Christchurch-based artist Julia Morison has always resisted forgone conclusions in her art. Viewing her work is like starting to play one game and finding yourself pleasurably entangled in another, says Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu Curator of Contemporary Art Felicity Milburn. a loop around a loop, a major exhibition surveying Morison’s practice that opens at Christchurch Art Gallery on 21 July, is no exception. Developed as an exhibition-and-publication project between Christchurch Art Gallery and Dunedin Public Art Gallery, it resists the usual, chronological order of the conventional survey and instead interlaces works from over 20 years of practice around an important new body of work made especially for the exhibition.
Gargantua’s Petticoat is one of the largest suites of paintings Morison has ever made. Teeming with intricate patterns drawn from historical costuming and the forms of the body, it has been described by co-curator Justin Paton, of Dunedin Public Art Gallery, as “giving spectacular new life to the exchange between formal order and imaginative discovery that animates Morison’s career”.
Morison regards all of her works as collaborations of some kind, and perhaps the most spectacular examples of this are the nine strangely elongated dresses from the Material Evidence: 100-Headless Woman series that elegantly precede the visitor into each space. These were created by Morison in 1997 with leading Australian couturier Martin Grant.
One of these dresses, a flowing garment “sown” with real grass, greets visitors at the entry to the exhibition. It will continue to grow and change throughout the show.
“To pick up the thread of Morison’s art is to enter a world of where the only rule is one of constant imaginative change,” Milburn says.
“Visitors can decide whether they enter the Gallery through the austere, geometrical, formal room, where precise, cross-referenced systems seem to decipher and catalogue the known world, or via the route of surreal fantasia, where forms twist and morph like mutating bodies and endlessly evolving streams of consciousness”
“a loop around a loop shows how Morison circles and recycles ideas to take in different concepts. There is never a straight path from A to B.
“Whichever direction you decide upon, your loop will lead you through 20 years and 11 major series by one of New Zealand’s most playful and inventive artists,” she says.
“Any conclusions drawn are yours alone; Morison generously leaves us free to put the pieces together – or take them apart – however we choose.”
Milburn says Morison is an “artist at the peak of her career who is creating some of her most exciting work right now.”
Fair and gay goes Lent away
from Gobsmack and Flabbergast series 2005
Julia Morison. Collection of the artist