Compositional Utterances explores collaborative friendships

The touring exhibition Compositional Utterances is a collaboration between three artists united by political ideology, formal and aesthetic preferences, and a lasting friendship.

Mandy Quadrio, Susan Hawkins and Jan Oliver met at Griffith University College of Art, and since then the trio have found ideas and inspiration within one another. This has fostered a “conversational language we are developing together”, says Hawkins, which feeds into a collective showing of immersive installations and sculptures.

Though the artists share environmental, post-colonial and feminist preoccupations, their practices and mediums are markedly distinct from one another. Hawkins appropriates salvaged industrial and domestic objects to create an aural experience, reflecting the “utterances” of the show’s title. “The unexpected soundscapes that the activated artefacts create offer the opportunity to question conventions and meanings that we attach to objects,” says Hawkins.

Installation views of ‘Compositional Utterances’ at UniSC Art Gallery, 2022. Photos: Carl Warner.

Quadrio’s creations are garments that combine steel wool with sea grass and bull kelp. The work is a tribute to her Palawa ancestors, and is intended, she says, to “resist historic and ongoing denials and the scrubbing out of Palawa identity”. The abrasive steel wool was used by her female forebears, who were forced to be domestic servants for non-Indigenous people. The wool, she says, also reflects the “strong and flexible qualities of the way we navigate our friendship” and the trio’s “steely resolve to resist destructive forces”.

Oliver, meanwhile, works with paper, with which she “converses” by a process of crumpling and unfolding. These large-scale works are designed to express the artist’s ongoing consideration of pressing ecological questions.

“After diving into conceptual discussions, vigorous making and deep relationships, I come up refreshed and energised by our collaborative engagement,” says Oliver, in words that could have come from any of the three, as their partnership continues to evolve.

Compositional Utterances
Mandy Quadrio, Susan Hawkins, Jan Oliver
Court House Gallery
12 January—4 March

This article was originally published in the January/February 2024 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Barnaby Smith