Exhibition Essays

The warm thrill of confusion

May 2007

Kate Montgomery in conversation with Pippa Makgill

Kate Montgomery, Pippa Makgill

Kate Montgomery: In your approach to showing at Enjoy as an Artist-Run Space, how did you feel about the space and opportunity?

Pippa Makgill: I guess exhibiting is a singular experience—a form in itself. It suggests an end point, a resolution. With my work I am trying to develop a language and the show at Enjoy was a chance to explore my process and to work within a formal gallery setting. I started by exploring the visual space I was going to be working in. The gallery is large and square with a wall of windows. It has a high roof and external earthquake strengthening. The floors are wooden and there is a corner of the gallery where the office and library are. All of these idiosyncrasies came into play when I was developing the work in the space.

K.M.: Coming to ‘The Warm Thrill...’ through documentation, I wonder how you feel the tentative nature of your installation translated from the lived experience within the gallery into what are now archival traces.

P.M.: Because the installation is all interconnected in relationships, it was an interesting challenge to know how to document it. In creating the work, I had considered so many elements of viewing the space. For example, a large simple gesture was created in the corner parallel to the office to balance out the weight of its occupation and presence. I don’t know how successful this was but these are some of the things that are difficult to convey in documentation.

K.M.: Playfulness and chance seem to have emerged more openly in Hula at HSP than in your exhibi- tion at Enjoy and I wonder why that might have been the case...

P.M.: I did find a lot in reflection of my Enjoy show in comparison to the HSP show. More confidence in experimenting with materials and chance, I think. In the Enjoy show I pared it back a lot towards the end of my install time and it lost a lot of its process visually.

K.M.: Pared back or not, ‘The Warm Thrill of Confusion’ is certainly a responsive and playful irruption that seeks out the idiosyncrasies of the site that your materials found themselves within.

P.M.: Bright day-light, holes in the floor, and earthquake strengthening were aspects I bounced ideas off. I was able to make a plastic coated bamboo stick stand vertical due to holes in the floor-boards: usually these are pushed into the earth so I liked this new relationship. Many of the objects I use function as supports as well as structures in their own right, for example, contact adhesive, brown paper, blanket, bailing plastic, underlay and bamboo sticks. Brought into play in this work, they lean, fall and fold creating a type of lyrical language. I like plastic bamboo because of its internal irony: its plastic coating for ‘outdoor use’. My mum once put a bamboo stick in a pot plant to help a plant grow and the plant ended up dying and the bamboo grew. I also like that idea of intention and outcome. 

K.M.: And misplaced or indavertent, occasional outcomes are comfortable within the scale and structure of your practice too, right? There’s certainly a good mix of focused curiosity and animation or activation within your practice.

P.M.: I approach the work very loosely and playfully to see what comes about. I think a lot of this resonates in the work with it being fragile and on the edge of conceptual and physical collapse. At exhibitions people have picked up, knocked and tripped over works. This aspect of the work, I think, creates a presence through being suggestively fragile. It becomes rousing, as the viewer has to navigate him or herself through the space carefully.

K.M.: Following the opening of your exhibitions, what kinds of responses to the works did you particularly enjoy?

P.M.: I enjoyed poetic responses and humorous ones the most. There were comments about people seeing mouse-traps and set ups like Wile E. Coyote made for Road Runner.

K.M.: I really like the way your works tease their audience, and blur the possibility of the gallery being characterised as a frozen or finished space during the exhibition’s run. I’m aware that for you the works are all finished, successful and as a result, active in their roles as they stand, but the possibility of these resonant compositions and constructions having another more active and ephemeral life filled with other gestures is an exciting one for me. How do you weight or favour either side of this relationship between action and stasis?

P.M.: My work is shaped by time constraints. It’s a bit like drawing—a constant spark of new ideas ‘till time says stop and I have to reflect. I kind of feel exhibiting is the starting point of going somewhere else. For me, personally, it presents new novelty because I will never make the same work again—like closure for some ideas. They have been realized.

K.M.: I love the way that you think through objects both physically and associatively. Do you start with something particular?

P.M.: Leading up to the Enjoy show I based a lot of my ideas around yellow buckets and, quite simply, I think it was my starting point. I took about 25 yellow Warehouse buckets into environments around me and played with their possibilities. The image on the front of the flier is an example of this. The bright yellow sat well in large green open spaces but when it came to the gallery space, the bucket became something different. The yellow in the gallery space became lurid and my first instinct was to cover it and just work with its form. It ended up being covered with material that had the same width stripes as the wooden floor-boards.

K.M.: How did you settle on the title for your show, Pippa?

P.M.: ‘The warm thrill of confusion’... that space cadet glow, comes from a Pink Floyd lyric. I had this landlord—special guy, sold drugs to some of my other flat mates. He was eccentric and I was always on edge around him. One day he launched into talking about ‘the warm thrill of confusion’ and how it spoke of the state of being when your rational state is taken over by an emotional experience. I liked this idea of mental paralysis. Also the ‘space cadet glow’ has a nice analogy to suspension and fragility.