John Hurrell – 25 August, 2017
Lined up as they are in Lett's narrow straight corridors, the gallery turns into a museum where the promenading visitor is examined by these bodiless soldiers. You run the gauntlet, even if they have no arms to beat you, and sometimes their eyes are blind.
26 July - 26 August 2017
A suite of approximately twenty-eight small ceramic male heads lines the outer brick-lined corridors of the downstairs Michael Lett basement. Wearing the helmets of ancient Greek warriors and depicted as singing the first and last letters of the Sanskrit alphabet (as Thomas McEvilley‘s extraordinary book on the subject has shown, there was considerable interaction between ancient Indian and Greek cultures), they are sorted into pairs and accompanied occasionally by found objects like shells, Macrocarpa twigs or small crushed beer can tags.
There is an appealing rawness about these diminutive vocalising busts, resting on plinths that reference ancient architecture: accompanied by white light and a drone-like soundtrack—made using struck glass vessels—that emanates out of the echoey bank vault at the centre of the gallery.
Koji Ryui is a Sydney artist. His fired physiognomies present a lot of variety-in their textural properties or in their groupings on the plinths. Some are hollow with thin layers like eggshells, and others have flat seashells or cast walnuts balancing on their tops—strange spiritual symbols possibly about the nature of the self. One or two have glitter sprinkled down over their visors and noses. Some mouths are wide open; others only partial. They don’t look compos mentis. Perhaps they are sailors from Sebastian Brant‘s Ship of Fools.
Oddly such intimate delicate sculptures also remind me of some much larger artworks, paintings like Sydney Nolan’s expressionist portraits of miner’s heads or some of Francis Bacon’s oil portraits; they carry a lot of power. Of course they have no smeared paint or frenetic brushmarks, only baked hand-pressed clay coated with mottled speckled glazes: distorted, stretched and layered facial forms that hint at burnt or wounded skin. There is a strong sense of mutilation or violent calamity. And mental disturbance.
Lined up as they are in Lett’s narrow straight corridors, the gallery turns into a museum where the promenading visitor is examined by these bodiless soldiers. You run the gauntlet, even if they have no arms to beat you, and sometimes their eyes are blind.
This is a great show for the atmospheric narrow space that is like a subterranean alleyway: one of the highlights of the Lett calendar.