Remaking the World: Julie Rrap

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Australian mid-career artist Julie Rrap’s recent solo exhibition was a contemplative exploration of the creative process, writes Toni Hassan.

Julie Rrap’s exhibition Remaking the World at the Ian Potter Museum of Art in Melbourne from July 23 to November 15 was much gentler than her earlier more gestural shows. It nudged us to consider the rhythms of our day as communicators, makers and creators rather than where we may fit in the power struggles of our world.

The key installation, held in the first of two smallish rooms, was mesmerising. It consisted of a number of raised television screens showing, shall we say, a colony of her friends upside down – creative types, wrapped in white sheets, forming different angles and geometry being filmed as they slept. Their chests gently rise, they stir, raise a limb. How conscious are they?

We all sleep but rarely observe others asleep. In these sped-up, social media-charged days, we long for the quiet and solitary renewal of deep R-E-M sleep. At least I do. Is dreaming central to that renewal?

The multi-media artist explores the creative process and the role of dreams. She ponders the question ‘when does art happen?’

Art has happened for Rrap in a very intentional way.

Born in 1950, her formational practice came out of a wave of feminist art with a commitment to physical and emotional exposure. She sought to lay bare the conditions of inhabiting a female body in a world dominated by men.

Nudity on her own terms was a crucial strategy for derailing classical and traditional imagery, especially by the Renaissance masters, whose works she felt were exploitative.

Her art had a force about it, cutting through with ‘look, see, feel, what I really am’. With shadows and play came a lot of personal disclosure, powerful and impulsive.

Though a multi-disciplinary artist, photography, film and video have always been favoured, because they participate in the doubling of reality. Her early photo-paintings played with the old and new.

In the second darkened room of Remaking the World, the creator was well and truly awake after a recharging sleep. The video camera, that hungry machine with a voracious and devouring eye showed Rrap’s eyes; huge, wet, reptilian, a little frightening, staring out.

Our hands and mouth translate what we dream. Around the room were aluminium casts of Rrap’s hands, synchronized and caught in small moments of ‘talk’ as well as large photographs, most notably of Rrap’s glossy lips blowing colourful confetti-like fragments of herself leaping into darkened space.

Rrap’s practice has long aimed to make visible the invisible while liberating her concerns. If we mellow with age, the unyeilding work of her earlier years has given way to less strident political expressions of being in the world. Remaking the World was more contemplative, even restorative. Perhaps there’s a message there for all of us about change beginning with the imagination. While the show was in some way performative, and of course personal, I have to say that I wanted and had hoped for even more.

Remaking the World was curated by Dr Vincent Alessi, and was on display at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne from July 23 to November 15.

Toni Hassan is a Walkley Award winning journalist who regularly writes for The Canberra Times. She is currently a student at the Australian National University School of Art (majoring in painting) while also an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, Charles Sturt University. Follow Toni on Twitter@ToniHassan

Image: Julie Rrap, Remaking the World #1, 2015, digital print (Courtesy the artist and Arc One Gallery Melbourne, Roslyn Oxley 9 Sydney, from Ian Potter Museum of Art)

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