Neil Roberts

Henderson, Priscilla,

"Tiny Idols Heaped in Piles"

Muse, Review, September 1996. pp. 31

Priscilla Henderson

Neil Roberts’ installation of sculpture at the Canberra Contemporary Art Space was produced during the six months of an ACT Creative Arts Fellowship in 1995. The purpose of these fellowships is to give artists the opportunity to work intensively for a period without the distraction caused by also having to work at paid employment.

The hundred or more pedestal forms in this exhibition are constructed from found and recycled objects. Together they make a forest of still lifes using, for the most part, familiar everyday objects. The pedestals are put together from metal parts–a rusty, metal garden stake embedded in a can of concrete; a twisted, chain letter box stand; plumbing parts; even an old cane and ply-wood plant stand.

Perched on top of these are other objects. Again, they are familiar, everyday objects–an electric light bulb, a tea pot, light shades, vases, a high heeled shoe, a guitar, even a megaphone trumpet and soccer balls. But turned upside down and painted with dull, dark green, flat, blackboard paint, they have been transformed. It requires an intellectual exercise to interpret what, in their usual environment, would be instantly recognisable.

By changing their colour, their position and their function they have taken on a different persona: familiarity is lost in the change of circumstances and presentation. While it is fun to walk through the installation, identifying the individual components, it is even more interesting to realise how far removed from their original function they have become. The effect is striking. The pieces have become totemic–tiny idols, in fact.

Neil Roberts, in his catalogue, quotes Norman Bryson who, talking about painting, argued that still life–the grouping together of often unrelated, functional things–involves the exploration of what ‘important’ art would see as trivial and insignificant. Roberts, in this body of work, has applied this thinking to sculpture. He has explored the potential of recycled items, but put them together in such a way that they assume much greater significance.

Neil Roberts has produced a visually interesting and thought provoking exhibition. The individual sculptures are not intended to stand alone, but to be seen as a coherent group. The artist has done what he set out to achieve. His time as a Creative Arts Fellow was well spent.