Cool Hunter Predictions: Brodie Ellis - Art Collector

Issue 47, January - March 2009

This profile appeared in the "Cool Hunter Predictions" feature, part of the annual special issue "50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2009"

Brodie Ellis was born in 1979 on the night that Skylab came crashing back to Earth, spreading fragments of state-of-the-art space junk across Western Australia and the Indian Ocean. This spectacular example of technology spinning out of control provided a fitting welcome to an artist whose work questions the pursuit of progress at the expense of our environment.

Ellis’s sculptural installations are more poetic than didactic. She is ambivalent about the effectiveness of art as activism, so she couches her critique in metaphor, working with incongruously fragile organic materials, such as timber, paper, hessian and clay, to undermine the bombastic and ruinous inventions of our brave new world.

Her 2007 work Spaceship 1 is a model of the first privately funded spacecraft to fly beyond the Earth’s atmosphere – a craft that is currently being upgraded to take wealthy tourists into space for Richard Branson’s company Virgin Galactic. Although the care with which Ellis recreated the craft’s streamlined forms betrays admiration for its high-tech design, she offsets this with a deliberately handcrafted aesthetic, encasing the work in clay that dried up and slowly crumbled to the floor over the course of the exhibition. The shell of the real SpaceShipOne also had a tendency to buckle and tear during flight, however, the flimsiness of Ellis’s construction serves not to replicate this malfunction, but rather to gently mock the heroic rhetoric that greeted this not entirely successful venture.

Well-read and engaged with the world, Ellis makes work with a strong narrative drive that is firmly grounded in research and a lively curiosity. She recently spent a week in Burketown in Northern Queensland to investigate the Morning Glory cloud phenomenon distinctive to the area, and in 2008 she gained access to the massive mining operation in Kalgoorlie to shoot video footage for her installation The Super Pit, a solo project for Conical that investigated the devastating impact of this 360-metre deep open cut mine on the landscape and ecology of the region.

While Ellis’s subject matter ranges widely, her works are unified by a distinctive sculptural language: a hand-made, elegant formalism that distils objects to their essence and casts them as monuments to arrested motion. There is something hopefully elegiac in this strategy, as if by depicting these instruments of waste and depletion as relics, Ellis can halt the squandering of our planet’s resources; and yet there is a tension in her work that suggests she can’t help but marvel at the ingenuity and innovations that power our drive to dig deeper, travel faster, and build higher. More complex than a simple critique, her sculptural allegories stand as testaments to the genius of human invention, along with its fatal lack of foresight.

Jacqueline Doughty

Brodie Ellis will be exhibiting in NEW09 at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne from 17 March to 17 May 2009.

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