A Satellite Event of “Everyday”, The 11th Biennale of Sydney

Stephen Crane, Alex Gawronski, Bronia Iwanczak, Kevin Sheehan, Philipa Veitch

Curated by Philipa Veitch

Volvo Gallery

November 4 – 20  1998


Philipa Veitch, Have you lived this life before?, oil on sandblasted glass, installation view, 1998


Conceived as part of the exhibition Petrol, Have you lived this life before? consisted of approximately thirty paintings of buildings – dwellings, industrial complexes, and semi inhabited public spaces in various stages of completion or decay – executed on circular pieces of sandblasted glass and suspended in uneven vertical configurations in Volvo Gallery in Sydney. In Petrol I attempted to explore the notion of a form lost in function, the idea of an object, form or substance whose presence as a physical object had, at least within human perception, been subsumed by it’s function or use value. In this particular instance, I became interested in exploring the idea of petrol as a substance that existed within an ecological and historical chain. Petrol, in its raw form as crude oil, is made from a mixture of chemicals known as hydrocarbons, which are in turn derived from plankton – the microscopic, single-celled plant forms that inhabit the oceans. As the plankton die, some become trapped with the clay and mud that is carried into the sea by rivers and streams. Clinging now to the particles of soil and debris, the plankton drifts to the floor of the ocean, where they settle and accumulate, eventually forming part of the sedimentary rocks of the Earths crust. The plankton then gradually decays and becomes compressed, and over millions of years is eventually transformed into the substance known as oil. After being extracted from the rock beneath the sea floor, the oil is distilled to form a heterogenous array of fuels, plastics, solvents and chemicals – substances that have been found within or have contributed to the production of almost every thing produced by humans in last one or two hundred years. The evolution or destiny of matter in a spatial and temporal sense, as well as the transformation of natural organisms into cultural resources or products, was the underlying subject of my investigation…….

Matter is never lost, continually transforming itself to appear ever new. While maintaining an appearance of newness, of existing without a past, our houses and the objects we surround ourselves with protect us from unwanted natural and human elements, as well as shielding us from the origins of the materials in themselves. In fact we occupy ancient dwellings, comprised of nanocrystaline structures that predate the technology that re-formed them and the bodies that now inhabit or use them. A house is thus simultaneously a ruin and a cell, camouflaging both it’s previous forms and it’s possible future incarnations…… Have You Lived This Life Before? explored the processes whereby objects, dwellings and materials evolve between rupture and concealment. Installed within the glass and blonde wood surfaces of Volvo Gallery’s newly fabricated space, the glass paintings appeared as if enclosed within a vitrine, alternating between the appearance of being both object and surface, image and reflection. The glass disks were hung in a loose configuration of vertical lines that suggested an appearance of floating, of being suspended in space, while the images painted on the glass seemed to hover on the surface of the glass as well as being subsumed within it – suspended on the threshold of visibility.

The images act as a field whereby the viewer is able to imagine the interpenetration of appearances and effects, of bodies and objects that occur within our experience of everyday existence. The apprehension of the temporal or historical relations that exist within the minutiae of things , allows us to perhaps experience a form of the sublime that binds our existence more closely to the world of objects that normally disappear within the speeds of their functionality. By re-imagining the interconnections between structures such as homes, and their subterranean origins as chemicals, fuels, and micro organisms, we can evolve a new set of relations between environments, dwellings and bodies, between function, form and experience.

This is an extract from my 2001 Masters thesis “Nature Strip”.