Over to Hope
In ‘The Open Studio,’ a collection of essays on art and aesthetics, Susan Stewart acknowledges that, “Artworks and persons inhabit a materiality vulnerable to decay and dissolution.” She continues, “They require acts of physical care as well as acts of disinterested engagement in order to continue, and they are finite nonetheless.” There is something about standing before a painting of a landscape or space with no conceivable boundary that triggers this sensation: acute consciousness of the finite frame of one’s mortality. Camilla Marie Dahl’s paintings in Four You Gallery’s ‘Over the Hill’ exhibition are not only of landscapes, they are also highly textural with a makeup of materials including pumice, perlite and coconut husk fiber. The paintings concurrently address human transience and are transient themselves, their aesthetical ideas demonstrated within their finality of form.
Although vulnerability seems to exist as a primary theme of the artworks, the exhibition title ‘Over the Hill’ alludes to feelings of hope and optimism. A glaring tension between susceptibility and possibility thus prevails. Therein lies possibility in the potential fecundity of the agricultural landscape, and in the fate waiting atop or over the distant hills. I am reminded of the comfort and consolation one finds in nature. To be outside, in the slow and cyclical progression of time, where beings evolve and the hills advance is at times reassuring. In the exhibitions namesake painting, the warm light and balmy colours demonstrate such promise, and the shadows cast by hay bales emphasise the illuminating presence of the sun. These shadows however, remain nearby in the paintings that illustrate a darker tone, suggestive of seasonal change. Significantly colder is the tenor of ‘Reserve’ or ‘Collection Day,’ both paintings shift contemplation back to despondency and demise.
Feelings of possibility and vulnerability continuously shift in and out of focus, both symbolically and literally. Whilst the current pandemic means many of us are unable to see ‘Over the Hill’ in reality, the noted scales of the paintings allow for us to make assumptions. Consuming in size, the paintings flood ones periphery on reasonably close encounter. From such a position I would imagine the image wavers in and out of focus, as the audience wavers in and out of conscious thought via hypnosis by art. On initial encounter the pictorial image is clear and comprehension is instant, yet on closer inspection apprehension prevails as lines are blurred and textures build abstraction.
The horizon is a recurring feature in many of Camilla Marie Dahl’s paintings, and again, inflicts dualist responses of anxiety and potential. For me, the horizon symbolises the ever-receding limit of what can be thought and known, as closure is persistently postponed. My tendency when presented with such expansive ambiguity is to exist within a position of perpetual doubt and uncertainty. However, it is essential that we give ourselves over to hope, and remain aware that as individuals we understand only in part. The perceptible rest is to be observed ‘Over the Hill’ when we get there. Dahl writes, “Perhaps it’s merely delusion, or a constructed fantasy, but here, we willingly forfeit ourselves to the hopes, dreams, and promises of the future.”
With cyclicality, I return to the abstractions of Susan Stewart. Art as is life, does not exist richly without transience. Unlike the horizon, “Artworks and persons…literally bear meaning, and once they are materially gone, they exist only if they are carried on in the para-life of reproduction and other forms of description; their uniqueness can no longer be experienced without mediation.”