Sunday, March 19, 2023

Beyond the Material: at the Intersection of Glass and the Digital Image

Photomedia-Glass | Brian Rope

Beyond the Material: at the Intersection of Glass and the Digital Image | Kate Baker

SCHOOL OF ART & DESIGN GALLERY, ANU | 10 Mar, 10.30am – 23 Mar, 3pm

Kate Baker is a Sydney-based artist whose contemporary practice merges photo, print and moving image technologies with studio glass.

Before graduating from the Glass Workshop at the Australian National University (ANU) School of Art in Canberra in 1999, Baker studied photography, printmaking and sculpture. In 2017, attracted by its practice-led approach to research, she returned to the ANU as a Higher Degree by Research Candidate, seeking to complete her Doctor of Philosophy and further develop her studio research in a critiqued setting. This is her PhD examination exhibition.

Like most parents, Baker photographs her children. She also videos and draws them. What makes her imagery better or different to those of our children playing on their trampolines? Baker clearly reflects on bonds formed between people. She also uses unexpected arrangements of the body. She sees the images being of abstracted universal people - placeholders for people. Or, if you prefer, metaphors. She sees bodies as containers for our inner feelings, thoughts and imagination.

Works from her Within Matter series explore the intersection between physical beings and the less tangible space of our subjective perceptions. Young figures are captured in various moments where the abstraction of their forms invites us to question where their physical bodies begin and end, and whether there are other dimensions also in that space.

Each artwork results from making ultraviolet flatbed digital prints on translucent panels of glass, then mounting them on architectural steel bases. The freestanding nature of the works allows light to pass through the imagery so they can be experiences more as sculptures than photographs.

Kate Baker - Within Matter 7 (side view cropped)

Unreal and evocative images, along with narratives, are fixed into layers of glass, mirror and, more recently, metal. Baker is closely examining the qualities of glass. Her themes explore the human environment - physical, psychological and emotional layers, inviting viewers to consider the relationship between us and our experiences.

Baker has been both a finalist and winner of national and international art prizes, including the 2018 Hindmarsh Prize, which recognises excellence in the field of Contemporary Art made primarily from glass. These are most definitely excellent Contemporary artworks.

Her research leading to this exhibition saw a reconfiguring of her existing studio practice. She used a broader interdisciplinary approach to explore the intersection of glass and the digital image, incorporating their relationship to light, space and time. Drawing from her own experience, Baker overlaid images, surface treatments and text. The use of highly personal text information, including years of her technical process notes, may initially strike us as ambiguous scribbles before we learn about the source material.

The reflective surfaces offer us opportunities to become actively involved in the works – for they change as we move around the gallery space. This is about how we co-exist and establish emotional ties, how our connections with others change as time passes. This would almost certainly be more pronounced if the lighting on the works was natural, rather than artificial, but it is clear, nevertheless.

Documentation Image 3 - Yun Ha-ANU

Documentation Image 1 (foreground Within Matter background Pulse) - Yun Ha-ANU

One rather special installation, Pulse, projects segments of video onto numerous hanging irregular shards of coloured glass. Distorted images of a performer slide across the glass. A soundtrack of hollow knocking suggests she is trapped inside the glass. Poetically exploring the grief of losing something, the human spirit and the physical boundaries of our bodies personal space, the slivers of glass capture the light and shadows within the installation like a crystalline wind vortex briefly paused.

Documentation Image 2 (detail of Pulse installation) - Yun Ha-ANU

Nick Mitzevich, Director of the National Gallery of Australia, has correctly said Baker’s work is a sophisticated resolution of the glass medium that feels entirely contemporary and rooted in the present.

This review was first published on page 12 of The Canberra Times print edition of 19/3/23 and online here. It is also available on the author's blog here.