Working Separately in Tandem
Working creatively with another person is not always an organic or immediate process, even when you hold them and their practice in the highest esteem. Canberra-based artists Al Munro and Waratah Lahy have endeavoured an artistic partnership that has not resulted in collaboration, but in conversation.
The exhibition In Tandem began with partnering six of Brenda May Gallery’s represented artists to form creative duos that have an aesthetic or thematic connection. The aim of this curatorial decision was for the selected artists to create joint works. Munro and Lahy have taken this brief on an unexpectedly independent route.
Pairing Munro and Lahy was decided for a few reasons. Firstly, they live within proximity to one another, secondly they openly follow each other’s practices with great admiration, and, finally, their works visually and conceptually have a relationship. They both often employ diverse combinations of colours and lines, and have a complementary fascination with enhancing or distorting plain sight. In Munro’s interpretations of scientific data extracted using optical devices, and Lahy’s imagery depicting overlooked places and obscure viewpoints, attention is drawn to under-sights and oversights by either zooming in on invisible fragments or focusing on a single, stationary moment.
Meeting regularly at the Australian National University – their shared workplace – Munro and Lahy very quickly found multiple, interesting intersections within their practices, locating an aesthetic similarity between Munro’s ‘fictitious mineral drawing’ series comprised of prismatic structures, and Lahy’s alluring paintings that peer through stained glass windows at the Musée Carnavalet in Paris. Despite these similarities, they could not easily devise a way to combine their ideas and methods of production into collaborative works, as their approach to creation was far from harmonious. Instead, using crossovers as points of departure, they have created solo bodies of work that pay homage to one another.
Enlarging information undetectable to the naked eye, Munro’s recent artworks employ the study and mapping of atom arrangements within crystalline solids, known as crystallography. Her last two bodies of work imagine crystallographic data using glitter, cardboard, paint markers and crochet. Unfettered by medium in exploring her fascinations, Munro’s artworks have varied in form from coruscating wall-mounted clusters of pyramidic peaks, to thousands of concentric circles arranged as to create detailed charts, spilling from their canvases onto the surface of the wall.
Where Munro transcribes information into tangible forms, Lahy captures moments in time, most recently allowing the colours, shapes and deformities within the panes of windows, or created through light and shadow, to obscure her vision. As opposed to elucidating the invisible, Lahy complicates a clear view. In earlier works she painted familiar scenes on the insides of glasses, essentially painting the resulting image in reverse. She has also used perspex as her canvas, leaving gaps or hidden components within each scene. Throughout her practice, Lahy has illuminated the way people look at things, whether that is showing tourists huddled to experience the ‘Mona Lisa’ through their camera’s viewfinder, or capturing the unnoticed and therefore giving a profound presence to the peripheral.
Using Lahy’s most recent body of work – peering through windows – and Munro’s ongoing engagement with the scientific lens as starting points, both artists have adopted shapes and colours prominent in one another’s individual practices to create works that stem from a mutual fascination with human sight. Employing balsa wood and bright colours, Munro has mimicked the triangulated shapes in her own work and within Lahy’s patterned windows to create protruding clusters that mount directly onto the wall. Maintaining a fascination with the effect of observation through distortions, Lahy has produced a series of intimate paintings that similarly use the angular shapes apparent in both artists’ oeuvres.
Discovering via the prospect of collaboration that they work too differently to labour upon the same physical object, Munro and Lahy’s decision to instead create pieces that take cues from mutual aesthetic and thematic tendencies displays one of many differing ways in which the brief of “working together” can be interpreted and executed with intriguing results. As the mediator of this artistic relationship, it has been interesting to observe the way in which creative exchange and conversation can breathe new and tangential energy into an artist’s visual discourse.
Al Munro and Waratah Lahy are one of three artistic duos in the exhibition In Tandem on view from 22 April to 17 May at Brenda May Gallery, Sydney (NSW).
Olivia Welch is a curator and writer with an Honours Degree in Art History and Theory from the College of Fine Arts, Sydney. She is the senior gallery assistant at Brenda May Gallery where she previously co-curated Mighty Small in 2013.