Belinda Fox: Close to Home
16 October – 14 November, 2020
Belinda recently sent me an image of a work that she made shortly after her daughter Billie was born. Titled Swell (2010) the piece is a watercolour on board that depicts a series of waves building and easing as they carry and support an infant child. A decade on, Swell resonates with Belinda’s latest body of work and second solo exhibition at Michael Reid Berlin.
Titled Close to Home, this exhibition encompasses the highs and lows of emotion, and the vulnerability that comes when stepping into the unknown. Like Swell that expressed the enormity of change when Belinda became a mother, Close to Home, follows a similar trajectory but this time is bound up in the uncertainty of the present.
Belinda has called The Hague in The Netherlands home for the past four years. When lockdown came into action earlier this year she searched for inspiration and solitude from her immediate environment. She explains: “most paintings depict the things perhaps I was taking for granted in my neighbourhood before the world turned upside-down”. The new works created for Close to Home, however, signify something greater. This exhibition is Belinda’s final hoorah in Europe (for now) before she relocates back to Australia. As the title affirms she is indeed ‘close to home’.
Living and working abroad, as many talented Australians dare to do, requires resilience. Belinda for one has alternated between two countries, continuing to uphold a successful artistic practice in Australia whilst simultaneously nurturing one in Europe. With roots and family located on the opposite side of the globe, in this state of flux one can become fragmented, groundless even.
‘Fragment’ is a word Belinda has adopted to title three works in this exhibition. Each watercolour on board, the pieces are small and intricate, overlaid with fine detailing in ink. For the artist, these works speak to grasping at moments of solidity in unstable times, but like the web-like pattern that has fed through Belinda’s work for many years, the word ‘fragment’ connects to her broader practice. It was in 2010 that Belinda started painting and drawing on clayboard for the first time. She made panels which she could sand back and layer with wax, describing them as “fragments” that would eventually come together. This motive is one that fits Belinda’s practice well, as the artist is endlessly contemplating polarities, searching for the tipping point between the push and pull of truth and justice, hope and doubt. What the global pandemic demonstrates so clearly is that individual action can affect many, but more so, it highlights interdependency. Like Belinda’s fragments and her position between two countries – even when apart everything is interconnected.
Alongside these smaller works, Belinda has created three larger paintings on board. Wildflowers July I and Wildflowers July II capture the wildflowers blooming in summer, and Hague Study II, shows the landscape of Wassenaar on the outskirts of The Hague. Like the fragment works, these pieces record a moment in time. They are a nostalgic glance at the beauty of the artists surroundings, a landscape she will soon depart.
Whilst living in The Hague, Belinda has sought to collaborate with other local artists. Collaboration in itself is a key part of her oeuvre and it has enhanced her skillset. In 2019, she worked with Dutch designer and maker Wilfred Kalf. The duo explored ideas, challenging and expanding each other’s practice. For Close to Home, they have created two pieces, Rising Tide (2020) and Resilience (2020).
Rising Tide is a cabinet of ash wood that houses Belinda’s seven-panel wrap around painting of undulating waves and a concertina artist book. Belinda and Wilfred state: “This work is all about the surprise of the interior space. It is a true reflection of the crashing anxieties, the uneasiness abound and a deep desire to harness the chaos and find the strength required to endure”. The cabinets design echoes the grand triptychs of Dutch and Flemish painter’s, such as Maerten de Vos, Hieronymus Bosch and Lucas van Leyden. In these designs, the triptychs panels were hinged creating new thresholds that expanded narratives. The panels also served a practical function, folding inward to close off and protect the painting. Similarly, the physical structure of Rising Tide cradles its painting – it can be opened and observed, or closed off and sheltered. Like Belinda’s earlier work Swell the painting in this piece creates movement. It captures what Belinda describes as a moment of “free-fall” – a moment to surrender to the unknown.
Resilience is a one-meter high rotating cabinet also made from ash wood. Fit with custom shelves, the piece holds a number of intimate works – small paintings and concertina artist books made by Belinda, and two video works, one made by Todd Fuller and the other by Remi Wörtmeyer. Collectively Resilience brings together four voices and, in many ways, is a ‘cabinet of curiosities’.
It was in May 2020 that Belinda invited Todd and Remi to take part in this project. During this time, all of the artists were struggling with the uncertainty and logistical pressures of being locked up at home.
Todd, a Sydney-based artist recognised for his narrative driven hand-drawn animations created Parkside Crescent (2020). Capturing a single window, this animation is a series of vignette that offers a voyeuristic view of life inside. As Todd states: “from airing out the apartment to dancing in the kitchen after moving in with a loved one, these silhouettes mark a strange moment in history.”
Remi, an artist, choreographer and principal dancer for the Dutch National Ballet created Just Keep Moving (2020) a five-minute video performance. Shot in black and white, Remi moves in front of two large curtain-draped windows. His movements begin gentle, before his breathing gets heavy and his gestures more abrupt. The tension that builds in this work conveys the frustration many movement-based professionals faced, suddenly shuffled in doors with limited space.
A traditional ‘cabinet of curiosities’ or Wunderkammer housed objects and art collected from across the globe. Ironically the term ‘cabinet’ in this sense described an entire room and the Wunderkammer was a precursor to the museum. In this contemporary take, Resilience mimics the reality of 2020, a new confinement that looks out at a world that once was. Wilfred who designed the final structure for this work in response to Belinda, Todd and Remi’s pieces, describes it as a “residential tower” with apartments put behind bars, that are longing to open up again. Belinda envisioned that Resilience would offer audiences moments of discovery and reprieve, the video works lighting up in the evening to cast light, hope and offer a signal of unity.
Close to Home is an exhibition that ebbs and flows. It is about appreciating and piecing together the fragments – rolling with the punches, riding the swell and learning to surrender. In a year that will undoubtedly go down in history Close to Home is a reminder of how collective action and resilience can resolve and transform.
Laura Thompson, September 2020
Gallery Director, Michael Reid Berlin