"The sublime and the ridiculous are often so nearly related that it is difficult to class them separately. One step above the sublime makes the ridiculous and one step above the ridiculous makes the sublime again."
-Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason:
Part II. c1795
I stumbled across the DPAG’s latest art exhibition, Ridiculous Sublime, purely by accident on a rainy and miserable morning the other week. Stepping into the gallery after walking through the grey drizzle outside made me suddenly feel like Dorothy waking up in Oz; the works of Ridiculous Sublime are simultaneously kitsch and stylish, artistic and absurd, hilarious and thought-provoking.
This unique exhibition showcases the work of four Dunedin artists: Nick Austin, Jane Dodd, Scott Eady, and Rachel H. Allan. Surprising and original, the artists’ differing styles and mediums somehow come together to clash in the most harmonious way. In the centre of the space, for example, enormous marrows on bar stools pour fountains of water into plastic, clam-shaped paddling pools, filling the gallery with the sound of cascading water. Titled Sons of a clouded sky, this work reflects Eady’s interest in the elevation of private, domestic objects into more grand, monumental settings.
Austin similarly abstracts objects from their familiar realms, such as in “Milk Bottle Abstract #1”, where the outline of a plastic milk bottle hides amidst cow print camouflage. In “Negative Production”, we are presented with cardboard boxes but no indication of their contents, although Austin has suggested that what’s inside them are the paintings themselves. Viewers are encouraged to ‘solve’ his works like puzzles, interacting uniquely and thinking about possibilities in new ways.
Dodd’s fantastic jewellery-centred art works were a stand out for me, interweaving unique, animal-related forms and outstanding technical skill. Part jewellery boutique, part natural world, her section of the gallery space felt like stepping into something of a modern antique store, riddled with mice, bears, wolves, and mirrors.
The photography of Allan rounds off the exhibition beautifully, demonstrating her interest in concepts of curiosity, reality, mimicry and restraint. Her works create a shadowy, lonesome world in which polar bears gaze into the distance and old women sit in the shadows of monumental, nude statues. Haunting, this series imbues the exhibition with a sense of poignancy to prevent the bubbly absurdity from taking over completely.
Ridiculous Sublime somehow works. Despite contents which are haphazard and kaleidoscopic at best, something strings these four artists together neatly and succinctly. This exhibition left me feeling wacky, wonderful, and slightly nonplussed.