Punctuated Into an Exclamation Mark: Lisa Sharp reviews ‘Play’, an exhibition by Michelle Le Dain

Michelle Le Dain – PLAY at Factory 49 , 49 Shepherd St, Marrickville. until 3rd December 2016

“Play becomes joy, joy becomes work, work becomes play.”
………………………………………………………..Johannes Itten

Michelle Le Dain, Upside down inside out, 2016 (detail). Image: Annelies Jahn

Michelle Le Dain, Upside down inside out, 2016 (detail). Image: Annelies Jahn

To play is to enter a realm of wonder and spontaneous activity, of open-ended
thinking, of chance and of discovery. It is to question, to turn upside-down, to
surprise – and it is uninhibitedly joyous. Yet to play is also to engage with the objects
in play, to work within a structure and to bounce against the rules – as in playing a
game or improvising musically. For visual artist Michelle Le Dain to play as an artist is
a mode of practice by which her installations enter, engage with and yes, absolutely
have fun with architectonic space.

For some time Le Dain has been working with and developing a signature vocabulary
of elemental geometric forms, bright colours, taped lines and placement of other
assemblages. These arise out of her research interest in theories of play (as
advanced by Froebel and the kindergarten movement) and their considerable
influence on the genesis of abstract art in the early 20th century. When these formal
elements enter a space as raw materials for installation, they seem to skip along the
floor, walls, ceiling, seeking out hidden nooks and cavorting with expected notions of
form and function. Playfully probing, discovering and exclaiming, Play raises some
very interesting questions about our expectations and perceptions of built spaces,
and in particular white spaces for the display of art.

As an installation within this factory-turned-gallery space Play picks up on its many
narratives as a functional interior space. Tripping along a seam in the concrete floor,
small wooden blocks tap out a rhythm of alternating colour and form. Picking up the
melody, a striped line ascends the white wall, almost but not quite to the top, before
meandering via a deviation in blue to an arrow-signalled descent, only to ascend
again. A faded yellow parking line is punctuated into an exclamation mark. Over to
the side, another up / down movement is articulated by horizontal and vertical notes
of colour placed on a stairway. These lead in to the percussive cadence of a work,
appropriately named “Xylophone”. On closer inspection, these ‘notes’ are actually
painted stretcher bars, suggesting a painting undone, dismantled and capable of
being fitted together again, like any tower of blocks.

Michelle Le Dain, Play, 2016, (details). Installation at Factory 49 Images: Annelies Jahn

Michelle Le Dain, Play, 2016, (details).  Installation at Factory 49
Images: Annelies Jahn

From factory space to gallery space, the play is now with gallery conventions of
display and sale. Giant red dots sit beside works, humorously playing with the
tradition of announcing a sale. In this context, plinths become oversized toy blocks.
Paintings, stacked, stripped and deconstructed, are everywhere except hanging on
the walls as pictures to look at. Framing, like pointing, is used to focus on often
quirky details of wall or floor. Used as expressive punctuation within a piece of
music, other features of the Factory 49 space are accented. Here, in hot pink: a door,
over there in green: a gallery wall ends. In a corner, big buttons seem to be climbing
up and over the white wall, looking over the boundary between the site’s industrial
past and its almost-white-cube present.

The effect of Play is akin to recalling the strains of a rhyme you knew as a child, a
ditty you chanted, a haunting refrain, parts of a song. You might go to see art, but
you are nudged to think quite a bit more about how and why. It’s a little unsettling.
Play has transformed the known space and the expected conventions into a joyous,
whimsical interlude with an underlying seriousness of purpose in showing the work
that art is.

play-3

Michelle Le Dain, Play, 2016, (details). Installation at Factory 49 Images: Annelies Jahn

 – Lisa Sharp
(all images by Annelies Jahn)

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Lisa Sharp is a Malaysian-born Australian artist, writer and curator currently living and
working in Sydney. Following an earlier career as a lawyer, she holds a Bachelor of Fine
Arts (Honours) from the National Art School. Lisa likes to write about art and artists and
her blog is at www.lisa-sharp.tumblr.com

More details of the exhibition Factory 49 are available at  http://factory49.blogspot.com.au/

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  1. Pingback: Issue 20: October to December 2016 | Rochford Street Review

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