Naomi Zouwer The Enchantment of Things
‘Stuff’ defines our lives - from useful implements to decorative pieces and personal treasures. Around it creeps the flotsam of existence, the receipts, postcards, and above all, the small mementoes and tokens of the past. None of this is inanimate. Indeed, the American philosopher Jane Bennett asserts in her ontologies of humans and objects that our ‘things’ exist in rich assemblages animated by ‘lively threads’ of connection. Artists, she contends, being ‘susceptible to the enchantment of things’, are particularly receptive to these material networks. Cross disciplinary artist Dr Naomi Zouwer is a case in point: the exploration of keepsakes has been a consistent theme in her practice and was the subject of her 2019 doctoral thesis. Her work has long shown how the object biographies of ostensibly trivial objects can illuminate individual and family histories. The present exhibition, The Enchantment of Things, exhibits a range of interconnected drawings, prints, paintings, and personal objects, revealing the material culture of the artist’s studio and the experimental processes and unexpected consequences in translating works across media.
The COVID-19 lockdowns, mercilessly following the horror bushfire season of 2019/20, were a time of introspection for Zouwer, and her own workspace provided the inspiration for new investigations. Deciding to make a painting of an object from her studio every day in a single sitting, Zouwer focused on the contents of a box of sewing materials - from ribbons to fabric scraps to sequins - becoming particularly drawn to ric rac trimming. The more she traced its disordered windings, the more it felt a metaphor for the hazardous, unseen elements in our smoky and diseased air. These works formed the basis of Zouwer’s 2021 residency, during which she translated some of her paintings and collages into lithographs, etchings, and screen prints in collaboration with Megalo’s specialist team, particularly Clare Jackson, Alex Lundy, and Maximilian Gosling[LW1] . This process is explored throughout the exhibition. Collages of tear-outs from vintage magazines and boldly patterned fabrics are juxtaposed with their renders in screen print; and the rattan rug beater from Zouwer’s Finnish grandmother is sentimentalised in a series of lithographs featuring a young woman gracefully holding a rug beater, almost dancing, while a painting reimagines the object festooned with ribbons and shot through with blue.
Trimming and ribbons are a leitmotif in the show, serving as the ‘lively threads’ of connection and inverting the meaning of objects. By painting ric rac onto her collection of vintage tins, Zouwer transformed the halcyon scenes – windmills, smiling portraits, children with dogs – into sinister images imbued with unseen menace, recreated in paintings and lithographs. But the pattern and colour of the trimming also evokes the joyful vitality that is so characteristic of Zouwer’s oeuvre. Created in 2020 but given new meaning in 2021 and 2022, the works in Zouwer’s latest exhibition explore how our mementoes are animated by evolving significance, and how the processes of transmission, via intergenerational transfer and the reimagining of works across media, shapes their place in our collective memory. The Enchantment of Things remains a homage to the collaborative processes of printmaking, through which experimentation channels deep reflection of objects which we could otherwise so easily overlook.
Board Member, Megalo