Open and Closed
a collection of 16 "rescued assemblage" artworks
... chambers hidden behind closed doors which, when opened, reveal mysterious and
complicated stories reflecting an artist's fascination with life, death, rebirth and traces of past existences ...
Madame Butterfly and the Collector - 580 x 570 x 130 - 10kg
Filipe the Second - 530 x 770 x 150mm - 9kg
Very Camp on Wheels - 580 x 810 x 150mm - 15kg
Shrine to Happiness and Harmony - 345 x 335 xs 130mm - 5kg
Cenotaph to the Fallen - 600 x 540 x 150 - 12kg
Astrological 21012 - 670 x 900 x 130mm - 18kg
Conversation with a Fish - 440 x 640 x 130mm - 10kg
Homage to the Chinese Pearlfishers - 480 x 430 x 150mm - 10kg
An Opening into the World of Ornithology - 480 x 550 x 150mm - 10kg
Written in the Stars - 570 x 830 x 150mm - 17kg
Not all who wander are lost - 560 x 700 x 130mm - 10kg
Trade Routes circa 1935 - 410 x 415 x 130mm - 6kg
Chinese Abstract - 560 x 600 x 150mm - 12kg
R164 - 500 x 680 x 150mm - 12kg
Into a Persian Garden - 500 x 660 x 150mm - 12kg
Race Against Time - 500 x 700 x 150mm - 15kg
Review of artist and artworks ... Judy Barass
The works in ‘Open and Closed’ build on Ken Munsie’s long time engagement with the artists’ book. Like books, these small, immersive installations have several states that can only be seen one at a time; and like books, they are perfectly sized for individual viewing, offering the opportunity for intimate interaction, one person at a time. The experience of the exhibition and each piece in it is a finely orchestrated sequence of events.
I watched many visitors engage with the work on its first showing at Noosa Regional Gallery. The delight was palpable. Here was an exhibition that invited the viewer to discover treasures hidden behind closed doors; to not only open those doors and peer inside, but also to close the doors again. This final statement, the closure, was as satisfying as the opening, providing a purposeful, physical and mental space between the individual pieces.
Although each piece in the exhibition is unique and can stand alone, ‘Open and Closed’ is also an integrated collection brought together by similarities
in size, construction, and the use of wood and paper. Closed on the gallery walls the mysterious, doored, wooden boxes are a heavy presence, a quiet statement much like a library. Each piece is a world of its own, but together they are also form a larger installation with its own meaning and purpose.
It’s not unusual for assemblage works to be contained in boxes as a sort of frame. The work of Joseph Cornell immediately comes to mind. Artists such as Cornell and Kurt Schwitters constructed three dimensional images from found and manipulated objects displayed within the confines of an open box, sometimes with a glass cover to even more resemble a picture frame. Munsie’s boxes are more like the covers of a book. They are not
there simply to hold and frame a picture. They are the first and last state of a sequence, an integral part of the experience of a work that must be manipulated by the viewer to reveal the stories inside.
Those stories inside are rich, complex and fascinating, fueled by Munsie’s life experiences, his travels and his desire to give new life to ‘rescued’ objects. He has spoken in the past about his passion for paper and wood, and indeed these feature in every piece in the collection, but it is what he calls ‘rescued’ objects that add richness and intrigue to his stories. He sees himself as both recognizing past lives and creating new meanings with these objects.
Munsie doesn’t start with a set idea, preferring instead to let the process dictate how the stories develop. His fascination with such diverse things as Oriental cultures, iconography, gothic architecture, jewels, Buddhism, and Arabic calligraphy mingles in these works with more down to earth objects such as old tools, and construction techniques learnt from his grandfather on the family farm. Everything in his assemblage boxes has been part of something else, but it is not a random bringing together of disparate elements. Everything has been chosen, thought out, manipulated. Stories are built up in layers, some of which are hidden or only partly evident, some of which can be discovered only by opening more doors, more boxes.
Like Russian Matryoshka dolls Munsie’s chambers present stories within stories. They invite you to unravel the mystery.
Discarded and ancient texts, fragments of words, and parts of old book pages are some of the rescued ‘objects’ he incorporates into the work. If his stories can be ‘read’ it is often in these fragments of text that hints are evident. The tiny paper scrolls are not randomly presented, nor is each scroll without its own individual story. In his studio Munsie showed me his painstaking process of rolling those tiny scrolls so that each presented a meaningful element. Inside the chambers they are then fixed in place forever. Gallery viewers get a mysterious hint of meanings, while purchasers
are presented with a print out of the entire contents of the scrolls.
Care for discarded and disused objects as the purveyors of old and new meanings is integral to every part of Munsie’s work, including his primary construction materials wood, paper and metal. Much of his vast experience and skill in working with paper is not overtly evident on first glance. He doesn’t have fine papermaking skills in the tradition of the great Japanese papermakers, instead he makes and uses paper as a structural material.
A regular personal signature is the use of exposed, rough edges of tightly stacked paper. In Munsie’s works we are forced to forget about the tradition
of a sheet of paper, and instead understand paper as a different textural stimulation, a different physical presence. When one realizes that the evocative, stained, seemingly ancient and weathered parts of his constructions are often made using paper recycled from his own mail and paper scraps you begin to understand his skill and the depth of his knowledge in using and manipulating paper, giving it new and unexpected purpose.
This same skill, care and attention to detail, is evident in his approach to his other primary construction material, wood. When Munsie talks about
finding and rescuing discarded wood his enthusiasm is infectious. I found myself thinking about old rubbish dumps, tumble down cottages, rotting boats, ancient chook yards, and all the places where wood with a ‘previous’ life might be found. He is not fascinated by perfection, by the perfectly sandedand polished surface. His skills and concerns are not those of the fine woodworker. His fascination is with the marks of age and use, the previous life.He contends that when he holds a piece of wood and works with it he can feel what’s gone into it, and to him that is a source of beauty
Ken Munsie has been a successful and prolific artist over many years, but ‘Open and Closed’ is the first major body of work he has developed as a cohesive whole. It builds on his explorations into the artist book, paper, wood, and assemblage. It is layered with his life experiences, influenced by his recent travels, and redolent with his passion for recognizing both the past and future purposes of objects and materials. Above all it is a body of work built with care and precision that will intrigue and delight audiences. There is a richness of visual and textural experiences and a voyage of discovery to uncover in the layered stories within the chambers, and of course the wonderful experience of opening and closing those doors.
Judy Barrass is a Queensland artist who works across a number of mediums. She has taught extensively, introducing many to the genre of artists’ books. Her books and zines are held in major collection in Australia and overseas.
... Rescued Assemblage ...
Addio - h 400 w 300 d 100
Not all who wander are lost - h 400 w 300 d100
Girl with Pearls - h 250 w 350 d 150
Triptych - each drawer h 370 w 130 d100
...The Tourist does Art...
In September 2016 I left Australia for a "gap year" taking me to Central and Eastern Europe, including six months in the Balkans and three month in Italy. During this time I rented an apartment in each city and lived as a local for mostly three week stays. Traveling this way gave me a home-base ( away from hotels and expensive restaurants ) where I could live and work whilst enjoying the galleries, museums, churches etc. these cities had to offer ...
Coming home each day from being a tourist savoring the delights of ancient through to contemporary Europe, my head is filled with ideas and enthusiasm for my own art - so once settled into each new home, the first thing to do was to set up "mini studios" on the kitchen table or the hall sideboard where I could work at small pieces reflecting impressions of my travels ...
Once completed the mini-artworks have been donated to my city hosts or - as on a few occasions, given to a gallery to sell ...
1. Prague - Secrets 1948
2. Vienna - What would Sigmund think of this
3. Budapest - Hidden Stories and Lost Words
4. Athens - Greek Creation
5. Tirane - Shrine to Greek Folklore
6. Dubrovnik - Reliquary
7. Sarajevo - 1905
8. Belgrade - Mapping the Village
9. Bucharest - Under the Skin
10. Varna - Holy Lady
11. Sofia - Out and About