Lisa Roet: A clown and his chimp - Art Collector

Issue 44, April - June 2008

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In her new body of work Lisa Roet continues her fascination with the simian but she spoke to Ashley Crawford about some major shifts.

Lisa Roet’s first moment of inspiration to utilise the simian in her art occurred while she was sitting at an ape cage at East Berlin zoo. “I was reflecting on the movements in art, how people move within a fashionable context, following other peoples courses and ideas. I wanted to work on something that was timeless, yet contemporary and relevant to myself and the world around me.”

Roet’s gigantic jutting bronze ape fingers have inspired multitudinous readings, from the political to the plaintive. “It is about communication without words, body language,” she says. “There are definite messages that you get from the fingers, without actually knowing how those messages are relayed – they work on symbolic, abstracted and figurative levels.”

Roet’s new work, a bold new series of photographs, sculptures and drawings will be shown at Karen Woodbury Gallery in Melbourne in April/May and in Sydney in May (by Karen Woodbury at The Depot Gallery) and at 24HR Art in Darwin in September.

“The photographs are taken of a chimp named Mugsy, who lives in an old disused show-grounds site outside of Towoomba. He does the small, country Queensland circus route with a couple of dogs, a pony and his father, Charlie, who dresses as a clown. Charlie bred and raised Mugsy in New Zealand, and somehow managed to bring him out here on a dependant child’s visa. (Chimps are not allowed to be held in captivity in Australia outside of zoos.) I wanted to simply show the relationship between Mugsy and Charlie. Charlie is dressed in his clown suit and the works act as portraits, though I think are symbolic of much more.”

The upcoming exhibitions will reveal some major shifts in Roet’s oeuvre. “The sculptures are large and resolved in a way I haven’t done before. A sea of dismembered limbs which take on a life of their own once they are separated from the body. We immediately relate and don’t relate to them. People viewing them always start looking at their own body parts and refer to themselves. The works create a guttural and instinctual response that either attracts or repels the viewer.

“I think the new sculptures depart from the more documentary/specific factor that unifies the body as a whole, to more individual pieces which work as an installation, but which also hold their own. The detailing with skin texture has become a feature, which almost shifts them into objects of abstraction.”

With a career that has thus far garnered such awards as the McClelland Contemporary Sculpture Award, the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery National Works on Paper Award and the National Sculpture Prize at the National Gallery of Australia, Lisa Roet is an artist who continues to shock, provoke and seduce her viewers.

New work by Lisa Roet will be showing this quarter at Karen Woodbury Gallery, Melbourne from 9 April to 3 May 2008 and at The Depot Gallery, Sydney from 12 to 24 May 2008.

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