Part of Toyota Lovers, in the window of the Moonah Arts Centre. Pic: Gabrielle Rish

PRESENCE

My two-part work Toyota Lovers is on at the Moonah Arts Centre, Hobart, 4-26 June 2021. The work emerged from stumbling across a place where locals take cheap cars to race, crash, strip saleable parts from, then trash. I found a couple of Toyota Camrys among the wrecks and was hopeful I’d find a replacement for the damaged windscreen washer bottle of my own Camry. Unfortunately, the two I found were nothing like mine and didn’t fit. But what amazing things they were. 

Things … American academic Bill Brown, who developed Thing Theory, says that a commodified object becomes a thing once it ceases to function; it is only then that we can truly see it. That is the exact status of the Toyota water bottles I souvenired, along with a Mitsubishi horn cover and a Ford electronic key: they no longer do what they were carefully designed and manufactured to do, so they can now be considered as presences in their own right. 

Giorgio Morandi, Still Life, 1950, oil on canvas, 35x45cm

Discussion of found object art typically begins with Marcel Duchamp but I am more influenced by his Italian contemporary, still-life painter Giorgio Morandi. Morandi had a sensibility close to Indian and Japanese concepts of the life force manifest in the inanimate. As art writer Wolfgang Holler said: ‘In the end Morandi always revolves around the same complex of questions: what way of being is immanent to the objects that I see … How can I depict objects that does justice to the dignity of their aura, that comes close to their essence.’ Morandi’s bottles and jugs are radical declarations of objecthood. They resist associations; they have nothing to say to the viewer, though they are interacting intensely with each other. Their non-engagement throws us back on ourselves and we must look again and ask “what are these things”? And the answer is that these bottles and jugs just are, and that is quite a radical challenge to human subjectivity and the way we classify the living and the inanimate. 

Gabrielle Rish fettling (refining) porcelain casts in 2019. Pic: Melinda Antal

I cast all four of my found plastic car parts in porcelain for the following reasons. Firstly, I wanted to learn how to make moulds. There are around 30,000 individual components in a motor car, each formed in its own skilfully tooled mould. A four-piece mould was required to replicate the complex form of one of my plastic bottles. Far too difficult for a novice like me, this took my esteemed teacher, former UTAS Sculpture technician Ian Munday, half a day to make. The second reason I reproduced the four objects in porcelain was so that they could be seen more clearly as forms, rather than old plastic shit. The third reason was that even hard plastic will eventually degrade and disintegrate. But porcelain, which is clay with a very high silica content, will fire into a hard, inviolate and durable material. My porcelain car parts could be dug up 10,000 years from now and provide clues to understanding our time, just as contemporary archaeologists attempt to learn about ancient societies from the fragments they leave behind. To complete Toyota Lovers, one day I will take my porcelain casts back to the site where I picked up their plastic originals and bury them for posterity.

Toyota Lovers 5-minute narrated video on YouTube

Goodbye to the art school

University of Tasmania art school, Hobart
University of Tasmania art school, Hunter St, Hobart: the building is an inspiration in its own right. Image: Gabrielle Rish

After two years of studying visual arts at TAFE and four years of a Bachelor of Fine Arts with Honours at the University of Tasmania, I have finally left the building. I went into the magnificent former IXL jam factory that is the Hunter St campus in 2015 as an absolute beginner in art (except for my habitual doodling with ballpoint pens in my reporter’s shorthand pads). I have emerged financially poorer but with a rich sense of the aliveness of the world. If you pay attention — and isn’t that what an artist does? — you will draw closer to the hidden mysteries and the external fascinations. The next step as an artist is to open those encounters to others.

I am currently part of a large group exhibition, Images of Tasmania 23, at the Salamanca Arts Centre and, in mid-January, my Honours cohort will show our work together in our own exhibition, Intimacy, at the Rosny Schoolhouse. I have a new art project taking shape and a solo show to work towards in mid-2021. I guess you could say I’m launched as an emerging artist.

But everything is always just beginning, especially as I’m an artist without a specialist medium. I find something I want to explore then work out the medium(s) to do that with, so I’m pretty much always an absolute beginner. To see this as a strength, rather than a weakness, I have to hold onto a way of thinking that I saw as the quote of the day on a “bunch of dates” desk calendar in my former working life: “If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye, which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible.” — Soren Kierkegaard.