Rudi Williams

Before Pippa Mott, Artist Profile's International Writer, left Australia for the US earlier this year, she had the chance to review Rudi Williams's "unfixed: σκιά σκιά σκιά ombra ombra ombra shadow shadow shadow," which is currently showing digitally with Sutton Gallery.

unfixed: σκιά σκιά σκιά ombra ombra ombra shadow shadow shadow brings together a meticulously assembled body of work by Naarm/Melbourne based photographer Rudi Williams. With unflinching gaze Williams interrogates constructed worlds, notions of containment and captivation, and the passage of time. Each work is an artefact; a compendium of place, memory and process. unfixed presents these works in a choreographed sequence. Like an “exquisite corpse,” a series of moments are threaded together with both explicit and implicit points of connection. Williams will consciously play with the content of the exhibition throughout the duration of its display, making gradual substitutions and subtle rearrangements. 

2018 Castello, Venice, Italy documents the atmosphere of a Venetian summer. A wall mounted clock is illuminated by a rhombus of particulate-diffused light – alternate modes of time measurement intersecting. 2017, Altstadt, Zurich Switzerland captures timepieces observed through the opalescent haze of a shopfront window. Traces of menstrual blood upon crinkled sheets expose a personal timescale, in 2018 Ellipsis […], Caulfield, Victoria, Australia. Williams’s thirty-eight-page artist book, Unfixed, extends upon these interests as an ephemeral time-based work in its own right. Photosensitive covers and inserts draw the reader, the artist and the elements into a unique and evolving relationship, forged through temperature and touch. All the while, the sense of metamorphosis in underpinned by an impression of decay.  

A philosophical enquiry into museums and museology in a consistent element of Williams practice. These receptacles of human discovery, curiosity, and capital are observed with quiet focus. Many of these museum-based works ruminate on context lost and gained. Constructed worlds convey constructed realities – thus objects are never divorced from their architectural environments and surrounding ephemera. 2016, Melbourne Museum, Carlton, Victoria is a mélange of medical science curios. One plastic torso is overlaid by the hollowed-out chest cavity of another, whilst the display cabinet reflects a human jawbone, gloved scalpel-wielding hand, and various anatomical drawings. 2014, Forgotten Location depicts a pharaonic mask in profile, peering at its own reflected image. A crossfire of glances is triggered when we notice a stranger on the other side of the glass. 

The inherent grace of the contrapposto stance is disturbed when in 2014, The Louvre, Paris, France, a petite and headless Hellenistic marble figurine appears to recoil from the sheer indignity of her display. Perching on a cold metal mount, she is dwarfed by the expanse of glass before her. 2017, The National Archeological Museum of Athens, Athens, Greece, presents a miscellany of dismembered body parts, carved in stone. A single breast, pudendum, buttocks, a pair of ears. Votive offerings such as these were found at sacred sites across the ancient world, spanning centuries and cultures. Here, they represent dedications from the sanctuary of Demeter at Eleusis, the sanctuary of Amynos in Athens, Asklepieion in Athens, and the sanctuary of Aphrodite at Daphni, amongst others. Each piece embodies appeals for divine intervention; hopes, dreams and fears from a distant past. Grouped together in a museum cabinet, a poignant aggregate of human belief is generated. 

Janus, the ancient Roman god of crossroads, transitions, duality and time, appears twice. First in a corridor in 2014, Istanbul Archeological Museum, Istanbul, Turkey, and again in a shaded courtyard in 2019, National Archaeological Museum of Athens, Athens, Greece. The two-faced god characteristically looked both forward and backwards, and his semblance would mark auspicious entrances and exits throughout the Roman world (which of course once extended its grip on Greece and Asia Minor). Thus, the god inextricably connects to notions of empire, and can be associated more broadly with theories of civilisation. With poetic circularity, the suggestion of imperialism feeds back into an interrogation of the museum. 

2017, Ansaldo Teatro alla Scala, Milan considers the mechanics of the theatre. Ropes and pullies and a stratigraphy of decadently painted backdrops hang heavy with expectation. 2017, San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice, Italy, captures a scene from a small island in the Venetian Lagoon, a former leper colony which was later designated as a safe haven for Mekhitarist monks. The photograph is ambiguous – a door swings ajar and through the crack we see the cool light of a dimly lit room, perhaps a church. Williams relishes in liminal spaces and pregnant moments.

Travel is a vital, perhaps even ritualistic aspect of Williams’s practice: new environments exacerbate her already compulsive desire to observe, respond, and record. The works presented in the exhibition document the artists drift through familiar and foreign urban environments. The photographs are intuitive and immensely inquisitive responses to place. In keeping with Williams’s conception of photography as a form of time travel, the works are drenched in nostalgia and wield a transportive power. At a time when our global and local footprints have been so radically reduced, and wanderlust is palpable, unfixed: σκιά σκιά σκιά ombra ombra ombra shadow shadow shadow is a particularly enchanting experience. 

unfixed: σκιά σκιά σκιά ombra ombra ombra shadow shadow shadow
Online viewing room, 14 October – 1 November 2021
Sutton Gallery, Melbourne

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