Posted: 21 Apr 2011 | By: Joseph Brennan
In art discourse, the sacred/profane metaphor is a recurring dichotomy. Freud used this metaphor when exploring the divide between love and desire. He argued that, in art, where we love we do not desire and where we desire we cannot love.
Emerging artist Juz Kitson challenges this view through her sculptures and ceramic installations, which seek to make sacred the profane. "I have an interest in ever so slightly repulsing the viewer at first experience," Kitson said. "They are unsettled. This uneasiness then turns into wonder and in a later stage, fascination." Working with a range of materials - including wax, latex, clay, alpaca wool, seaweed, horse and human hair and bone - Kitson is interested in exploring what she terms "uncomfortable territories", captivating her audience "by quietly shocking and seducing them". The context and properties of particular materials are also important. The use of latex, for example, is sometimes a statement within itself, "Only having a life span of less than a decade ... like ourselves it will perish"; while the locale of found objects have trapped within them a history, for example, bones collected from Hill End.
But Kitson is not really interested in preserving history; rather, she is inventing it. On the presence of bones, for example, she says they can be eerie for audiences and carry with them morbid connotations of death; however, when "coated in a thick gloss of glaze, the crystallised surface of the bones have an ... inviting presence" that contrasts with where she got them: from "the rotting carcass found in the swamp". By reconceptualising found objects (such as the bones from Hill End), Kitson enables the once deathly a renewal that leads to it being "looked upon as a new, fresh experience".
Taking inspiration from artists such as Kiki Smith - whose Frankenstein fantasies find her rebuilding composite bodies out of dismembered parts - and Australia's Fiona Hall - whose work celebrates the natural while mourning man's destruction of it - Kitson is clearly fascinated by the intersecting networks that exist between and within body and nature.
Human organs such as the heart and stomach are regular motifs in Kitson's installation-based work, such as in Formations of silence - an Honours project acquired in full by Tasmania's Museum of Old and New Art. "There is ... an intense fascination with internal matter and structures," she said. "There is a passionate curiosity in the internal life and decay of our own vessels."
With her 'passionate' curiosity for how the internal is structured, Kitson goes beyond mere symbolism - of the heart as love - to the mechanics of organs and, in this case, the sexual imagery evoked when its orifices are penetrated. As she explains, "The sexually suggestive openings on many of the forms [that make up my installations, represent] being physically wide open to each other." Kitson will often join orifices of organs, such as in Connection through dissection, symbolising intercourse's potential for a subject's temporary freedom from the "burden of isolation that every individual bears, [allowing] a wholeness, unity and completion [one] imagines the other can bestow". It's in this way that materials in Kitson's installations "speak in relation to one another", representing the "span of the biological spectrum [and its] story of creation". It's via this process, she believes, that "shapes start to emerge [and] inanimate material [is given] a spark of life".
Kitson is also interested in the peculiarities of animal physiology - such as the "strange and wonderful creatures of the internal and unfamiliar world, whether it be deep sea, underground or in the deepest and darkest of places" - as she is with alien forms - such as the thin strips of petrified wood that were found on the NSW coast and have since been dipped in wax and incorporated into her work as rib-like objects reminiscent of Smith's Rib-cage. Kitson is also interested in challenging the notion that art must be beautiful. "I believe that there is a problem with the idea of creating beautiful objects," she said. "Must art always be beautiful? Of course not." A keen traveller, Kitson also draws on her experience of cultures of the world. "Images of an elephant's tongue, chickens at the markets, birds' nests, venturing into complete darkness alone and coming across a creature that has never seen the light of day are finding their way symbolically [into my work]."
Kitson is a 2009 ceramics Honours graduate of Sydney's National Art School. Represented by Paddington's Flinders Street Gallery, it was there in 2010 - in addition to a Bundanon Residency, where she worked on wax and ceramic objects based on flora and fauna found on the site - that Kitson had her first solo exhibition. Currently in Germany, her work will next appear in London as part of Contemporary Modern Australian Art's (COMODAA) We are the Young Australians in June 2011. She is twenty-four.
Images from top:
Juz Kitson, Silence as a virtue (detail), 2010, southern ice porcelain, wax, 77 x 16 x 9cm. Courtesy the artist and Flinders Street Gallery, Sydney.
Juz Kitson, The calves are being weened from their mothers (detail), 2010, horse, goat and fox hair, glass, plaster, sheep wool, bone, flocking, resin, natural material, pigment ink on paper, 53 x 400 x 20cm. Courtesy the artist and Flinders Street Gallery, Sydney.