Tasmanian sculptor Mathew Calvert was an Asialink resident artist at Rimbun Dahan in 1998.
Born Smithton Tasmania, 1969
1997 Poets and Painters, Dick Betts Gallery, Hobart
1996 Survivability, Hobart GPO
Pulp, Burnie, Regional Art Gallery
1995 Bubble Rap, M&B Motors, New Cross, London
1994 Selected Works from the 1993 Anne & Gordon Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarships, Adelaide
1993 Group 16 Exhibition, Long Gallery, Hobart
1991 National Student Exhibition, Exhibition Building, Melbourne
1990 Insitu Fine Arts Gallery, University of Tasmania
1998 Asialink Rimbun Dahan Malaysia
1994 McCulloch Studio, Cite International des Arts, Paris
1997 Art for Public Buildings Scheme, TAFE Training Facility Prince of Wales Bay, Hobart
1991 Installation for Fletcher Construction at the ANZ Centre, Hobart
Scholarships and Awards
1992 Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarship
Dean’s Role of Honour, University of Tasmania
1995 MA Goldsmith’s College, University of London
1993 Graduated with Honours (First Class)
1994 1992 Bachelor of Fine Arts, Tasmanian School of Art, University of Tasmania
Notes on the Asialink Rimbun Dahan Residency Exhibition
by Adam Aitken
28th August to 27 September 1998
In the six months Tasmanian sculptor Mathew Calvert has resided at Rimbun Dahan, his glass monoliths have attracted the attention of his fellow artists and visitor alike. Within the Balinese Hindu-inspired water temple surroundings of Rimbun Dahan’s guest-house studio, these pieces are quasi-architectural forms which reflect the on-going modernist desire for pure clean forms, that comment upon eclectic post-modernity and the trace of Asian ideals inherent in their setting.
Each sculpture is composed of up to a thousand pieces of broken plate glass formerly used as building material which Calvert salvaged from a nearby kampung dump (below). These pieces tell the story of their own salvation from the melancholy fate of rejected industrial materials. Each piece extends our perceptions of how these materials can be used and viewed, as objects with intelligence and meanings they would not have enjoyed had they fulfilled their original utilitarian purpose as glass for high rise.
Each piece attests to the artist’s ritual of collection, cleaning and sorting the colour and thickness of each single shard before its actual placement. Such a process requires the will to discipline the chaos of the dump, to arrest the process of decay, to rescue perfectly usable material from industry’s unthinking wastage. Each piece yearns to be something spiritually complete, an ideal which an industrialising landscape struggles to realise.
From the detritus of a boom gone bust Calvert has transformed the ugliness of broken 10 millimetre plate glass into things conventionally beautiful on the outside, but haunting and threatening inside, a solid oblong and two “sarcophagi’. Each piece seems to mourn at the unmarked grave of an industrial disaster. Over the largest piece hangs a billboard sized back lit photograph of a landmark familiar to the KL commuter, a large abandoned skeleton of what could have been just another condominium. Its bare stairwells and lack of cladding reveal the emptiness of real-estate denuded of its “face”, its loss of status as well as the evidence of KL’s suddenly arrested modernisation. Through its empty floors one can view bare laterite hills and the transient outlands of the shabby city fringe. The building has colonised what was once a useful, perhaps picturesque space with its own semi-rural complexities of people, space, work and environment.
This juxtaposition of image and glass pike is a reflexive gesture and a reanalysis of the urban environment, as well as a poignant commentary on the history of all overreaching development. A wan fluorescence lights this edifice t0 failed vision, each piece emanating the same milky-white pallor of transience, decay, vacancy. Twentieth century modernity seemed to promise a simple mode of being, but is this an empty promise after all, a conceptual dead end?
The material to a certain extent has dictated Calvert’s choice of form, and every shard has been placed carefully to achieve a layer-cake of fractured light and resonance. Through judicious placement of each shard, Calvert has captured both the beauty and the ugliness of glass, which lies in its unpredictable nature: two perfectly flat surfaces, but the edge can be either ruler-straight, or jagged and chaotic depending how the sheet breaks.
Like Petronas Towers, the viewer is astonished at the weighty impact of something so abstract, single minded, and virtually colourless. But Calvert’s pieces are ironic commentaries on ideals of giantism, purity and perfection. Like the generic office tower of curtain glass the surfaces of these sculptures shine with autonomy, and a power expressed through total dominance of medium.
Most of the shards have had minimal but intensive handling, with no intentional breakage. The edges of each fragment are aligned in perpendiculars, each a brick in the wall that might go on forever if the artist had given full rein to his obsession. In “Recovery” (right), the viewer, from a confident position of privilege, seems to be walking around disciplined walls of glass, only to find this complacency shaken on looking down into a menacing shark’s mouth of broken edges.
Glass is fragile yet potentially dangerous to the flesh. Each piece says, “come and view me, but keep your distance!”
The paradox of glass is the fact that it is both solid and transparent, and each piece exploits this double identity. There are no false bottoms or hollow spaces in “Platform” yet the sarcophagus hints at containing the organic trace of life (below). But what life? Does the oblong bury a living thin, an essence of life? Like Narcissus, we gaze from Rimbun Dahan’s soft watery surrounding, we run aground o the force of these surfaces. The viewer apprehends the work as a sublime force, both beautiful and terrifying; it promises everlasting life for itself, more permanent and immutable than us. It refers to a technological future which is frightening, because the abandoned building signifies the incompletion of human creativity and our loss over control. The abandoned structure will never know the warmth and familiarity of human activity, and is haunted by the disquietude of ghosts.
Ross Wolfe, director of the Samstag Program wrote of Calvert’s early work as being in the nature of “a barricade which assaults and offends the aesthetic, rendering itself unapproachable through gross physical attributes alone. It’s spirit is open. As art, it is naked and vulnerable” (Samstag catalogue 1994). In this installation Calvert has disciplined his earlier sense of violence and grossness. Perhaps these pieces carry a new subliminal message: that meaning lies beyond cliches of economic rationalism. It’s wastefulness, is revealed, when the “used” must pay as much as the user in terms of lost space, lost greenery and blotted out horizons. One question Calvert’s work asks is whether the broken and rejected junk of a throw-away culture can be redeemed. Calvert’s pieces make us look at the piece itself, and contemplate the labour that makes it a thing in itself with its own aesthetic value, but they also express the human yearning for permanence. It is also art that risk ugliness and generates a slight feeling of repulsion and alienation one much feel when confronted by effective political art. These sculptures, born of the scrap heap, are perhaps windows, or more mysteriously looking-glasses for those who can read their destiny, but all they reveal is the law of their own grim presence, one a lot less illusory and therefore more strikingly truthful than the vision of “development” has every quite promised.
Adam Aitken has published two books of poetry, he is associate editor of “HEAT”, the Australian literary journal and was the Asialink Writer in Residency at Rimbun Dahan during Matt Calvert’s residency.
This is an Asialink project assisted by the Commonwealth Government through the Australia council, its funding and advisory body; Arts Tasmania and the Australian High Commission, Kuala Lumpur.