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Marion Borgelt

By Marie Geissler

“Modern art has been moving towards a consciousness of its profound role, the reawakening of the unity of mind and matter”
–     Onslow Ford Painting in The Instant 1964

Travelling deep below the threshold of normal consciousness, Marion Borgelt distils mindscapes that exquisitely express the energies of form and power that underpin existence. Drawing upon instinct, intuition and the natural world, she creates imagery which is aesthetically honed for reassurance, offering the viewer an image of healing, personal inspiration, mediation and regeneration.  Philosophically challenging, it is work that operates on many levels to explore the compelling relationship between mind and matter.

An essential aspect of Borgelt’s work has been the use of forms as metaphor, a vocabulary of signs and symbols that evoke associations with historical, scientific, psychological and cultural meaning. In recent years she has worked on major commissions variously using sandstone, marble, stainless steel, fibreglass, concrete, wood, wax, resin and paint – whatever medium serves to define her own ideas needs and emotions. These works include the memorable 1.5 hectare cornfield maze in Victoria (1999-2000) grown specifically to Borgelt’s carefully planned labyrinthine design; an iconic masterpiece: the five-storey wall installation for the foyer of News Ltd Sydney (1998-9) on the subject of communication and its symbols; Pulse (2001), an exquisite jewel-like sculpture in stainless steel for the external wall of the Gravitational Wave Building at The Australian National University Canberra; Time and Tide (wait for no man) (2004), a stunning corporate piece in sandstone and stainless steel inspired by phases of the moon, commissioned by J P Morgan Chase for a balcony overlooking Sydney Harbour.

Marion Borgelt studied at the South Australian School of Art and Underdale CAE in Adelaide.

On graduating she was awarded the prestigious Peter Brown Memorial Travelling Scholarship from the New York School, so travelled to New York to undertake post graduate studies for 18 months (1979-80). In 1986 she travelled to India representing Australia at the Indian Triennale of Art and in 1989, received an art fellowship and residency from the French Government to live and work in Paris where she stayed for eight years. Since then Sydney has been her home. She was the first Australian recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in the nineties. In 2001 she received a 2 year Fellowship from the Australia Council, Australia’s most prestigious art award.  Her work is included in many major public collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, most state galleries, Parliament House and Artbank, as well as galleries in Europe and the US.

Since graduating from art school in South Australia, Borgelt has chosen to work in an abstract, biomorphic style. Rejecting the figurative, she felt that abstraction offered her the best way to pursue her ideas.

It was during her period at the New York School in the late seventies that her interest in locating an object in space began to emerge. As a post graduate student she would do life drawing classes all day, then go to her studio at night to pursue her abstract investigations. In the evening she also attended the amazing lecture program of Christo, John Cage, Leo Steinberg and Dore Ashton, amongst others.  Returning to the figurative from abstraction at this time in her career was a major turning point that caused her attention to focus on issues associated with positioning a form in space. This subsequently led to a more conceptual and minimalist approach to her work. ‘’Working creatively every day, I realised that art had to be full-time pursuit and its value and meaning for me could only be realised through a dedicated practice.”

Borgelt’s mid-to late-eighties work, like that of Jackson Pollock’s highly expressive line matrixes, was web-like with linear configurations evoking energies in flux. It prefigured her interest in the dynamics of labyrinthine structures. Her close focus paintings from this period such as Portrait of a Landscape (1989), Fire Wind and Water (1989) suggest a microscopic cellular world, alternatively, fields of grass drifting slowly in unison.

It was during her Paris years from 1989 that there was a shift from abstraction in her art making to a slow, deliberate and almost meditative constructive process. In Vessel Series, the image of large eggs were spun out from the web matrix of her former works and suspended like molten planets against black cosmic voids. In Vessel No. XI 1991, monumental shapes are textured by expressive web-like patterning, their compelling materiality speaks metaphorically of birth and the emergence of life force. On a more surreal level the egg shapes, like de Chirico, or Dali portraits look almost human. They are solemn and anonymous faces beckoning from another world with thoughts preoccupied with a deeper consciousness (At the time these were created The Gulf War was underway, and the fear of destructive effects of war was very pervasive.)

The development of small openings made their first appearance in the web at this time. In earlier works the web is pulled apart to reveal the presence for the first time of a dark void behind. Symbolic of a mysterious timeless space  with “ the potential for being and becoming”, it takes up the narrative of her creation theme.

Further works saw the development of the hole and the appearance of larger fissures or lesions. Web and Tunnel No.VI (1990) flags the erotic, with a highly evocative vaginal-shaped fissure, metaphorically alluding to  the importance of  sexual intervention  in Borgelt’s narrative. This series then leads to further work on binary cellular division Anima/Animus: Splitting into One No. III (1994) and Anima/Animus: Baroque (1994)

In Void Suite No II (1992) different states of being are evoked by layering of a number of superimposed shapes in one picture plane. Vessel Series: No. XII (1993) reveals the spiral emerging from the centre of divided cells. Evoking the process of growth and change it flags the spiralling energies of the Void Series:  Equilibrium (1994) where different spatial planes with their spiralling orbits of pulsating energy rotate . Borgelt comments that she was “finding a balance and relationship between two disparate cultures”. She was in transition at the time of painting this work, moving from one culture to another, moving from one dimension to another. Borgelt used her art as a way of centering her life, giving it harmony and calm through the formal perfection of her work. These interior landscapes like her other work are psychological terrains revealing some aspect of her life at the time. She reflects: “In this work there is a sense of entering the void within the void, space inside spaces, knowledge within knowledge.”

It was during the Paris years that commercial success came to Borgelt and she was able to see that a career as an artist was viable economically and that she could sustain herself living overseas. Her works were being exhibited successfully at Sherman Galleries in Sydney and Christine Abrahams in Melbourne and she travelled each year back to Australia to nurture her roots. She valued the rich cultural resources of Paris and the city’s ability to influence her work and ideas. Research led her to the writings of Freud and Jung and with this a growing appreciation of the value of symbols for her expressive means. She began to use the square, cross, infinity, circle, triangle and spiral as well as adaptations of these. She comments: “… as a result of the profound interest the French have in language I’ve started to engage with ideas of symbols and signs of languages……..Patterns, designs emblems, symbols and motifs have been used since time immemorial to carry messages and meanings, before written language which may have evolved from collectively understood symbols.” The work of Joseph Beuys, Anish Kapoor, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Louise Bourgeois, Mark Rothko and Robert Irwin were also important over these and subsequent years, forming a body of influence that informed her work and continued to play an important part in its evolution.

In 1996, the symbolic realm was a key theme for the “Bloodlines” exhibition. The works were inspired by genealogy, specifically about how  “we track things from the present day back to ancient forms and cultures.” With reference to Celtic art forms, the Kabala system of belief and Buddhism, they often contained some kind of archetypal symbol or reference. Her large scale paintings of the Icons and Emblems Series and the Mnemona Suite are mystic in quality. The  pod-like spirals in the former allude to the Shou symbol for longevity and Celtic graphics. In the latter the three white pulsating concentric coils set against the dark of the void symbolically suggest a transcendental meditative state. Smaller works from this show, resembling diminutive tablets with painted motifs reminiscent of precious icons, collectively describe an enigmatic world of signs and symbols. In Primordial Alphabet: Relationship, Figures I- IX (1995) and Primordial Alphabet: Time, Figures I-IX (1995) we have exquisite worlds within worlds where Borgelt plays inventively with her alphabet exploring the symbolic to express the unfathomable. Constructing her own language in the process she began to see correlations between it and other languages, both written and symbolic. With research and travel she found semantics to be an increasingly rich source of symbolism.

Borgelt’s hybridized language of symbols is playfully applied to utilitarian objects of containment and protection (bottles, shoes and bowls respectively) to explore an infinite possibility of ideas associated with the long history of these objects, their meaning and their use. In the Personae Suite: (2000) she avoids symbolic language and instead the visceral impact of shape and colour of seventeen tall containers is used symbolically to evoke the erotic. The thrusting sensuous form of the container is a reference to the urgency of the phallus; the lush red interiors of the forms, the voluptuousness of the female, the womb and sense of secure containment.

Bloodlight Series: Gestures I, I & III (1996) are potent, haunting images. Like Rothko’s large meditative works, these evoke “presences”, cropped images of spiritualised energy states both entering and disappearing at the one time. They prefigure the content of Candescent Red (2001- 02) and Bloodlight Optic Rhythm (2001) where we see these beautiful forms emerge once again. Here edges become hazy suggesting a gentle dissolution of one form into the other. Red is in the process of becoming black and the black in turn is taking on a warm rosy glow, a metaphor for connection, dissolution of boundaries and transference between the physical/material and the spiritual worlds.

Borgelt also uses colour symbolically. She deliberately restricts her palette to sensual tones of red, black and white. It makes her images strong and focused. Red is the life-force energy in the physical or primal experience. Evocative of pleasure, pain, passion and death, it varies from warm orange to cooler bluish reds depending on context. Black is there as a symbol of the void, the spiritual or infinite space from which form is generated. White or a pale cream is used most often as a transparent overlay of form, symbolising skin, protection or containment. At other times in layers of diaphanous veils it suggests “meta-worlds”,  or other states of being.

Returning to Australia in the late nineties to live, Borgelt undertook a monumental art installation: Primordial Alphabet Rhythm (1998-99), for the foyer atrium of News Limited in Sydney. The central work is composed of 12 rectangular panels and 10 smaller sculptured discs, 5 on either side, scaling in stepwise fashion a feature wall in the five-floor foyer atrium. The central panel is a sublime orchestration of voluptuous warm red wave forms that ripple synonymously both up and down the wall. Symbolically the waves represent both the worlds of audio and electronic communication – the core business of the client. Metaphorically referring to symbols of a primordial alphabet, the small discs carry designs which allude to universal pictograms and the symbolic origins of language. Compelling in optical complexity, the works appears to hover in space with a soft glow of a red aura radiating from behind. This is created by the reflection of the painted red backs of each painting off the white background wall. Each work is supported several inches from the wall by a horizontal wall mount bolted to the back.

In 1999-2000 Borgelt created an ephemeral cornfield maze titled 55 Ring Maze in the Mornington Peninsula of Victoria. Her installation Suspended in 2001 was part of the Incarnations installations exhibited in the sandstone interiors of the Paddington Uniting Church.  It comprised a series of six totem-like wall hangings of hand cut felt in red and black that hung suspended on either sides of the church. Dressed in a language that evokes the rich costume attire of the medieval, ecclesiastical, Japanese or baroque, it was created by the curvilinear shapes of the layered and folded felt. These were powerfully transformational, evoking a primal spiritual presence as they hovered silently over a central labyrinthine maze of felt laid out on the floor. There several pairs of small red felt shoes symbolised the human spiritual journey that we all have to take on life’s uncertain path.

Most recently Borgelt’s sculptural commission Time and Tide (wait for no man) (2004), for JP Morgan Chase reflects on  her interest in cosmology. Here 32 floors above the city is a 4,000 kilo sandstone and stainless steel sculpture that depicts the 16 phases of the moon. Borgelt chose the imagery of the moon because its phases have a powerful influence over the moods of the workforce. The 16 separate movements each with its own moon and supportive sandstone plinth are set in a spiral as they, in stepwise fashion, rotate outwards expressing the shape of the reflected light from the moon as it wanes from its full to its new moon state. Meticulously finished, highly polished stainless steel evokes the lunar phases of the moon and beautiful local sandstone for the plinths links the work solidly back to earth in a spiral representing continuity and renewal.

Borgelt’s current works explore the human perceptual process and the way we view and see things as well as investigating the boundaries of form and what happens at its edge. The current exhibition comprises quite magical large-scale wall mounted sculptural installations along with several other smaller scale groups of work. Their effect is high impact, with energy that flows over you like the clear waters of a pristine mountain stream. Importantly there is a move to painting in white instead of black. Symbolically speaking the void, the spiritual or infinite space from which form is generated has been transmuted from black to white, symbolically representing, in this context, the emergence of light and clarity as a focus for Borgelt’s work.

Works vary from large images of circular planetary form as in Lune Lumina Suite (2004), or seductive white moon-shaped dish sculptures gently twisted with rounded arms extended for open embrace Lunar Warp Series (2004), to precious tablets covered in wax Ocular Botanical Suite (2004). These are presented as aesthetically beautiful photographic images of the iris of the eye and miniature biological forms. The latter are all in close focus and mounted like specimens and covered with wax. As a suite of images they reflect on the process of perception the power of the eye to record reality in the natural world. Another suite of works A Cryptologists Memoir (2004), is a series of books, securely preserved in resin packaging. Like gifts from some ancient library they are individually marked by large symbols which like stencils, have been cut deep through the pages into the body of the book. The symbols are an amalgam of Chinese, Cyrillic, Cuneiform, Greek, Roman, Old English and Roman alphabetical form, used to remind us of their importance, like books, as vehicles of communication.

In Liquid Light (2004) series the artist recalls the experiments in optical illusion of the 1960s Op Art movement. Her images transform as our viewing position to them changes with unexpected optical effects that are both dazzling and mesmerising. She creates her impact by standing white twisting ribbons of cut canvas at a 90 degree angle to the white painted surface of the painting. These painted strips act like shades such that the colour of the exposed surface on the flat picture plane below when viewed front on appears oval, but as you move slowly to the edges of the work, the shape of the oval becomes smaller. This generates an illusion of a rippling wave.  On one level they are metaphors for TV screen viewing and provide Borgelt with a vehicle to comment on the passive way screen information is acquired today. Her works celebrate a perceptual process where interactivity is demanded, and exemplify the fun that is there if we engage in a more meaningful way with our information. These works further extend her investigation into what happens at the edge of the form. Marion Borgelt creates uncertainty by dematerialising boundaries, this time without employing a painted chiaroscuro effect but instead three dimensional painted surfaces which generate optical illusions. By invoking the mysterious, metaphorically speaking, she invites us to approach our inner worlds where the subjective realities of mind and matter find their ultimate regeneration and expression.

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