Catalogue essay by Stephen Palmer

Between the sky and ground II (an image)
Fiona Williams
by Stephen Palmer

Between the sky and the ground suggests the familiar territory of everyday activity; a loosely designated space within which some events are to occur. It seems also to name a kind of non-site, the infinitely small space of a line of demarcation within a painting or a photograph. This is indicative of the conventional condition of the landscape image, typically balanced between these complimentary fields. But Fiona Williams’ images abscond this familiar line. Instead her practice attempts to enter directly into this notion of ‘between’: entailing a fraying of the distinction between sediment and firmament, atmosphere and object; defying orientation in favour of the partial or transitory.

Indeed Between the sky and the ground appears to name quite an extensive zone, yet the images themselves, as is consistent with Williams’ wider practice, operate through a strategy of intensification and exclusion. An image would seem to be something shown, something given to sight, apprehendable. Here what is shown speaks of something else, something concealed, or of the limitations of what is recorded and given to our viewing. A tightly framed Polaroid, cropping an area of grass and concrete, operates like a glance towards the earth as one wanders or stumbles towards some other point. Though discrete, the dramatic perspective of this image lends a lurching rhythm echoed elsewhere in the exhibition. Paintings on aluminium pick up snippets of foliage, which flicker on the surface of the metal as if caught there temporarily. At the same time the aluminium seems as if it could be a permeable surface–like that of a river–from which the marks are emerging, as if feigning the temporal development of a Polaroid.

Central to the exhibition is a video, captured by the artist as she walked along the bank of a river, following the line traced by the flowing water.[1] Here what can be captured within the confines of the frame, and what remains unseen whilst performing this expedition, is of consequence. The gait of the artist, and her shifting attention, permeates the image. What we see is not simply the document of a journey, but rather the process through which the river becomes pictorial, or rather, becomes cinematic. The components of this process title the work–the river, my camera, and me–indicating the basic instruments in relation to which the river perhaps cannot help but transform itself into an image. In another sense the river is already an image before the artist begins this engagement, and the process of the work is an attempt to decompose this image, to allow the river itself to intervene in this moment, even if the work inevitably returns it back to image status.   

This work provides the point of departure for a number of others in the show, including a large number of small paintings, which appear to reconstitute particular frames of the video. These images add emphasis to discrete compositions, which would otherwise be lost in the flow of the recording, and at the same time scratch at the stability of that footage. Though this use of a large number of paintings in a regular format is unusual in the artist’s broader practice, these images share with previous works a method of careful selection and redaction. Looming fields are left empty (as are facets of objects, or areas of detail in previous paintings) while other sections are painted with a rapidity, which largely obscures definite reference in terms of scale and form. These omissions work against the sense of the image as an authoritative representation or neutral picturing of the world. And they lend a tension to the image, in terms of the bearing of the unseen on the marks that are produced. Furthermore this configuration of extracts confounds all sense of the linear temporality of the video, as well as the implicit teleology of the recording as a ‘journey.’

There is another type of movement at stake here, into the interval between frames as discontinuous images, or even painterly marks as discontinuous gestures. This is compounded with the artist’s onerous and subtle configuring of images and surfaces within the gallery space, which anticipates the aleatory shift of natural light and the audience’s gaze. Between the sky and the ground calls for an attentiveness to the image as never fixed or finished, but caught in a ongoing process of negotiation - the continuation of the image.

Stephen Palmer is an artist and a lecturer in Fine Art at Monash University.

[1] In making this work Williams attempted to “move in time with the river’s own duration.” This strategy served as an attempt to depart from the typical filmic practices to which this place had been subjected.