Simryn Gill

Over our heads

20 Jul – 24 Aug 2024

It’s over our heads, too complicated, convoluted, confusing. It is not opaque and our time is wasting. We are humble creatures and do not wish for lingering concerns. An idiom to talk to our contemporaneity, where society and its bedfellows (be it political, philosophical or economical) are estranged to us, nothing is black and white, rather a cloudy grey. It is within this grey that the hands of a few can start to create reimagined forms; not attempting to put Humpty Dumpty together again, but gesturing to the original whole with fresh eyes.

Such is the case in the practice of Simryn Gill, an endlessly expansive artist with a poet’s sensibility and curiosity, fused with a profound understanding of materials and techniques. Gill’s engagement with impermanence, ecology, history, locality, and memory has provided a true richness to her many presentations across the globe over the past three decades. She approaches concerns seemingly over our heads with subtlety and understanding, allowing the viewer to form theories and feelings from the simplest of actions and arrangements.

Gill’s exhibition with 1301SW, Over our heads, shines a new light on the familiar idiom. Her articulation engages with its implicit philosophical complexity, but she layers a more tangible meaning to this arrangement of words – presenting the fire plume of an oil refinery found at her second home in Port Dickson, Malaysia that forever radiates over the heads of the town. Approaching the flame from numerous locations, Gill’s documentation of the flame seems akin to the neon sign of a petroleum company as seen on the side of a freeway, here referencing extraction rather than insertion. This suite of photographs, also titled Over our heads, presents the duality of a town going about its day with the overarching presence of an entity which plainly embodies so many concerns of our time: climate, pollution, capitalism, multi-national companies and so on. Yet the town still holds its beauty, uniqueness and even a sense of calm as Gill captures homes, trees, streets and rivers in the foreground.

Alongside Gill’s photographs is Fire Ring, the next iteration in the artist’s ink rubbings of flora, scale-to-scale prints that envelop the viewer in a natural world of sorts. Named for a brand-stamp or ‘chop’ Gill found in a Singapore flea market for an unknown product, maybe matches, the prints record two varieties of acacia trees. Australian natives growing rampant in many parts of South East Asia, probably introduced as firewood crops, now themselves expanses of tinder. Alongside and interspersed are prints from casuarina trees, also called she-oaks, which are at home on both shores, Australian and the islands and archipelagos to the northwest.

Like the plants, the prints infiltrate 1301SW in groups of layered loose paper sheets draped from ceiling to the floor. The physical layering of these works draws one back to the idea of things being ‘over our heads’ as noted in Gill’s dual embodiment of the idiom: the complexity of its connotation, and the literal take, as seen in her series of photographs. Capturing these plants in ink, Gill’s impressions are a total realist representation, even in scale, while the somewhat claustrophobic layering of the sheets calls to mind many of the mentioned concerns of our times. Through the pairing of fire plume and acacia, both invasive in their own right, and in their presences entirely part of the modern lives we live, Gill provokes feelings that are complicated, convoluted and confusing, but here in the hands of the artist the gesture comes across with a formal beauty and elegance. An interpretation of the chaos presented with care and consideration, allowing the viewer to engage with these concerns through nuance and calmness.