Recently I received a random text message from a friend on a Saturday evening. It read, “If you can get yourself to the white house, corner Gilbert and the Esplanade, before 8pm tonight, DO!!! There is a wonderful art exhibition here and a light projection on the house.”
How intriguing! With my curiosity aroused, I went to Torquay to have a look. It was a extraordinary pop-up exhibition titled Let Go by Susan Hase, featuring installations, light projections, paintings, text based works and sculpture on display in her holiday home. The exhibition was the artist’s expression of her journey as she came to terms with her husband’s diagnosis of dementia and his eventual death.
When I arrived the house’s facade was lit up with still-image projections which the artist organised in collaboration with her son David Hase from Hase Media. Photos of Torquay beach as well as images of the artworks in the exhibition were projected. Bright colours highlighting the building’s structure were reminiscient of Howard Arkley’s airbrushed paintings of suburban houses.
“Let Go is inspired by a poem by e.e. cummings that I have been going over and over since my husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,” reflects Hase. “Over the years I have had to let him go, watch him go. We’ve been in this holiday house for 32 years but finally I have sold the house and now I really have to let go.”
While studying her Masters of Fine Art at RMIT, Hayes was simultaneously researching Alzheimer’s Disease which is the most common form of dementia and one of the fastest growing diseases in Australia. In fact, by 2050, over 1.13 million people are expected to have the disease. The disease causes severe memory loss associated with the development of a toxic protein in the brain known as amyloid beta.
Hase has used seaweed roots to symbolise the neurons in the brain and in one installation she has coated them in wax alluding to the way amyloid beta protein clumps together to form plaques which prevent the neurons from functioning normally. In another installation, she has painted some of the seaweed black, referencing the work by Italian scientist Golgi who in the late 19th century discovered a method of staining nervous tissue that enabled the paths of nerve cells to be seen. The seaweed shape is a central motif throughout the exhibition.
While I was at the pop-up exhibition I read a sensitive and insightful account about Let Go by arts writer and curator, Damian Smith. Smith is the Director of Words For Art, an international consultancy specialising in contemporary culture and discourse. He has published more than one-hundred articles on contemporary art, and curated more than thirty exhibitions and I am delighted he has kindly allowed me to reproduce his article here on the blog. Thanks Damian! So read on to learn more about Susan Hase’s unique exhibition that was held for three days during April 2013.
Hase’s family holiday home was transformed into an artistic space for ‘Let Go’. Image courtesy the artist. Photo: Greta Costello.
For more than thirty years artist Susan Hase has maintained a home on the beachside resort of Torquay, a place shared with her husband Peter (formerly a QC and Family Court Judge), her children, her pet dog Bernie and many friends. Peter passed away five years ago after a long drawn illness battling with Lewy Body Dementia. Faced with this momentous personal change, Susan’s decision to sell the weatherboard house has been not only an occasion for sadness but also a chance to look back, to reflect on past memories and finally, with great resolve, to let go.
With the house emptied of furniture and in the brief interim between the new owners taking possession, the moment for an important and deeply felt exhibition was born. With the assistance of son Dave, responsible for a night-time projection onto the structure’s exterior, the exhibition has taken shape. It is Susan Hase’s ‘LET GO’.
Each room of the Torquay house has been occupied by different aspects of Susan’s artistic practice: sculpture, installation, painting and word play, and on the outside of the building, still-image projections. Bounded by the house itself, we see in each mode of work a different manner of reflection, conveyed through materials deemed most suitable for the task.
One recurrent motif in the exhibition is the holdfast or root-like structure of a local ocean seaweed species. Hase has gathered examples of these on the Torquay foreshore, dipped them in wax and arranged them in installations. With its clustered head and tapering stem the holdfast root is similarly shaped to a neuron, the iconic nervous-system cell along which electrical impulses are carried, the conduits also of our thoughts, and site of vulnerability in Alzheimer’s. The wax represents plaque formed on neurons that are affected by dementia.
ln one of Hase’s pieces the holdfast is laid on a light-box covered by a scan of the human brain. Thus one part of her environment becomes a reminder and talisman of another. The image of the seaweed root is taken up in yet another room where paintings are featured. ln Seaweed Tangle the forms are jumbled together and for the most part chaotic. Yet after studying the work over time the clarity of the piece emerges.
Text too has been a major fascination for Hase. As a collector of ‘industria’ she has patiently assembled an alphabet of antique block-print characters, from which concepts and text-based emblems can figure in her practice. On this occasion the title of the show has taken up residence on the front porch of the house – ‘let go’, it announces even as we enter the space.
ln another of the rooms a single life size doll sits quietly in a chair. lt is a disturbing, faceless presence with text emblazoned on its legs, arms and torso. At its feet, written on a blackboard is a poem, The moving point by Omar Khayyam, words that remind us we cannot escape through what we have lived. ln a companion to this work, Peter’s professional robes and wig are the focus of another installation. The piece, titled The Judge, stands silently as a sign for an absent presence.
At last we arrive in a space where ink-stained papers flutter gently in the breeze. Over each of these is a layer of fine, diaphanous material upon which lines of text criss-cross the surface. They are private diary-like notes that hang in the manner of prayer flags, offering their message to the world. Like the Tibetan flags on which they are based, these too are suggestive of impermanence – that all things must ultimately leave us and that life is in a continual state of flux.
Susan Hase: Let Go is a singular opportunity to see this artist’s work in a setting that has been central to her life for more than thirty years. lmportantly it shows how one artist can work across multiple mediums and styles while still maintaining a consistent aesthetic and conceptual vision, all the while imparting deep feeling for subject and presenting the work with notable sensitivity towards the context in which it is shown.
Susan Hase, Dave Hase & Greta Costello, Let Go Doll, projection mapping. Image courtesy Nick Azidis.
Susan Hase: Let Go
19-21 April 2013
37 The Esplanade, Torquay.
let it go – the
let it go – the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to
let them go – the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers – you must let them go they
let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go
so comes love
(Complete Poems 1904 – 1962)