Accessories shop | The Saturday newspaper


The motto of Nabilah Nordin’s recent work seems to be “go big or go home”. The Melbourne-based artist creates huge amorphous sculptures that overload the retina with their vivid colors. At this year’s Melbourne Art Fair, for example, she exhibited a 5.2-metre pink, blue and green sculpture that had to be knocked down with a hammer. For a 2021 presentation in Heide, Birdbrush and other essentialsNordin filled the Kerry Gardner & Andrew Myer Project Gallery with a dizzying maze of sculptures, including masses of rags that spilled onto the designated path and viewers had to carefully navigate.

His current exhibition at Neon Parc, Accessories shop, demonstrates a new peeling. If the sculptures remain for the most part large, there is now a balance between works of different scales. Take for example, Ballroom (2022), a two-meter-tall pink epoxy work of narrow tower-like structures that are draped in an oversized string of foam beads. Next to it, installed on the same platform, is makeshift nights (2022), a chunky blue epoxy frame that stands just 42 centimeters high and balances a glass sphere – posing as a crystal ball – in its hollow.

At no point in the exhibition does the viewer have the impression that the smaller sculptures are eclipsed by their larger sisters. On the contrary, it is as if the sculptures had each grown from a single rhizome. Each carries the same formal core – Nordin’s signature use of bumpy, elongated, handcrafted shapes – but have evolved into a single entity.

Nordin is the newest addition to Geoff Newton’s Neon Parc stable, and Accessories shop is his first personal exhibition with the gallery. Those whose most recent experience of Nordin’s work was eating his roughly hewn and gnarled sculptures at the 2021 exhibition Please do not eat the carvings at Missing Persons might have wondered how his practice would translate to the art market. Often studio artists complain that they have to make compromises to make their work marketable – basically, to fit in with the decor of the collector’s home. It turns out Nordin made the transition to commercial entertainer with shocking ease. Certainly, she has adjusted her work, but it is not compromised.

She has always maintained that her work is an exploration of materials. In my opinion, this material exploration is inextricably linked to a deeper questioning of the traditional use of sculpture as a means of monumentalization. Where Greek and Roman sculpture used permanent and expensive materials – marble, bronze – Nordin chooses cheap, mass-produced or perishable products.

On opening night, a wall of baguettes baked by Nordin threatened to fall on guests who lay down in front of him to take selfies. The title of the sculpture – bread prison (2022) – seems almost ironic, given the fragility of the medium. Nordin baked wooden sticks in the paste and painted the finished sticks with resin to give the structure more stability, but viewers were fully aware that this sculpture would deteriorate over time.

A notable addition is the inclusion of skirting boards made by Nordin itself. In previous works, she upset the logic of the classical sculptural device by inscribing the support of the work in its overall form, making it a completely autonomous object. Here, she tackles the idea of ​​the base head-on.

The use of readymades is one of the most welcome additions to this suite of new works, and underscores a newfound confidence. While a plinth is traditionally used to elevate the sculpture above its audience – physically and symbolically – Nordin negates this elevation by using cheap ready-made objects for the plinths. In angel in cream (2022), an eagle-like form that appears to be weathered and covered in bird poop is placed on a transparent acrylic plinth filled with feathers, while Gourmet cherry (2022) features a clear base filled with walnuts.

In Whistletown Elves (2022), the base is a trapezoidal acrylic container on wheels filled with white foam mannequin heads. Above is a much smaller silver epoxy sculpture of an organically shaped blob and something resembling a spear, reminiscent of a miniature soldier in armour. This highlights another function of Nordin’s plinths: they reverse the traditional logic of illusory representation in monumental sculpture. Here the viewer infers an entity from the sculptures on the pedestals – the bird, the human form, the tree – but these forms are abstracted from the realistic representation that, for example, Greek and Roman sculpture sought to embody. The living beings signified by the materials that fill Nordin’s transparent plinths are more realistic than those vaguely depicted on them. Nordin blurs the clarity of the language of classical sculpture, using the signifier to do the work of the sign.

Lately there has been a marked craft revival in contemporary art, represented locally by, to name a few, Teelah George, Jahnne Pasco-White and Brendan Huntley and further abroad by Diedrick Brackens and the career-ending success of Simone Fattal. These artists certainly do not share conceptual foundations – it would be wrong to pretend so – but the success of their work suggests that artisanal techniques have become a kind of antidote to the increasing acceleration of daily life.

Nordin is undoubtedly part of this artisanal renaissance, but his work incorporates a marked recognition of contemporaneity in this return to the handmade. Nordin’s work has often embodied a grotesque yet appealing distortion of form. His increased use of acid colors and synthetic materials in Accessories shop heightens the feeling that his work is grounded in the present moment rather than a nostalgic throwback to a “simpler” time.

This combination of the handmade with an acknowledgment of the unsettling present is embodied in horror show (2022). A toothy green epoxy form on a reclaimed wood table leg is crowned with a curly red wig that could very well have been ripped off Ronald McDonald’s head – a symbol of capitalist spectacle if there ever was one. It’s uncomfortable, endearing and funny at the same time. The wig could be moved with the slightest nudge, destabilizing the logic of the sculpture as a permanent monument and perhaps acting as a metaphor for the fragility of once solid norms. Nothing, not even sculpture, can remain unchanged in perpetuity.

Nabilah Nordin – Prop Shop is on view at Neon Parc until July 23.

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Saturday Paper on July 9, 2022 under the title “Forms of Impermanence”.

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