17 September to 10 October 2009
On Pearls, Fans: new work by Andrea Tu
Andrea Tu is talking to me about her recent work and while I am trying hard to concentrate on her rather expert treatise about formalism, I find myself distracted. What do the terms ‘misshapen pearl’, ‘Baroque’ and ‘the fold’ have to do with formal, geometric histories? And what the hell ever happened to that emerald green Issey Miyake shirt my sister had, god, I hope she didn’t give it to the op shop.
Andrea Tu’s artwork is so beautiful. In its quiet, pale way, it insists on things. There are the rumpled, twisted paper pleats that recline just so (so reminiscent of Issey’s signature pleated clothes; forgotten, abandoned, on the bedroom floor). There are the meticulous drawings, made with a steady hand, causing the viewer marvel at her precision and patience (“I can wait all night”, she seems to be saying, “no, longer; a life-time…”) and of course, the paintings.
When I encounter Andrea’s paintings, I always get lost in thinking about history, the history of art in particular. Andrea is interested in the way disparate elements can come together and create new meanings. She explains it all beautifully to me, so convincingly, starting before Socrates, dwelling on Deleuze and ending with her own, idiosyncratic take on her recent paintings. Certain things stick for me: it’s that eagle and the slope of the roof it’s perched on, the spilt seed, a whiteness, fluorescent yellow lights, a darkness.
Her rationale collapses gorgeously into the signs and intuition of her paintings; into her art.
Flux is where one thing gives way to another. A becoming. This is where Andrea’s work gets really interesting. She is interested in how the Baroque period can be described as a period where things that are known get pushed into new forms (the term Baroque derives from the Portuguese word ‘barocco’ which means misshapen pearl). Her drawings brim with a sense of action, of agency and while they reference patterns, quilting even, they also manage of speak of new worlds, new codes that haven’t yet been deciphered. Her sculpture rears up, while simultaneously falling in on itself, and her paintings gallop, gaining momentum, but going backwards to hit a wall of zigzag static. This tendency to go back, forward and sideways in history at the same time is impressive, encyclopaedic even, and speaks of Andrea’s acute awareness of the myriad of meanings behind her pared-back, deceptively simple consequences.
And speaking of pearls, Jed Perl, a writer who lives in New York, writes (in his extraordinary book on 18th century painter Antoine Watteau) intriguingly about fans:
“In their instability and their delicacy, painted fans, these luxurious toys, suggest the ephemeralness of painting, the provisional character of all painting’s illusions. The nature of the fan’s support, which is mobile, changeable, reminds us of the thinness, the shallowness of even painting’s grandest illusions, reminds us that painting is always a fiction, a screen that hides another reality, just as behind the little pastoral scene the owner of the fan can hide her eyes, her mouth. Among the legends about the origins of the fan there is a story of a Chinese empress at a public audience, masked so that her subjects could not see her face, who became so hot that she removed the mask and began fanning herself with it. This suggests that the fan and the mask grow from the same root, that the fan is a sort of mask.”
I would suggest Andrea Tu’s work demands a parallel reading of sorts. The pleats and folds in her painting, drawing and sculpture, like Watteau’s fans/masks, speak as much about the unstated potential of what lies behind them as they do of themselves. Precise and fine, monstrous and relentless, Andrea’s work contains a type of immensity that is set loose in her viewer’s mind. A pearl becomes misshapen, the world changes forever.