Kathy Temin at Heide Gallery

Amelia Swan

The exhibition of the Melbourne-based artist, Kathy Temin, presently showing at Heide gallery, provides a selection of her sculptures, wall pieces and installations from the last twenty years.
Kathy Temin at Heide Gallery
Kathy Temin at Heide Gallery The exhibition of the Melbourne-based artist, Kathy Temin, presently showing at Heide gallery, provides a selection of her sculptures, wall pieces and installations from the last twenty years. Since the early 1990’s Temin been gaining increasing international attention for her highly individual use of unusual materials in her sculpture. Seen all together here in Melbourne, the selection of works present a diverse and fascinating overview of Temin’s creative journey over the last two decades. The media used include synthetic fur, felt, glass, wood, polystyrene and digital technology. On entering the first gallery room, amidst a whole number of pieces, the Duck/Rabbit Problem (1991) lies on the floor, reminiscent of a discarded teddy-bear. It is in fact a stuffed, furry visual retort to the drawing by Ludvig Wittgenstein of the same name, which was drawn by him to highlight the limited nature of human perception vis-à-vis the ability for the mind to perceive two contradictory concepts simultaneously. On the wall behind it hangs eleven white, furry stuffed panels called White Problem (1992). This piece launched Temin as a master of soft sculptural form with her use of synthetic, white fur and stuffed shapes. Her work ostensibly engages in a dialogue with Modernism; the art of Stella, Malevich, Mondrian and Vasarely. And yet the emotional meaning and associations which underpin her choice of materials pertain to personal and autobiographical intention which gives her aesthetic a meaning beyond that of formal enquiry. “I am interested in the resonance of certain materials and how that makes you think of other things. Synthetic fur was a way of referencing the emotional content in soft toys and for me felt is imbued with sentimentality.” (interview with Kathy Temin at the ICA, London in March 2002) In fact her work has the ability to emotionally engage, to acknowledge the angst of the spirit and to move the viewer that aligns her work with such artists as Eva Hesse, Bruce Naumann and Joseph Beuys, whom she speaks of as influences. Kathy Temin’s father was a Hungarian jew, and was a holocaust survivor, as was her uncle. Her father survived his incarceration period by sewing together soldier’s uniforms. As she states in interviews, her work is interested in the sentimental associations with materials and how these tie in with her own memories; the comfort of soft toys in childhood, playing with fuzzy felt, the feelings of coping following bereavement from her father in 15, growing up as an immigrant in Australia in a family of displaced people. Reflections on the construction of personal identity and history whisper throughout her works. One installation is a horizontal three dimensional black and white knee height maze based on a painting by Frank Stella called Arbeit Macht Frei (the phrase that hung over concentration camps). Next to the entrance to the installation, Temin has placed a business letter from her father written to a cloth producer a year before he died. In the letter he writes details of his and his family’s history and his interest in trying to locate other people with Temin as a surname. His search reveals a context where he evidently felt lacking in family and historical connection. That sense of displacement pervades Temin’s work. In fact, the experience of displacement, isolation and alienation that many contemporary artists feel in Australia when she talks of growing up “on the other side of the world” in her comment is reflected in her fascination with imported popular culture: “Growing up on the other side of the world, magazine culture played a large part in information about the rest of the world………..The work I have made usually engages with the ideas of identity, memory and displacement; I've been consistently influenced by popular culture, art history, suburban and cultural icons. I'm especially interested in where private and collective memory coincide” (ibid). . Since 2000 she has chosen the cultural icon of Kylie Minogue to work with as means to discuss and reflect on contemporary identity. It followed an invitation from Sue Cramer to be part of an exhibition that addressed the phenomenon of “fandom”. “For me fandom embodies the idea of hope and involves heightened emotions that include projection, fantasy, cultural identification, emotional and physical distance, consumption, imitation and a sense of being part of something” (ibid). My Doll’s House (2004) is a further expression of Temin’s artistic discourse around “Kylie”. Dolls house is a miniature version of her 1970’s home. the meticulously finished rooms include a study, a studio, a “Kylie Room, a recreation of a Koala installation performed in New York and other rooms. One miniature room contains a tiny v.d.u. where a series of people are screened performing their own version of Kylie songs. Some are singing, some are dancing and some have made their own music for their Kylie song; the performances however are strangely touching and intimate, and reveal that fandom is about imitation on one level, but it additionally provides a vehicle for personal expression. Temin’s work captures the rawness and vulnerability of people doing karaoke and talent show performances that keep audiences compelled world wide. I found myself hooked by the tiny film and its soundtracks. The centerpiece of the exhibition is undoubtedly My Monument (White Forest) 2008. It has been delighting audiences, young and old, wherever it is installed. It is a personal emotional landscape created in response to her journey back to Hungary and Eastern Europe. It is a tender acknowledgement to the feelings evoked in response to visiting the forest enclosed sites where atrocities took place and generations of family were lost within a few years. Temin has chosen her familiar white, fake fur to create 3 and 4 metre high tree-like fantasy structures which form corridors of soft white fluffy forms that take the viewer on a walk through a personal interior landscape. Wedgewood blue covers the walls evoking the clear blue sky of a sunny day in the snow. The sound of feet is muffled by the silent forms. It is unusually quiet, absent of echoes, odd to be surrounded by giant white cucumbers, snowmen with four heads, cacti shapes. It evokes contradictory associations, the deathly cold and loneliness of bitter Winter, but so soft, heavenly white, so fluffy and perhaps the silenced pains of childhood become finally expressed in the huge love figures that these white forms represent; a tribe of ghosts lost, the other “Temins” her father sought. Adults become quiet in the surrounds, children laugh in delight. It is a beautiful installation for children’s eyes, but this childhood dreamscape is also for adults. Temin reveals her personal journey and bravely attempts to integrate the fragments of history left to her within a world that creates identity randomly from popular culture and consumer generated icons. Her art testifies to her courage and sincerity; she speaks for many, for her sense of displacement is distinctly hers, but it is also distinctly Australian. Kathy Temin at Heide Gallery. 1 August – 8th November. Curators: Jason Smith and Sue Cramer
What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Melbourne-based art writer and historian.