FEATURE STORY MARCH/APRIL 2021: A Forest of Hooks and Nails

What happens when Fremantle Art Centre’s install crew is let loose to transform the space with their own works? Plenty!


The install crew at Fremantle Art Centre installing their own works for A Forest of Hooks and Nails. Left, back row: Phoebe Clarke, Maxxi Minaxi May, Hansdieter Zeh, Angela Ferolla, Phoebe Tran. Centre row: Rob Kettels, Dan Bourke. Front row: Tom Freeman (Curator), Zev Weinstein and Hugh Thomson. Photo Lyn DiCiero.

Art galleries are engines of transformation. Many times a year they are re-imagined, re-arranged and often re-built to present a new body of works in a vast range of different media, all requiring specialist installation and adjustment. That is where the remarkable group of install assistants come to the fore. Attending to the idiosyncratic requirements of each artist they employ complex problem-solving skills to ensure the integrity of every artwork is respected. In this hot house environment of precise coordination and tight turnarounds you need a group of artists who care deeply about the practice of making exhibitions.

Of course, it must be a little frustrating for artists to install the work of others when they would ideally be preparing their own works for exhibition. So, this year for its Perth Festival exhibition, Fremantle Arts Centre has made their dreams come true. Tom Freeman, Install Coordinator at FAC, has curated an exhibition of ten of his install staff, allowing them to take over the walls, floor, and gallery spaces of the Centre as artists in their own right.

Amongst their work is a small altar to installation, a shelf on which the tools of their trade are laid out in a row of implements and accessories. Rawl plugs of different sizes and colours, rolls of tape, paint cans, a lazar level, paint stirrer, and the cleverly folded paper dust collector used when drilling are aligned together alongside signs announcing; “PLEASE DON’T PAINT THIS SECTION,” and another “PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH.” It is a homage to former Director Jim Cathcart, who announced when joining the Centre 15 years earlier in the middle of an install that it was like entering “A Forest of Hooks and Nails.” For Freeman, that comment was an appropriate title for the show, “… heady with poetic nostalgia and a poignant tribute.” 

Freeman goes on to explain the exhibition was not only an opportunity to showcase the talents of his remarkable crew but also a chance for staff to reveal “… the bones of this historic building.”  For Rob Kettels, this forensic investigation has led to an act of imaginative transformation. Occupying the small gallery to the rear of the building, his installation Mineral Rites uses salt, lighting gel, audio, and acrylic paint to create a magical environment.

Based on his experiences in 2016 trekking across the dry salt-lake Wilkinkarra (Lake Mackay), one of Australia’s remotest places and fourth-largest lake, Kettels investigates the ambiance of the salt-infused environment. He then deploys those sensual cues within the gallery to shift our consciousness out of gear. The juxtaposition of the seductive salt crystals covering the floor and the soft leaching of pink colour up the walls toward the blue sky is completely absorbing and convincing. Within that space, we are transported to a different reality where everything is subsumed or inflected with the heat, the piercing light, and the brittle dryness of that remote site.

The history of a building which has served as a place of incarceration and punishment had to be addressed by Hansdieter Zeh when considering how his work might sit within its walls. This thought process led him to create large photomontages applied directly to the wall. Constructed from a process of layered removal, like posters torn in layers from billboards, his works reiterate the idea of stripping away the past as an act of purging and renewal.

Other artists in the exhibition have found direct inspiration in their roles as install assistants. Maxxi Minaxi May’s marvellous fugue-like variations on rulers, set squares, measuring tapes, and assorted plastic protractors are both witty and aesthetically intriguing. Despite the fact she lists her favourite install tools as the scissor lift and drill, she mines a great deal of visual impact from assembling these measuring devices into sculptural forms. Deployed within the gallery they throw interlocking shadows against the wall, mix colour through refraction, and re-articulate the space in surprising ways.

Tyrone Waigana is similarly inspired by installing – painting walls, unpacking artworks, and the inevitable cleaning up. His delightful digital animation documenting the unpacking of each new artwork on arrival in the gallery is enthralling. In combination with his sculptural portrayal of wall preparation, we are given an insight into the attraction of install as professional engagement for an artist. Not only do these artists get to work with the materials of their craft – in itself a great joy – but there is also the pleasure of engaging with the work of artists you admire.

The premise of this exhibition was to celebrate the “… depth of consideration and investigation install staff give to the artworks and artists they work with.” The ten artists have responded magnificently by filling the galleries of the Fremantle Art Centre with their creative energy, with their delight in transforming spaces, and their enthusiasm for sharing the pleasure of encountering artworks for the first time.

A Forest of Hooks and Nails is on show at Fremantle Arts Centre until 14 March.   

Mineral Rites, 2021, salt, lighting gel, audio, acrylic paint, 437 x 890 x 539cm by Rob Kettels in A Forest of Hooks and Nails at Fremantle Arts Centre as part of Perth Festival. Photo Rebecca Mansell.

The light crystals, detail, 2021, FSC wood and plastic rulers, glue, 33 x 11 x 198cm by Maxxi Minaxi May. Photo Rebecca Mansell.

Painting, 2021, wire, aluminium, polymer clay, acrylic paint, fabrics, 32 x 27 x 27cm by Tyrown Waigana. Photo Rebecca Mansell.


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