I have been quite excited about this exhibition ever since getting a sneak preview of Sophia Hewson’s newest painting at Lindberg’s previous opening. It is quite the show stopper!
Sophia shares this exhibition with fellow VCA graduate Mia Salsjo, called Dy Dykranore. It took me while to figure out what this name meant, but after some serious googling, I found enough clues to work out that it is Albanian for “two two-headed eagles”. The symbol of the two-headed eagle appears on the flag and coat of arms of Albania; a symbol that dates back for millennia and used heavily by the Byzantine Empire. The symbol continues to be used today in heraldry, appearing in many coats of arms of countries situated around South Eastern Europe. It doesn’t appear to symbolise anything specific but it represents a balance of power of the opposites, of East and West, of the religious and the secular, the spiritual and the temporal. “Two two-headed eagles” probably, then, refers to the two artists, Hewson and Salsjo.
What struck me immediately upon entering the gallery was how dark it was, lit only by the spotlights that shone on the artworks, creating quite a dramatic ambience. Sophia and Mia’s works occupied one half of the gallery each and each artist presented three works.
Mia’s sculptures are quite captivating. Two long poles are propped against the wall with a large fabric in the middle connecting the two, like a stretcher. It is hard to tell from the blurry photo (our poor little point and shoot camera couldn’t handle the lack of lighting!) but embedded in the fabric were little simplistic almost child-like drawings of creatures that resemble humans and animals. Propped on the opposite wall was a black version of this. Maybe this black and white theme has something to do with the balance of power of the opposites, as represented by the dykrenore?
On the adjacent wall hung a Moleskine sketchbook with an excellent drawing by Mia. Surreal and subconscious in nature, it shows similar creatures that feature in her sculptures occupying a strange land. Is that Munch’s The Scream motif on the right page or is it a ghost? Coupled with the addition of the rosary beads dangling from the top, which I particularly like, they created this tension of heaven and hell, of damnation and salvation, of dystopia and utopia. I walked up to the Moleskine and was very tempted to turn the pages to see more of these intriguing drawings. I have a Moleskine just like this, except it is filled with sketches of the people and places I see when I’m out and about. Mia’s one has really inspired me to just let loose and draw crazy things from imagination and my subconscious, at least every now and then!
Sophia’s work on the other half of the gallery consisted of an amazing ice sculpture and two large-scale resin-coated paintings of men in loincloths. The ice sculpture, called I’m the unmanifested, looks like a donkey that’s calling out, standing on its hind legs, almost like it is humping something. Embedded in the ice sculpture is the spine of a kangaroo. I absolutely loved this sculpture. It is dignified, cute and creepy at the same time. Magnificent.
On the walls surrounding the ice sculpture are Sophia’s two paintings of Christian religious themes. Untitled shows a man suspended in the pose of Christ on the crucifix. This painting is large enough to be an altarpiece. The man of blonde platinum hair has the look of desperation, sadness, and confusion as he stares hopefully into the heavens for signs of salvation. Dripping from the man’s arms, feet and chest is a white milky liquid. Ali and I debated if this was sperm. What else could it be though?
The work encourages many ways of reading. Initially I thought perhaps the modern day man was being crucified for leading a life of hedonism and heathendom. The sperm, the reddish eyes and patchy skin around the face, are suggestive of religiously unacceptable sexual activity and drug taking. Later, I was also reading it as a man who was offering himself up to God for salvation. About having lost God and trying to find God. In any way, I don’t believe the work is critical of ‘unacceptable’ lifestyles. It is almost hinting at the absurdity of religion’s damning of such lifestyle activities, activities that have absolutely nothing to do with whether a person is “good”. The imaginary crucifix could also symbolise the man-made nature of religion. Is it just as imaginary?
The work hanging next to this crucifix painting is one that is called Many bodies of the saints which slept arose. This phrase comes from Matthew 27:52, which refers to the first people to be resurrected after Jesus’ own resurrection. After the resurrection they, like the saviour, are ascended to heaven. The man in this painting could be depicted as ascending to heaven. It is quite odd that he is ascending by his feet though. Notice also the man appears to be clean compared to the crucified man.
Sophia’s paintings are flawlessly executed and littered with signs and obvious themes for us to latch on to yet at the same time they are extremely open ended, with many questions left unanswered. Definitely worthwhile going to this exhibition to see the work yourself and draw your own meaning.