Catalogue essay for ‘Nephelokokkygia’, an exhibition by Michele Grimston, Claire Pendrigh and Helen Seiver

Brunswick Street Galleries 17.11.18 - 3.12.18

‘What  is a cloudspotter  to do while waiting  for a stratus to change  into a stratocumulous and break  to reveal the heaven? Look up, of  course, and dream of [creating]  their  own Cloudcuckooland.  Nephelokokkygia’.

Objects made by hand contain the memory and emotion in their labour, memory and emotion that remains present in the finished object. Our lives too are built by hand; from thread, sticks, earth and the rich, primordial mud of our thoughts - and so the objects we make as artists become containers of our wonder, our curiosity, and the pensive roaming of our minds.

Michele Grimston, Claire Pendrigh and Helen Seiver are three artists who do just this, using the languages of their different practices. Nephelokokkygia, an exhibition dreamed up by the three, focuses on the nature and nuances of the weather: its sky, its clouds, the ‘aerial ocean’ of the atmosphere. Regarding our planet’s atmosphere as the thin ‘skin of the apple’, the earth as its flesh, Grimston, Pendrigh and Seiver have hewn sculptural works that connect us to the mythologies and realities of the weather.

Claire Pendrigh, a recent Tasmanian transplant, has dug deep into her chosen home - literally. Pendrigh, using locally dug earth and a homespun kiln in her backyard, has fired hundreds of pots that are collectively suspended to form a dark cloud in indoor space. Their chunky aesthetic belies their fragility as objects, much like how clouds appeared to us as children: puffy, solid objects in the sky; implausible as delicate wisps of vapour that could be blown apart by changing winds. As a single cloud, Pendrigh’s pots imply almost an oppressive weight, connecting us to their source, the clay of the earth, suspended within rain droplets, a suspension within a suspension.

Helen Seiver, an artist based in Capel, Western Australia, has constructed a body of thoughtful, curious works, named Blue Yonder with Memories of Cloud. A blanket, intricately embroidered with the air currents and sky, rests on the floor of the space, watched over by seven ‘absent’ clouds. Accompanying this piece are little suitcases, each containing Seiver’s wire incarnations of cumulonimbus clouds, carefully packed by the artist and nestled into its travelling home. Seiver’s work invites us to dream - dream of a world in which we can pack up the weather and carry it with us. Australia, with its ferrous earth and sparse rainfall, could use a few of Seiver’s clouds, packed up with passengers, on planes, trains, on road trips and hikes. Seiver wants us to imagine taking each cloud to a place that needs rain. It feels almost superstitious, like carrying these suitcases could constitute a ritual invocation.

Michele Grimston, a Canberra-based artist whose practice is firmly founded in sustainability and community, has created an installation which also aims to invoke the relief of rainfall in times of drought. Prayers for rain uses cotton and silk to form its hanging clouds. Silk and cotton are both fibres which begin life as cloud-like wisps, whether being exuded from the body of a silkworm, or emerging as a puff of cellulose from a cotton plant. Suspended above earthenware dishes full of wheat seeds, the installation is a silent, patient tableau, waiting for the clouds to deliver their promise.

While ‘Cloudcuckooland’ has long existed in mythology as a place of perfect halcyon fantasy, as a land reserved for dreams, for the suspension of logic; Grimston, Pendrigh and Seiver are teetering on the edge of the magical and surreal to summon a very real, and sorely needed phenomena: rain. It’s clear that these artists see their role as one of conjuring up both a sense of excitement and awe, and a concurrent self-questioning: through their work the viewer is compelled to examine their role in the weather. We can all remember a time we were caught in the rain, our clothing plastered to our skin in a cool deluge. Or a time when we waited and waited for rain to come, for months, if not years. We’ve cloud-spotted, rain-danced, rainbow-gasped, and watched things grow. We are connected to the weather every day of our lives, and this exhibition begs the question: how have we moulded the weather through our actions, perhaps without even thinking? And how can we begin thinking about it now?