Art is often viewed discretely; the finished product is presented resolutely on a wall or plinth and in a pristine environment. Our experience of art is so often guided by critical essays, exhibition text and artist statements. But what is our actual experience of art if not fed through critical texts or didactic panels? How do we as an audience negotiate the space between the inception of an idea and its completion? And how do we respond to artwork that is designed to remain incomplete, artwork that thrives in an open-ended realm that is difficult to quantify? These are the kinds of questions that the artists in Fluoresce Studio collectively explore and provide responses to.
The artists in Fluoresce Studio have established a micro-community drawn together by the vision of artist Rowena Martinich, who has been coordinating fluorescently themed exhibitions since 2006. In the 2012 iteration she has collaborated with artists Eddy Carroll, Michelle Francis (of Frankie and Swiss), Nien-San (Lily) Lee, Rachel Jessie-Rae O’Connor, Tanya Schultz, Rosa Tato and Yandell Walton. Individually their practices are disparate—yet together they have conjoined in search of new optical heights.
The NGV Studio quickly transformed as the artists developed new work on site. Their creative approach was that of most artists: a little chaotic, but open to contingency. In their pre-studio meetings, there was a mix of emotions, excitement, and anxiety. Now, near the completion of their project, the studio is overgrown with new collaborations, new imaginings. ‘I am wondering where we can take it to next’ Martinich says, stepping back to review the luminescent works. ‘Our work is evolving together in ways we hadn’t conceived before.’
The abundance of work presented is all-consuming. Within just one corner we can see no less than fifteen works. Cumulatively, there are over one hundred works presented in the entire space. At times it is difficult to see where one work begins and another one ends. Yet this is analogous to the artistic process for many artists, as they endeavour to sift through their output and locate the components worthy of further aesthetic and conceptual refinement. For the audience, it really is an opportunity to observe the creative process in full flight—moments of visual splendour mixed in with mishaps, collisions and imperfections.
Over the course of ten days in NGV Studio, Eddy Carroll has developed the dazzling and finely crafted work Cockatoo, you’re how I want my heart to feel. A soft and sensual sculpture made from cockatoo feathers, beading, sequins and thread, the work, complete with golden aorta, has been made to allow visitors to the studio to touch it—it is designed to be held, and experienced. Her creative methodology is on display also. A cabinet housing jars of sequins, thread and needles evokes the pure potential of creation—these tools of her craft, encased behind glass, somehow appear magical, even sacred.
The fine etchings of Nien-San (Lily) Lee’s work have been inspired in part by Carroll’s delicate handmade pieces. Lighting around the edges of her Perspex works illuminates her refined and painstaking technique. Her floral motifs appear soft, gentle and beckon the viewer to inspect closely. Previous works involving paint on domestic greaseproof paper are strewn across the walls. We are witness to her creative journey across diverse media and we gain an understanding of how an artist’s creative expression can become clearer over time.
Michelle Francis’ project at Fluoresce Studio involves collaborating with other artists, documenting their work and printing the imagery onto natural fibre textiles, which are then transformed into sculptural neckpieces and a traditional quilt. She has collaborated in the past with Rowena Martinich, who is known for her public art projects in strident colours of fluorescent pinks, yellows and greens. Francis has created cushions and other textile objects exploring Martinich’s vibrant layering of paint drip upon paint drip. These drips are now seen upon the windows of NGV Studio. Gestural movements and chromatic intensity pervade Martinich’s works, and her output in Fluoresce Studio is no exception. Previous works are mashed up with new interventions, often including other artists, in a swathe of hyperbolic patterning. Her work is continuously being regenerated and the collaborations she fosters with other artists ensure her works live out multiple lives.
Like Martinich, Rachel Jessie-Rae O’Connor’s trajectory within the studio space is keenly apparent. Her colourful dots and spirals carved from adhesive sticker, and her emblazoned touch is felt on walls and floor alike; her creative path creates an air of discovery within the sonorous studio. Her sinuous or elliptical forms are reminiscent of artists such as Yayoi Kusama and works such as The Obliteration Room (2002).
Crowds gathered in the atrium windows to watch Tanya Schultz up-close as she installed her effusive work on the studio floor. Employing only coloured sugar, the enticing and sanguine patterning she creates is seductive, and charged with luminescence. Her work evokes visions of fairy floss, clouds of candy, and daydreams relating to the simple pleasure of indulging in ice cream on a hot and sweltering day.
Rosa Tato has also engaged with the windows of the gallery and with the audience to heighten the effect of, and level of engagement with, her work. She has invited the general public to participate in her work by providing motifs and patterning. These have been crafted into templates, enabling her to create new work cut from metal plates. She continues also to explore her Tu Don Series (2008) but has also been collaborating with Martinich by cutting into her window-based works. The cut out forms create a beautiful synergy. The stylised shapes she has cut away are glorious manifestations of ornate design. As negative shapes, their flatness counterpoints the textural build up of Martinich’s drip-work.
In another collaborative venture of Fluoresce Studio, Yandell Walton has incorporated discarded offcuts from Tato’s technique, using them as forms onto which she can project her video work. Nearby, in a new diorama, she presents her screen-based work 7 Sisters (2009) that shows the haunting image of a woman trapped in the wild morphing into a bird and flying away. During the day, Walton’s projection-based works are discreet, immersed in a world of collaboration and process; they provide unexpected moments of curiosity. At night, her works come to life; they glow from afar and provide overt points of intrigue.
Iridescent colours vibrate within the studio space. The works change depending on the natural light outside. Neon and projections activate the space with glowing intensity. The work emits a radiance that pulsates with its own energy. The artists are there. We see them discussing their ideas, working on the walls. This is art in the making, happening before our eyes. The secrets of the artists’ solitary studio are revealed and the potency of the fluorescent spectrum is unquestionable.
The luminous glow that characterises this spectrum is simultaneously captivating and shocking. The use of a fluorescent palette in artworks, like street art and other forms has had a tenuous relationship with the art world but, as with all things, trends come and go. Street art, once shunned by the art world, is now in demand. Artistic styles and interests are evolving and fluorescent colour is not immune to this return to urbanism and popular culture.
Collectively, the vision of these artists is to allow their imaginations to meander through new pathways, discovering new avenues of experimentation and playfulness. They honour a sense of boundlessness in their processes. Their bravery in unabashedly projecting the joy of creation, and their enthusiasm for fluorescence, unites them. Unafraid to create new work under the gaze of the public eye, the Fluoresce Studio artists are to be commended.
These artists share a similar drive to that which propelled artists from the late 1950’s and early 1960’s to stage happenings and to invite the audience to observe and sometimes even interact with the creative process. The Fluoresce Studio artists are also forming new collaborations and setting out on new endeavours. For these artists the tyranny of needing to produce art objects has been lifted; they seek to explore that murky, mysterious and boundless territory known as process.
Indeed, Fluoresce Studio invites the viewer to question whether the relationships unfolding between each artist in the studio environment are themselves the art product. Or do we still give precedence to the objects that they leave behind? Nicolas Bourriaud describes today’s artist as someone interested in inter-human relations, and in collaboration and exchange, someone whose sights are set on: ‘…the relations that his work will create among his public, and on the invention of models of sociability.’ Bourriaud asserts that the sphere of human relations, not the space of the gallery itself, is the new venue for contemporary art.
Fluoresce Studio expresses a desire to move beyond the isolatory bounds of individual studio practices and to connect. There isn’t a singular overriding vision, but instead a vision of a world where collaboration, conversation, open-mindedness and tolerance of others’ free will, is honoured and even expected—the hallmark of a truly civilised society.
Claire Anna Watson
Claire Anna Watson is a Melbourne-based artist, writer and curator.
 Martinich in conversation, 2 March 2012.
 As seen at the recent solo exhibition of Kusama’s work ‘Look Now, See Forever’ at the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane,
18 November 2011 to 11 March 2012.