Slumber or perish, Anna Pappas Gallery

Photographs by Andrew Noble

Julia Robinson: Slumber or Perish

Essay by Sera Waters

Do you slumber or do you perish? Do you sleep in this semi-bed of Robinson’s to let her scenarios creep inside your imagination; do you lie at the mercy of those reaching hands grappling and wresting you from your drowsy murkiness into another sweaty nightmare? Or do you stay awake, alert, keep the light on; do you refuse to shirk in the midst of axe-wielding horrors, to face with eyes open scenes which call the spectres out from inside? Which option do you take in the face of fear?

Six daunting and haunting scenarios gather in this exhibition by Julia Robinson, and within each, fear is omnipresent. It is not the dramatic filmic style fear that is invoked, but rather a quieter kind which seeps and puddles, slowly soaking into your clothing, through skin, bones and into your very self. This is the type of fear which arose post-Edgar Allan Poe; of psychological decadence, located within the beautiful, where the meekest external trigger can awaken a cascading reaction. In the world of Robinson, informed by Poe and his influential legacy, even the brightest pale sunshine cannot illuminate all dark spots nor keep the Raven from tapping; fear can arise from unlikely sources….and it does.

Anthropomorphic giant teeth, disembodied Orangutan arms, splattered guillotine windows and blue conjured corpse-like arms mingle with aged timber furniture, garden tools and home crafts. Using a language of the domestic, albeit with a dark-wood Victorian twist accompanied by perverted quilting techniques, Robinson’s purposeful severed limbs and bodily by-products carry out their pre-destined roles; holding weapons at the ready, puddling or splattering in patchwork, hovering hauntingly, sitting disturbingly unperturbed, or deliberating upon a waxy pulse ……pause…, nothing.

There is a beat though… our collective pulse of fear; Robinson finds it within her quietly stitched fabric language. Stitching also has its own pulse- the repeated stabbing, pulling and adjusting, that while rhythmic also embeds a penetrating violence into the work. Her patterned patchworks smother arms, bed covers and window panes, creating a quilted quietness that muffles the shrill fear of sirens, explosions, screaming, or other unwanted gory sounds. In their place is another pulse is audible, the sound of rushing blood pumped and gathering in your ears. As in Poe’s celebrated short story A Tell-Tale Heart, the sound of your psychological undoing, the relentless beating of the “hideous heart”, can be deafening and maddening. For the core of fear, residing here under the diamond-patterned quilt of Robinson’s scenarios, lives within us all…while we choose to slumber or perish.

Sera Waters is an Adelaide based artist, arts writer and lecturer.