it lightly.

Rosie Deacon doesn’t really include representations of herself in her work. Occasionally she may appear in costume at an opening, though this always seems a strategy to remove herself from the social context surrounding the exhibition of the work. It’s a gesture that ultimately embodies an action of erasure of her presence, rather than her inclusion into the viewers’ experience of the work.

That said, Deacon’s work always seems to me somewhat of a portrait, but portrait is probably the wrong word. Maybe something like ‘portal’ is more accurate. It is as if someone plonked a papier-mâché virtual reality helmet on you and you are now feeling what it is like to explode with joie de vivre and simultaneously implode under the strain of animated expressions. Deacon’s objects have representational value that is recognisable and familiar; you can tell you’re looking at a cat, or a face. But the colours are so lurid and the forms so spasmodic that it feels as if the world you are seeing is being vigorously smeared across your eyeballs as they ricochet around each part of the artwork.

To me, the sculptural installations recall the involuntary and directionless glossolalia, like a child emitting wordless sounds to no one in particular as an instinctual response to the stimulation of merely being alive.

In the lithograph that Rosie Deacon has produced for her Runway Commission, the disorienting cacophony of colliding materials and forms have given way to a low murmur of linework and tonality. Like Deacon’s sculptural work, it is both plagued and playful. Instead feeling your gaze catapulted from each ornamental aspect to the next, the viewer of “Inside The Dark Rat Hole, Little Men Wait” (2014) is directed to glare into a peephole. It is possible to spend a long time scrutinising the mounds of expressive faces, looking out at us with their fluoro grins as we peer into their world. It is hard not to grin back.

In our existential camaraderie, the self can be a sanctuary, but as Deacon herself says it can also be a “confinement”, with each one of us orbiting around each other in our little worlds without ever touching. And here’s the rub: it is not always clear if we have stepped outside of our own circles and boundaries or if we just think we have. You can be looking out of a window until you realise it’s a mirror. “Inside the Dark Rat Hole, Little Men Wait” manages to function symbolically as both a mirror and window as we contemplate our own circles.

This essay was commissioned and produced for the 2014 Runway Annual Commission launch of Rosie Deacon’s limited edition print, which took place on 22 November 2014 at G18 “The Local $2 Shop”, 9 Cope Street, Redfern, NSW 2016.

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