ACQUA ALTA

2010

NORLA DOME
MISSION TO SEAFARERS
MELBOURNE

                                                       watch Weightlessness video here


The Acqua Alta project comprised four site specific installations spanning, institutional, domestic, and historic sites. The overall suite of exhibitions included spatial drawing, sculptural elements, lens based elements and moving image works.

Acqua Atla 4 presented in the historic Norla Dome at Melbourne's Mission to Seafarers  comprised fourteen cast resin mooring rings, 750 metres of rope, 400 litres of recycled ship engine oil, mirrors, five hand crafted measuring poles, enamel paint, aluminium leaf, two found chairs, a suite of five watercolours and a moving image work in exploring concepts related with natural fields of force and personal safety.

The Acqua Alta Project is accompanied by a 88 page publication. For inquiries regarding the publication please email info@andrewhazewinkel.com

three commissioned essays 

HOW MIGHT A THREAD OF MOMENTS BE LIKE THE SPACE OF A RIVER
Geraldine Barlow

How might a thread of moments be like the space of a river?

The Acqua Alta projects of Andrew Hazewinkel unfold with the logic of a traverse through a multi-layered terrain, a landscape with it’s own distinctive metaphorical, aesthetic, historical and conceptual features. Each work an installation of ropes and cast fibreglass anchors or holds, often presented together with found objects, photographs, sculptural works, drawings or films. Our attention is always drawn to the flow of our own movements through space and time, this dynamic passage becoming a metaphor for the many other movements running through the works. Together, the Aqua Alta projects elaborate a number of definitional tensions, creating a flow of meaning between apparent polarities: provisional and monumental architectures; symbolic markers of both the celebratory and the elegiac; liquid and solid, the clean and unclean, spaces of nature and culture.

….

Acqua Alta #1 2006, took place at the British School at Rome. Two of the four pairs of columns ornamenting the neo-classical façade were bound with a figure eight pattern of rope, a pair of circles, a symbol of infinity, and a path into the interior. Travelling through the foyer and on into a stairwell, the work entered the sub-terrain, or lower level of the school. Here the rope criss-crossed the space, threaded through a series of transparent fibreglass wall rings or anchors, glowing in the overhead light. Suspended upside-down from the ropes was a chair. Like flotsam and jetsam tumbling on a flooded river, the upended chair evokes a liquid quality, as if, in a parallel reality, air might be water. There is a strong sense of movement, alongside a counter-tension of claustrophobia and stasis. The world is upside down here, what was once functional is now an ornament in a web, a sculptural form with an absurd pathos.

As if following Ariadne’s thread in reverse, viewers were then asked to journey down the stairs, and along a further corridor within the bowels of the building. A rhythm was established in the space, with the sway and repetition of each arched line of rope. Whilst web-like, this garland trail of brightly woven cord was also celebratory. A similar palette of bright primary colours was threaded through Hazewinkel’s photographs at the end of the corridor Domus-sub/merge 2006. Here we encounter the tents and bright plastic bags housing the belongings of those living under the bridges along the Tiber River. Each of these photographs of contemporary Rome were paired by Hazewinkel with an image from the Ashby, Bulwer and Mackey Collections, within the archives of the British School, black and white prints of the Tiber in flood, swirling around the distinctive bridges and monuments of the city, images of that which has persisted through time, alongside more fragile and transitional habitations.

….

The next evolution of the Acqua Alta project further developed the connection to home. The artist’s own home was the site of Acqua Alta #2 2008. Visitors first encountered a web of chocolate brown rope in the entry stairwell, spanning the brick walls and rising angles of stairs. Again the transparent anchors were employed. Tethering points, fixing the dynamic movement of the rope, a necessary signal of stability. Celebrating the need to fix.

Home. Where we fix and ground ourselves, a place to take root. Here the fixed anchors are in tension with the dynamic form of the rope, multiple trajectories issue from each ring, the mobile, tensile form of the rope requiring the stability of the ring to span the space.

Passing through the front door and entry Hazewinkel’s tracerie of woven cord finds a single space of play in the lounge room, a giant game of cat’s cradle, a dynamic process frozen into a moment’s pause. The web of cord surrounds us, as if capturing the energy and ricochet of past events or conversations as they echo and drift. The room is empty but for these dynamic lines. It is a room with an unspecified history: with white plaster cornices, rich timber skirtings, polished floorboards and a rendered concrete fireplace. Empty but for these lines drawn in space, past moments take on a palpable presence. Emptiness frames fullness.

….

The Italian Institute of Culture, Melbourne was the site of Acqua Alta #3 2009. The ropes and holds, or anchors, which form the connective tissue of the project again led visitors on an exploratory path. These colourful, cords suggest the embedded visual codes of heraldry or horse-racing. In the main salon of the institute was the video work Splinter cycle (recurrent dream) 2008. Here a branch or tree trunk is caught in a flow of water: we encounter the flood and a kind of drowning, or struggle to emerge. Bells chime, as if to mark the solemn threshold of a ritual passage between one state and another, and direction of the film shifts, suggesting time itself might be caught in a nightmare eddy of the river.

Across from this film, again in the main salon, were the series of photographic works begun whilst Hazewinkel was at the British School at Rome, Domus-sub/merge 2006-9. Upstairs were two further works, also filmed in Rome. Raft 2009 in which a wooden pallet dips and bobs on quietly sparkling waters and Turbulence 2007 where empty drink bottles and lost soccer balls gleam in the light, caught, dancing in slow motion as well as churning, trapped in this eddy of the Tiber. This work is again almost festive, with it’s brightly coloured subjects caught on the gleaming, flood of water. There is something deeply unsettling in this beauty, this excess of buoyant trash and lost toys, a sense of warning and foreboding.

….

Acqua Alta #4 2010 took place at the Norla Dome, a landmark building within the Mission to Seafarers, on the banks of the Yarra River, historically at the centre of Melbourne’s docks and wharves. Walking into the space visitors encounter a chandelier-like tangle of red rope, swagged and suspended within the soaring arc of the dome. Light falls from a circular window, or aperture, above. On the floor, in the centre of the space, is a highly reflective circle of black sump oil, from which a convex mirror protrudes, yet another double in this play of many perspectives. Ropes traverse the vaulted volume of the dome. A layered sketch of red, anchored with Hazewinkel’s fibreglass holds as well a number of existing iron rings, a series of brightly painted geometric measures cut the space vertically. In the entry, the video work Weightlessness 2010, in which tattered bunting such as that which might adorn a used car sales yard, moves in the breeze, a white shrouded building behind. Time flows erratically, the orange triangles seeming to move to multiple time signatures. Again, we encounter an unsettling conjunction of the elegiac and the celebratory, the natural and the uncanny. Walking into this space is like walking into and through a drawing. The rope lines relay and transfer energy, just as they might on a yacht. Whilst slender, supple and made of many threads they also have enormous strength, they are vital, when actively employed.

In Acqua Alta #4 Hazewinkel offers us the opportunity to step into an internally focused oculus. Between the circular skylight above and the mirror of oil at our feet, we find ourselves occupying a third sphere, where the concrete is bound to the imagined, creating a propositional space of tangled lines, beautiful webs, flooded monuments and provisional dwellings, a space where the laws of perspective are governed by our own field of perception.

LUCCIOLE
Dr. Anthony Gardner

If clichés are anything to go by, then Rome is the Eternal City by virtue of its architecture. From the ancient relics of the Forum to the monumental Pantheon, from the cupola of St Peter’s to other Renaissance and Baroque wonders, and out further still to the suburbs and estates teeming with contemporary living, the narratives of Rome unfurl centrifugally through the city, the longevity of its history captured in the immutable authority of bricks and stone. For the great poet and cineaste provocateur Pier Paolo Pasolini, however, this was entirely the wrong way to approach the forces of history. It was not the city’s walls and lintels that put us in touch with long distant pasts, he believed, for architecture was but a mute marker within time, refusing to divulge the events that it had seen. For him, history was not something contained within permanent structures, but released through much more ephemeral events: through fleeting gestures and colloquial speech, for instance, passed down from one generation to the next like waves of embodied memory; or through the particular rhythms of dialects that, as sound and tempo rather than language, have resisted their incarceration as objects of knowledge or static marks on a page.

Following the writings of Deleuze and Guattari and Jean-François Lyotard, history for Pasolini was something to encounter through the ostensibly irrelevant or easily overlooked – through articulations of all things “minor” rather than grand narratives. These brief and brilliant signals, these irruptions of the past within the present, were what he called lucciole: bright, flickering visions that dart in and out of perception like fireflies dancing at night.[i] To glimpse these lucciole meant being open to engaging with history as something lived, not simply read, and being sensitive to historical recurrence in unexpected and even ungraspable ways. It also meant, as the historian Georges Didi-Huberman would later argue, realising how “minor” histories can evade capture within the dominant understandings of the past and rigid architectures of knowledge. Lucciole, according to Didi-Huberman, can therefore be considered forces of resistance, opening up new perceptions of history, and tearing new holes in the teleologies that drag from the Antique to the Renaissance and thence to the neoliberal present where everything, including time and historical knowledge itself, has chiefly become a commodity.[ii]

At first glance, this Pasolinian discourse may seem remarkably distant from the work of Andrew Hazewinkel, especially given his long-held interest in water that would surely douse the lucciole’s light. This would, however, be a deceptive first glance, for it is precisely the fragile, the precarious, the survival of all things fleeting, and the historical roots of these survivals that have been Hazewinkel’s persistent subject in recent years. In particular, it is the pulsation of history along Rome’s River Tiber that has snared Hazewinkel’s attention, for if Rome’s architecture is its make-up, then its more profound and murky memory lies within the Tiber.

Here, Romans have been disposing the traces of fellow Romans for centuries, in the hope that the Tiber’s perpetual floods, rising up and down the river’s banks in seasonal rhythms, will take the detritus downstream and out of sight. In the past – and, most likely, still in the present – this has involved using the river as a repository for unwanted bodies (Caesars and commons alike). Today, wanderers curious to leave Rome’s glamorous ground level and to head down the steep, fractured staircases to the water will generally find less gruesome, more banal objects caught in the river’s currents. These are the focus of many of Hazewinkel’s videos: the plastic bottles and soccer balls of Turbulence (2007) caught indefinitely in the cataract on the western side of the Isola Tiberina, the long slipstream of an island within the river south of the Castel Sant’Angelo; the branches and, on occasions, large tree trunks that bash noisily against the cataract on the island’s eastern side (Splinter Cycle, Recurrent Dream, 2008); the bags and (in Raft of 2009) wooden palette trapped in shallow eddies waiting for the next storm or flood to send them on their way to their next temporary destination. This rubbish caught in the motions of the river may seem utterly meaningless. Yet, as Pasolini suggested in the 1970s, the trivial is actually the means by which history may best reveal itself, for the sight of waste trapped bobbing in the river and the sounds of trees beating against the river’s walls and base are among the few constants within Rome since its early Republic. Each thud of wood against riverbed is potentially little different from the churning sights and sounds of the Tiber two thousand years ago, reverberating with the impact of an everyday living history that has somehow survived amid the fetishised pasts for which Rome is usually renowned.

Hazewinkel’s photographs – collectively titled Domus_sub/merge (2006-2009) – take a slightly different approach to the Tiber as a curious kind of archive. Here, survival is less about the recurrence of “minor” sights and sounds through time, so much as the resilience of community on the river’s banks and in the wake of its floods. Each work within these suites comprises two photographic images set adjacent to each other: on one side, an image originally sourced from the British School of Rome’s holdings (principally from the Ashby, Bulwer and Mackey collections), showing sites that have withstood particularly high Tiberian waters; on the other side, the spaces that people living on Rome’s streets have taken over as temporary homes, their materials deliberately makeshift (cardboard, plastic, foam and so forth) given the objects at hand and the imminent likelihood of either the river or the Roman authorities sweeping those homes away. Implicit in both types of scenario, then, is a will to overcome the Tiber’s power to wipe over everything in its path, like a palimpsest or Freud’s mystic writing pad:[iii] on the one hand, the monumental stone of the bridges and arches that try to withstand the writhing current; on the other, the remarkably ordered and precise layout of these homes, to the point that, in one instance, even the shapes of pillows have been fashioned from a cardboard bed. Precision here provides a potent means of working with and through precariousness, a will to return to order that bears a humility quite unlike the stubbornness (perhaps even the hubris) of the “grander” architectural forms, and one which often goes ignored at the base of the staircases beside the Tiber’s lonely edge. This is survival from the position of the marginal and the fleeting once more, of survival ‘despite everything’, as Did-Huberman has written, and of glimmers of forgotten experiences that exist alongside – but are not subsumed within – “major” histories.[iv]

The use of ropes throughout Hazewinkel’s series of Acqua Alta projects articulates a third strategy against architecture. Here, the diagonals and acute angles of the rope weaving from wall to ceiling to floor clashes with, complicates, even immanently corrodes, the perpendicular structure of the buildings that have housed these projects: the British School of Rome, Hazewinkel’s Melbourne home and the Italian Institute of Culture in Melbourne. Seemingly stable forms lose that stability, become floating features caught within and behind the gauze of netted ropes (most infamously, a chair soaring high in a stairwell in the British School). In the case of the Seamen’s Mission, however, these ropes also seek to retrace and visualise transitory histories – namely, those of the sailors using the Pantheon-like dome of the Mission as a gymnasium, climbing up and down ladders and ropes to the ceiling, across walls or from one wall to another. The seamen’s long-vanquished sounds and strains find their approximation in the abstract forms writhed by the fibre as it courses across the building – the rapid-fire movements up, down and pinging through space, replicated by the taut zips and knots of the ropes, their multicoloured reds and yellows and whites flashing across each other like yet more fireflies dancing.

In each instance, then, Hazewinkel’s work charts trajectories between the energies of living and their erasure through time, floods and disavowal. Survival – or what Didi-Huberman has called survivance, l’image survivante, the image surviving[v] – becomes a medium as much as a subject here, much as it was for Pasolini. It becomes a means of following the lucciole and visualising again what has occurred and recurred through time, struggling against the narrowed focus and amnesia that riddle the dominant accounts of our pasts. This may be why Hazewinkel finds correlations, perhaps even inspiration, in a small drawing by Leonardo da Vinci in the British Royal Collection – A Cloudburst of Material Possessions (c.1510) – in which a storm concentrates its force in either raining various everyday objects to the ground (rakes, bottles, maybe even a football), or sweeping them away in floodwaters. This is the ambiguity of Leonardo’s “minor” sketch: does the storm shower the soil with wealth, or sweep possessions away; is it a positive or a destructive force?

A similar ambiguity lurks, I think, within Hazewinkel’s tracings of the survivants, the lucciole and the survival of all things “minor” in the present: Can history resonate in different ways from what one might expect? And how might it be actualised, perceptible, traceable, long after its energies have presumably died down? It is a resonance that is not limited to Rome’s Tiberian underbelly, of course, but finds itself flowing everywhere in other, unexpected ways as well.

[i] Pier Paolo Pasolini, ‘L’articolo delle lucciole’, Saggi sulla politica e sulla società, ed. Walter Siti and Silvia De Laude, Milan: Arnoldo Mondadori, 1999 (originally written in 1975), pp. 404-411. The contrast of ‘minor’ to ‘grand’ narratives is best seen in Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986, and Jean-François Lyotard’s celebrated introduction to his book The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984, pp. xxiii-xxv.

[ii] Georges Didi-Huberman, Survivance des lucioles, Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 2009.

[iii] Sigmund Freud, ‘A Note Upon the Mystic Writing Pad’, The Standard Edition of Freud’s Works, ed. James Strachey, vol. 19, London: The Hogarth Press, 1961 (originally published in 1925), pp. 227-232.

[iv] Didi-Huberman, op. cit., p. 36.

[v] Georges Didi-Huberman, L’image survivante, Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 2002.

 

OF GREEKS AND CONTEMPLATION
Rebecca Coates

The antique and the everyday

There’s an exquisite little drawing that sits in the Queen’s Collection in Windsor Castle. As Andrew Hazewinkel researched Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings of deluges and studies of water whilst based in Rome, he came across a reference to this small and little known 16th century drawing. [1] After circuitous introductions and lengthy correspondence, Hazewinkel had the opportunity to spend a brief couple of hours with the drawing in London.

It’s a tiny drawing, not even 12 cm square, and as all works in the Royal Collection are denoted, it is stamped in the bottom right-hand corner with the ER and crown. Possibly a political allegory, or allegory of Fortune[2], the work itself is done in ink, now faded to a dried-blood sepia tone. The drawing also bears the markings of other experiments in line, with dark charcoal-like smudging which may be part of the cloudburst drawing, or, as with so many of the drawings of this time, may be unrelated jottings made in haste on the nearest page to hand. There is text all over the page, both front and verso, in what appears to be Leonardo’s characteristic reverse mirror-writing in an old Italian dialect. O mjseria umana, ‘oh human misery’, spiders in reversed text across the base of the page: an ambiguity that leaves a contemporary viewer unsure whether this is a calamity we have bought upon ourselves. On a more prosaic note, the text on the rear appears to be six lines detailing Leonardo’s household expenses.

Leonardo’s drawing depicts a form of deluge, a cloud-burst of God-like proportion, where every-day objects appear to cascade from the sky. Though centuries old, the image has parallels to more recent footage of disasters from our natural world captured during the devastation of recent tsunamis and local floods, whilst the ominous cloud clusters appear not dissimilar to contemporary photographs of the great rolling cloudscapes of ash from the Icelandic volcano.[3] The scene has an extraordinary contemporaneity with many of the objects cascading from above indistinguishable from the detritus of our own modern times. They have a familiarity and an every-day quality of the stuff that clutters our 21st century lives. The rain of material possessions described in the catalogue includes ‘rakes, bills, bagpipes, barrels, clocks, ladders, pincers and spectacles.’ I make out forms that could be aerosol cans; a small plastic looking rake; rubber rings that tangle with hooks and the legs of upturned stools; and tubing, cylinders and dome-like forms, which in more contemporary times clog our landfill and litter our shores.

The seeming contemporaenity of the subject may have attracted Hazewinkel to this small drawing. For many years, and many European sojourns, he has captured footage of rivers in flood, gathered archival photographs of familiar locations made unfamiliar by the deluge, and documented the accidental installations and every-day accidents that appear as the water recedes. Whilst the specific locations are less important than the flotsam and jetsam that eddies and swirls or the patterning and marking that appear in the mud, I cannot help be fascinated by familiar locations made unfamiliar by extraordinary events. Rome’s Pantheon half-submerged in the Tiber’s excess; or furniture floating by as rivers burst their banks – the domestic made unfamiliar through its watery change. There is a stillness to these photographs, and silence from the absence of people and human form, which is belied by the raging fury of the video footage however much it is slowed down. Nature unleashed has the ability to make even the most ubiquitous item of 21st living, the plastic bag, an object of beauty and – albeit ambiguous – wonder.

The archaeology of the lost and found

It is quite possible that Hazewinkel’s Acqua Alta series of works also enjoins the viewer to reappraise particular buildings and architectural spaces. He seems to draw attention equally to the buildings that house the project as the project framed within the walls. In this, I am reminded of one of the 20th century’s seminal installation works, Marcel Duchamp’s Sixteen Miles of String, 1942. Though more like one mile in length than the intended sixteen, Duchamp famously hung several hundred feet of twine in and around work in the first international Surrealist exhibition in the United States. Titled the First Papers of Surrealism, the exhibition was held in midtown Manhattan’s Whitelaw Reid mansion. Acting in part as a veil, Duchamp’s white string not only masked part of the Gilded Age architecture of the Mansion and some of the paintings displayed in the exhibition, but also operated as a device to draw visitors’ attention not only to the ‘art’ itself but also to the physical experience of the exhibition space. 

Where Hazewinkel’s previous Acqua Alta projects may have used rope like Duchamp’s string, Acqua Alta #4 pushes beyond a device of veiling and relief. Though Hazewinkel’s delicate tracery of spider-like webbings formed by coloured climbers’ rope loop through architectural details, objects, and fixed points in space, within the centre of the tautly delineated space is an organic tangle of red. Looping and twisting, the marine rope has an organicism, both of material and form, more akin to Eva Hesse’s minimalist explorations than its surrounding frame.

The Acqua Alta project has continued to develop and evolve through time, creating a series of works that also link through time, commencing in Rome and now concluding in one of Melbourne’s often overlooked architectural gems. Acqua Alta #4 is presented in the former gymnasium building of the Seamen’s Mission. Designed in 1916 by architect Walter Richmond Butler, the Mission to Seafarers building was intended to reflect Melbourne’s significance as a centre for shipping commerce. With the changing tides of the city’s focus and locus of economic wealth, this once grand building now sits rather forlornly, like a footnote in time, dwarfed by the adjoining Melbourne Convention Centre on a busy axial thoroughfare to the burgeoning Docklands and Melbourne’s west. The building’s exterior is a pattenated concrete and brick confection of Spanish Mission Style and English Arts and Crafts, framed at one end by the Chapel, and the other by a gloriously proportioned domed space lit from an overhead oculus window. Far smaller in scale and more modest in form, the cement dome and oculus shape cannot but remind viewers of its Roman exemplar, the Pantheon, and the many subsequent architectural monuments it has inspired.

There is a love of architecture in Hazewinkel’s choice of building, as well as an ongoing attachment to the buildings and history of Italy and Rome: from the Neo-Classical columned façade of the British School where the project was first presented, through the rather muddled Melbourne stucco of the Italian Cultural Institute, to the pared back aesthetic of timber and pressed metal ceilings in the 1930s Art Deco Elwood mansion apartment.

Into this framework, Hazewinkel introduces his installation-based work created from coloured ropes reminiscent of Duchamp’s string, and a system of cast fiberglass eyelets, or fixing rings, that he has employed for each of the various project’s installations (the source of inspiration for these objects a piece of metalwork embedded in the stone wall of the Tiber, for mooring boats). There is a sparseness to this web of coloured rope, that while referencing volumetric shape and recent histories of institutional critique, also has psychological overtones of containment and control. Objects are variously inserted, and caught in the web: a wicker chair hung suspended and upside down in Rome; a red plastic framed circular mirror; the discarded frame of an unusable deck chair; video footage from the river in flood, and a series of photographs (some historic whilst others recent) of Italian cities in flood juxtaposed with the artworld-like sparseness of the homeless living in temporary structures along the banks of the river.  Hazewinkel’s use of every-day objects certainly continues numerous contemporary artists’ interest in and incorporation of the often-ignored objects of today’s world as an expression of their desire to invite interaction between the artwork and the audience. What extends it is his inclusion of a series of forms that both reference minimalist sculpture in their shape and intent, whilst also referencing the nautical underpinnings of these projects - red for port and green for starboard.

Mirrors

Along with his series of found and reconfigured objects, Hazewinkel’s use of mirror and mirrored surfaces in Acqua Alta#3 links him to a long trajectory of artists in Western art history who have experimented with the reflected gaze. Mirror, as Ann Stephen suggests, is the ‘surface par excellence of late modernism. Its paradoxes confound the illusion of transparency – indexing the instabilities of perception, while offering the possibility of reflexivity.[4] The conceptual artist Ian Burn writing in the late 60s reflected that ‘a mirror produces not only an event or a piece of self-conscious theatre, but also deflects visual attention away from the object itself.[4] Similarly, the small red-framed cheap plastic mirror that Hazewinkel first employed in project #3 acted like a reflective oculus, or 16th century convex mirror: a device that not only echoes space, pinpointing specific spatial interrelations, but also acts as another element in the creation of spatial illusion.

The reflective sump oil in Acqua Alta#4 works on a different levelIt mirrors and reflects, but also absorbs in a way that the silvery surface of glass and paint doesn’t. As with the string, or ropes festooned in architectural space, the sight – or smell – of this viscous substance has antecedents, particularly British installation artist Richard Wilson’s piece 20:50, first installed at Matt’s Gallery, London in 1987, and then permanently located in the North London Saatchi Gallery in 1991. Dealing with volume, illusionary spaces, and auditory perception, as visitors were invited to walk out into the lake of oil without visible lip or edge (through the use of a hidden walkway almost completely submerged in the oil), the reflected surface created an illusion of the room turned upside down and inverted.  Hazewinkel’s smaller, and more discreet pool of oil, placed in the centre of the domed space, creates a similar illusion of space as it reflects the oculus and domed ceiling from below. Unlike Wilson, Hazewinkel does not fill the oil to the rim. Rather than a pool of infinity, Hazewinkel has created a viscous mirror – Narcissus in a toxic pool – a further device to reflect entanglements and light.

To end

I began with an element of the exhibition that does not appear: Leonardo da Vinci’s small work on paper.  It has become a refrain, this small and powerful motif, rather like the soundscape that quietly permeates Acqua Alta#4. Although our lack of knowledge of Leonardo’s work does not lessen our experience of Acqua Alta#4 in its architectural context, our knowledge and understanding of it through the exhibition catalogue makes this experience all the richer. It is another layer in this textured installation of objects and sound.

As the Acqua Alta project has evolved, it has been pared back, objects significant to place have been added, and spatial considerations have evolved in response to site and time. Sump oil has appeared, presented in a shallow metal disk whose form perfectly replicates the oculus window above. Fabulous hydrometer-like forms hang pendulously from the dome, striated variously in red and white stripes, silver and black, echoing devices used to measure the relative density of liquids. A projection of billowing plastic and bunting in the wind captured and slowed echoes canvas rigging, or the inexorable pull of the ocean tide. The accompanying soundscape becomes an aural landscape of sonar blips and man-made tides. Through mirroring and reflective surface, light is replicated, projected, and captured through line, each echoing surface acting not simply as a looking-glass or readymade. Each of these discreet forms, suspended to inhabit the space, are linked by the series of lines and voids. Though some lines are taut and some are at ease, the whole – with its precision and consideration of space and form – invites us to consider carefully this moment in time.

April 2010

Rebecca Coates is an independent curator, writer and academic. She is Associate Curator at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, and is undertaking a PhD at the University of Melbourne.

[1] The work appears as catalogue entry 12698 in Clark, Kenneth. The Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle, Revised with the Assistance of Carlo Pedretti. Vol 1, 2nd Edition, London: Phaidon, 1968, p. 176.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull glacier erupted on 14 April 2010, closing international airports and causing air flights to be cancelled for a matter of weeks.

[4] Ann Stephen, Mirror Mirror then and now, ex. cat., IMA, Brisbane, 2010, p. 5.

[5] Ian Burn, ‘Glimpses: On Peripheral Vision’, in Dialogue: writings in Art History, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1991, p. 191 cited in Stephen.