Saturday, April 29, 2023

Whether World & From the Series ‘Light Jelly Sweet’

Animation, paintings, and photographs: Brian Rope

Moving image work: Whether World by Susan Bruce & From the Series ‘Light Jelly Sweet’ by Henry Hu

M16 Artspace | 14 April – 7 May2023

Whether World is by Susan Bruce, a moving image artist who describes the exhibition as a moving image work which considers whether the natural world (including trees, fungi, and aquatic life) communicates with humans and how humans communicate with the natural world. She questions how weather is experienced by our bodies and how we are changing everything through our activity.

Bruce is exhibiting in Canberra for the first time, so I turned to her website for background. Her practice also includes experimental short films, collage, drawings, prints and artist books. She is inspired by the textural qualities of film and the interrelationship between digital and analogue media.

Susan Bruce, Whether World (detail), 2022. Image still. Image courtesy of the artist

Writing about this show, Bruce shares “I am between two worlds. In one, I can see humans are crawling on the brown earth, butterflies are communicating with humans. Seeds are growing above the ground as well as underground. To me, trees are more valuable than diamonds. In my world, I float amongst the clouds, smell flowers, and swim underwater like a squid. I am free, and I am not ‘earth bound’.” Those charming words were a most useful backdrop to my viewing of her artwork.

Susan Bruce, Whether World (detail), 2022. Image still. Image courtesy of the artist

Without those words I would have seen fish, birds, gorillas and, yes, humans. I’d have seen the earth, underwater scenes and trees. I’d have noticed the drawings on her collages. But the backdrop helps us appreciate how Bruce sees people communicating with flowers and bees, and them communicating right back. She sees pigs in all their size and pinkness walking around us. She is saying to us that humans and non-humans co-exist, that humans are no longer at the top of the chain.

Susan Bruce, Whether World (detail), 2022. Image still. Image courtesy of the artist

Serendipitously, I viewed this exhibition the day after seeing the new documentary movie Giants, which is about some giants of Tasmanian ecological activism – former Greens leader Bob Brown and tall trees. Two days running, I found myself considering the same questions – how do we humans co-exist with all other forms of life on this planet? Where do we fit in the great scheme of living things? Have we any right to impact on the places where other life forms reside? That movie and this exhibition both successfully examine such questions.

From the Series ‘Light Jelly Sweet’, is new work by Henry Hu. Again, not previously familiar with this artist’s work, I went to his website. He began his practice using modern technological tools and easily accessible digital software creating artwork that engaged aspects of digital art and graphic design.

Later, Hu worked to incorporate digital creations into tangible forms. This delivered mixed-media paintings, lens-based works and computer-generated animation. What we see here are “testaments of existence as imagined, invented, remembered, and observed.” 

The artist has limited his tonal palette within each pleasing photograph and each mixed-media work - combining a multi-layered technique of paint pours with sand, gravel, twig, leaf, grass and wood. He describes this as a delicate manipulation of material that traces the ambiguity of nostalgia.

Henry Hu, the flint #38, 2022. pigment inkjet on cotton rag.38 x 26 cm Image courtesy of the Artist

There also are two pieces of abstract computer-generated animation conceived as an extension and companion to the static work. Sadly they’re displayed on small tablets with soundtracks accessed through tiny headphones. Turning on the tablets and locating the animations may defeat some.

Henry Hu, Velvet Fall (still image), 2023. Image courtesy of the Artist (1)
Henry Hu, Velvet Fall (still image), 2023. Image courtesy of the Artist (2)

I would have liked Hu’s excellent text about the series Light Jelly Sweet - on his website at – to be displayed in the gallery. Here’s a taste: “Burning sun. Open air. Nature. The fields. The woods. A birch. A pine. An oak. Shades. Shadows. Clouds overhead. Streams beneath. They are gifts for a child. How unguarded we were, the early days.” (The full text is available in printed form at the front desk next to the room sheets.)

This review was first published by The Canberra Times on page 10 of Panorama and online on 29/4/23 here. It is also available on the author's blog here.