Congratulations to Jess MacNeil, winner of the Viewer’s Choice Award as part of the 2018 Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize. Jess was awarded the prize for her sculpture Threshold.
Established in 2001, the Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize attracts strong support from artists, collectors and critics and is the first national acquisitive prize for an original, freestanding sculpture of up to 80cm in any dimension.
A sequence of sixteen paintings on transparent acrylic is arrayed reminiscent of slides racked in a carousel or frames in a moving-image edit. Each panel, an independent painting, is licked with daubs or drips of viscous oil paint. Dependent on internal and external spatial phenomena and the angle of the viewer, the artist cleverly exploits contradictions within the small sculpture. Adroitly conjuring with the ambiguities of abstraction and realism, perception of time and space, motion and stasis to simultaneously conceal and reveal a nascent human figure, redolent of both the intense fragility and immense power and vigour of the life force.
During the lead-up to making Threshold a farcically melodramatic sequence of circumstances steamrollered my life. This onslaught brought intense experiences of pain, death, new life, risk, wonder, grief, love, extreme medical emergencies – including very near death, gruelling recovery, fear, fury, weakness, passion, compassion, vulnerability, betrayal and strength.
Even had I tried, it would be impossible for this turmoil not to imbue my work. Through my practice I have consistently conceptually grappled with how we navigate complexity and contradictions, and my work has become increasingly personal. But Threshold is the most intimate work I have made thus far.
Seventeen ‘slices’ of Perspex construct Threshold, each supporting oil paint applied in fragments, combined to create a contorted woman, her pose a consequence of a diabolical blow, or of her powerful summonsing of inner strength to reassert her push back. The images disappear and re-emerge dependent on vantage point; splintered, volatile, evasive. Acrylic sheet’s unstable light-bearing properties enact improbable refractions and reflections as further appearances and disappearances.
Threshold exploits the ability to be not only ‘both’, but ‘many’ simultaneously, with one perceived image knocked adroitly out of place by another, and another, and another, in intriguingly constructive destruction.
Threshold viscerally, aesthetically and experientially embodies both the intense fragility and humble, immense power and vigour of life force.
Jess MacNeil, 2018