‘Incarnations: Suspended’ is one of a group of intriguing installations by contemporary artist Marion Borgelt, now showing at the Newcastle Region Art Gallery. The exhibition, titled ‘Hourglass’, includes a series of signs and symbols painted onto tiny canvases, and a gathering of wood vessels lined with red wax, I will however focus on the felt component of the exhibition.
On viewing ‘Incarnations: Suspended’, the viewer is immediately struck by the contrast of the colour black with red, and the intricate pattern of the felt labyrinth layed out upon the floor. The eye is drawn along a length of industrial needle punched felt hanging from the ceiling, down to dozens of pairs of felt slippers piled up in an old suitcase. There is an overwhelming urge to put some of these slippers on your feet and walk the outline of the felt labyrinth.
Marion Borgelt’s art is a deep investigation of the language of signs and symbols and their role within culture. Her paintings and installations seem to consider the very nature of art. Art is a communication using visual form and symbol to express an idea, bypassing the need for the written/spoken language. It is a search for a universal language. Borgelt’s beautiful patterns and symbols seem to suggest a ritual meaning that has been lost in an ancient culture in some far flung corner of the world.
The felt labyrinth laid out on the floor seems to be derived from a character of a forgotten language –perhaps distantly related to Korean or Japanese. The labyrinth is something that Borgelt returns to frequently in her work. It symbolises the quest for self knowledge. Art is often a quest for self knowledge, for self expression. The pile of felted slippers, some carefully placed upon the felt path, bring direct attention to the personal aspect of this journey. The open hole of each felt slipper beckoning to your feet to slip in and walk the symbolic path.
Borgelt pays meticulous attention to the details of her work, her paintings in particular are mesmerising in their detail. They play between 3-D illusion and concrete detail of the physical surface. Her work is testimony to the physical process of using different materials, such as jute, wax, wood, felt, and found objects. Borgelt allows each medium to lead the outcome of the work, utilising each ones innate qualities, its nature.
This aspect of her work is evident in her treatment of the long length of industrial felt hanging from the ceiling. The expanse of dense black felt is a brilliant red wax paint on the reverse side. Borgelt utilises this to full effect by slicing through the felt along its edges to reveal sharp slivers of red showing through. Falling towards the floor the red lines emphasise its movement, it is evocative of a set of climbing stairs. The felt is allowed to be felt, to be fabric, to be tactile and dense, to celebrate its materiality.
The suitcase, piled high with felt slippers, sits at the bottom of the symbolic stairs ready for the journey along the felt pathway. The title ‘Incarnations ; Suspended’ and the proliferation of so many shoes leads me to consider notions of reincarnation – of walking the next life in another man’s felt shoes.
Borgelt’s work is often one of direct opposites, of red and black, of soft and hard, of illusion and materiality, of the body and spirit. ‘Incarnations; Suspended’ is a visually beautiful work with many layers of meaning, which is a refreshing experience in our postmodernist climate. To experience contemporary art that displays a belief in the potency of art to still bring emotional response and deeper meaning into our lives, while simultaneously satisfying our hunger for material beauty, is rare. This is to be found in Marion Borgelt’s ‘Incarnations: Suspended’.
Marion Borgelt; ‘Hourglass’
Newcastle Region Art Gallery August 2 – September14 2003.
‘Incarnations: Suspended’ felt, paint, wax, found objects. Dimensions variable.