This essay was written as part of the SEVENTH Gallery Writers Program in March 2017 and accompanied the exhibition Hold: Johanna van der Linden and Gabriel Mello.
As a body explores space in two parts
by Kathleen Linn
From the materials of the manipulated world, possessing attributes of the natural world.
Devoid of colour, cold, hard a contrived rock forms
its weight predominates our minds.
As it travels across an intersection of weight and weightlessness
comes the body in an ethereal form
not the body, where the body was,
traces and outlines of what is left behind
This is the body of the subtle world, leaving residue which can weigh more than stone
To shape the body to a weight
as the weight of ages shapes the body
Of stone and rock, yet mixed by machine and readily available in bags over the counter of a hardware store
Filled vessels their function, their value, their use
interaction performs them
Ideas of a concurrent interplay between falling and floating, weightlessness and gravity provide an interesting position from which to approach the work of Johanna van der Linden and Gabriel Mello. The artworks shown in Hold explore weight, volume and spatial dynamics through the residues and traces left by the body, its weight and materiality, and a meshing between weight and weightlessness, presence and absence.
Volume and mass, to carry a weight or bear a burden, within our gravitational eld exerts pressures both very physical and more subtle. Carrying a load can have a practical, material aspect of moving something from A to B but it can also have emotional and psychological connotations in the weight we bear in society and how much we carry with us through this world.
Carrying something often involves the use of bags and baskets of various forms—the value of these objects is intertwined with the body in an interesting way as they only function in relation to the body. A bag or a backpack moulds itself to the shape of the body as it is carried. A plastic shopping bag reshapes itself to accommodate its contents and how it is being carried—the distribution of mass between the bag and the person’s hand and body as they carry it. Whether we carry something with ease or with a struggle is determined by the contents of a bag, its shape, its volume and how this weight is distributed. Gabriel Mello’s work forms an exploration of weight, mass and the body. He explores the effects of weight on the body and how the body exerts its own force against this mass.
The creation of Mello’s work requires a strenuous physical performance. Upon filling a bag, backpack or plastic shopping bag with plaster he wears the bag against his body, or holds it in his hand, sometimes for hours as the plaster sets. The plaster-filled bag exerting pressure against his body and his body pushing back against the bag form a physical, durational performance of this transference of mass and force, creating a cast of the bag as it rests upon his body.
Mello’s works exhibited in Hold also explore how soft materials hang in space. In Hanging Bag (2015), for example, an interesting interplay of weight, materiality and spatial dynamics unfolds. The hanging material, often bed sheets, cradles the smaller sculptures in a sheltering gesture that not only explores space and weight, but also oppositional forces— hardness and softness, rigidity and suppleness.
Mello utilises many of the formal qualities of minimalism in his work—such as the use of cold, grey plaster and the simplified geometric forms the bags take on. His exploration of the temporal and spatial considers equilibrium and balance but also presence and absence, as well as how the viewer moves through the gallery space and encounters the works.
Weight is an emotional concept as much as it is a physical one, with baggage and burdens carried by many through the world. There is the mental weight an object occupies in our mind; this weight will vary greatly from person to person depending on our experience with a particular object and the accumulated memories, emotions and connotations associated with that object.
Johanna van der Linden’s work focuses on the body. She too is concerned with spatial concepts, and the subtle or haptic traces the body leaves behind as it moves through the world. The interaction between presence and absence, and the delicate changes that occur over the passage of time, form interesting lenses through which her work can be considered.
van der Linden explores the repeated, daily rituals of our lives in her photographic works. In Waking (2016) she took a photograph of the impression left on her bed sheets by her body every morning for around two months. These subtle photographs record the relationship between gravity and the corporeal. van der Linden examines weight distribution and how our body conforms to the sheets and mattress and how they are shaped by the body. Perhaps this gentle impression left on the sheets takes on a more ethereal quality, more akin to making snow angels; it records the presence of the body in the marks of its absence. van der Linden is fascinated with the ritualisation and recording of the banal aspects of our daily lives.
The concept of the subtle body comes primarily from the Hindu tradition, as well as other belief systems such as the occult and mystical teachings. The Bhagavad Gita, an important Hindu text, espouses that we each possess three bodies: our gross, physical body; the mental body and the subtle body. The subtle body is connected to, but is separate from, our physical body and accordingly the subtle body corresponds to an ethereal plane of existence. This plane sits in a hierarchy or great chain of being that culminates in the physical form. According to the Bhagavad Gita the subtle body is composed of mind, intelligence and ego, which controls the gross, physical body. This concept of the subtle body, of something intangible, disembodied yet intimately connected to the physical body and all its functions, connects to the indistinct and intangible bodily traces central to the work of van der Linden and Mello.