Wednesday, November 1, 2023

"An accomplice in something other," by Mariana Del Castillo.

The negotiation 2023, Recycled galvanised steel, recycled linen, cotton, indigo and sumi ink

"An accomplice in something other," by Mariana Del Castillo, Spud Lane Gallery, Robertson, NSW, now accessible here 

Reviewed by HELEN MUSA.

QUIET contemplation and meticulous craftsmanship lie at the centre of this exquisite exhibition by Mariana Del Castillo, which I caught in its last days.

Del Castillo, based in Queanbeyan but working throughout the ACT, is well-known for the eclecticism of her practice, but in this case she has adopted a minimal, almost monochrome approach to her tragic subject – "bushfire."

While her two and three-dimensional works largely focus on that natural phenomenon, often using the real detritus from fires, the artist has also made the link that floods often follow fire in a suite of repurposed sculptural items, charcoal-drawings, collage, painting and fine hand-stitching as she reflects on the cycles of nature.

Detail, First Response 2023.

This exhibition, spread over two sections of the amusingly-named Spud Lane Gallery (Robertson is, after all, the home of the Big Potato) is an expansion on installations created for the show “Quiet – Unquiet” at the Shoalhaven Regional Gallery earlier in the year, but also links to her work with the University of Canberra ADF ‘arts for recovery’ program as she responds to traumas experienced by rural communities from drought and bushfires.

As well  —the title says it — the artist assumes some responsibility for the destruction of the landscape.

It developed from a period when Del Castillo sketched the post-bushfire landscape around Batlow, Tumbarumba, Adelong and Tumut, later developing the drawings and consequent constructions in her Queanbeyan studio then  in 2022 through a Bundanon residency.

Fine detail, Wounded by the wondering scent 2023

Always meticulously detailed in her work, Del Castillo has chosen reclaimed linen – some of it from discarded clothes and some from old bolts of fabric – to create the canvas on which she works in her two-dimensional art. 


But when I say two-dimensional, all her artworks, many executed in charcoal, demand a close-up look, for overlaying them is fine hand stitchwork, sometimes suggesting the ebb and flow of floodwaters, and at other times delineating surprising features of the landscape.


Especially poignant are the tiny little pricks of green (stitches) popping up out of  the linen in The first of the green pick 2023, suggesting the first signs of regrowth after the bushfires. 


The most enigmatic installation in the gallery is The negotiation 2023, made from an antique ‘found’ bathtub, filled with imagined drawn and stitched flows of ‘water’ but with a bleak and melancholy touch. 


Black rain 2023

In the larger gallery behind the main street of Robertson are four of Del Castillo's installation pieces in which she has used real material left from the fires. 


Such skeletal pieces of burnt-out wood encased in metal are  seen in Black rain 2023, made from a recycled galvanised bread tray, timber, wire and sumi ink, and Remains 2022, recycled galvanised bread tray, burnt driftwood from Lake Conjola, with felt and cotton thread.


Remains 2022

Del Castillo chose metal because the searing heat of the bushfires was sometimes not strong enough to destroy metal objects, poignant remainders of the conflagration. 


What characterises this remarkable body of work is in the timeless feeling resulting from the artist’s infinite patience and delicate work.


Regrettably I only caught this exhibition on the second last day of its live showing.

More please—next time Canberra or Queanbeyan.