Nameless Cylinder, Seedling Art Space

Collaboration with Roy Ananda

Photographs by Roy Ananda

Essay by Roy Ananda

Nameless Cylinder comprises new collaborative works by Julia Robinson and Roy Ananda. Individually, these two sculptors have distinct material vocabularies and take very different approaches to making work. In this collaborative exhibition, created specifically for Seedling Art Space, the artists attempt to reconcile their respective languages of making, and generate a third.

Julia Robinson’s work is deeply rooted in narrative and story-telling. Her macabre objects and installations pay homage to the monsters and villains of fairytales and mythology: the Wolf (of Little Red Riding Hood), Lycaon (the original werewolf of Greek myth) and the devils and demons of Dante’s Inferno. Roy Ananda is currently concerned largely with process-based sculptural practice: on-going works which are constantly transformed and reconfigured through various material and conceptual filters. Myths and stories of the popular imagination inform Ananda’s work too, but exist much more on the periphery of his practice. These influences are less apparent but nonetheless discernible: comics, Star Wars, Warner Brothers cartoons and more recently, the weird fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. In fact, it is in Lovecraft that Nameless Cylinder finds its genesis.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890 – 1937) was an American author of pulp horror and science fiction whose most enduring creation is what is now known as the Cthulhu Mythos: a bizarre and wildly original milieu of cosmic horrors that menace humankind from strange dimensions and remote places of the Earth. Despite Lovecraft himself being dead some seventy years, the Cthulhu Mythos is still very much alive, being constantly expanded on, reinvented and mashed up by countless contemporary authors and fans. In Nameless Cylinder, Robinson and Ananda have seized on this on-going work of imagination as the starting point for their collaboration, taking cues from the entities, artefacts and locations described in Lovecraft’s nihilistic tales.

In doing this, the artists do not presuppose a familiarity with the author on the part of the viewer. The works make no explicit reference to his creations, nor do they hinge on visual clues linked to his stories. In working from a literary source, the artists have no interest in making works that illustrate their starting point. Rather, it is the aesthetic and atmosphere of Lovecraft’s bleak yet richly imagined stories that Ananda and Robinson attempt to transpose. Perhaps most importantly, what Lovecraft provides is some useful parameters for the collaboration: a curious internal logic that gives the artists a way of qualifying (or disqualifying) certain moves, materials, ideas and approaches.

This odd choice of starting point also serves to take the artists somewhere altogether different from their usual territory. In Ananda and Robinson’s individual works, their core concerns are unmistakeable. The works of Nameless Cylinder are far more enigmatic: much more opaque than what Robinson is likely to produce as an individual, and revealing much less of their making than Ananda’s usual output. The works are hybrids, in many senses of the word. All are jointly conceived and executed by the two artists and combine familiar elements from their respective material languages (pine, plywood, fabric, felt and flocking) into new forms. The works straddle various categories or orders of object, combining traits of things animal, mineral and vegetable, yet committing wholly to none of these. In each piece, we also see a slightly odd pairing of form and surface.  In being so inscrutable, the works of course risk being perceived as obscure for obscurity’s sake. The artists’ intention is not to deliberately befuddle their viewers, but rather to attempt to approach the strangeness of their source material. The very power of Lovecraft’s writing is often its inexplicability and his most intriguing creations are often those that are barely described: Shub-Niggurath, the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, Azathoth, the blind idiot god and strange forms and artefacts like “the Shining Trapezohedron” or “the windowless solid with five dimensions”. It should be stressed that these and other elements of the Cthulhu Mythos are not the work’s subject matter; rather, they are tools in the making process. For all its preoccupations with Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth and the other Great Old Ones, Nameless Cylinder is ultimately about the process of collaboration itself: the translation from literature to object by way of two distinct sensibilities and the opportunity it affords the artists to extend their individual practices and challenge each other’s established modes of working.

Roy Ananda is an artist, educator and writer based in Adelaide.