Wanda Gillespie Sanderson Gallery 12 – 31 March 2019
I believe in the power of an object. I guess that’s why I continue to make art and often more specifically sculpture. While on residencies in Indonesia I was drawn to Javanese mysticism and the potential for inanimate objects to harbour a kind of soul (similar ideas I’ve read about in Siberian shamanism). I’ve always been drawn to religious or ceremonial artefacts that hold a kind of aura through their use. Often highly decorative, we know these are important objects – they hold an invisible energy. Wanda Gillespie There is an irrepressibly utopian quality to the work of artist Wanda Gillespie. Yet unlike the fantastical and distant utopias imagined in literature and film, Gillespie's utopian evocations materialise as loaded objects in the here and now. You can hold them, caress their forms with your fingers, and often rearrange their components to suit. The artist draws on the power of objects to speak to spiritual or religious experiences. Although elusive, subjective and too slippery to define, what might be said to underpin spiritual experiences are feelings of deep connection – to a God, a spirit, a higher power, the universe, each other, oneself. Gillespie's practice genuinely engages with a broad range of spiritual practices and the objects which are employed as tools within them. Through these objects – and indeed her own – we might seek, and perhaps experience, reconnection. As the artist articulates, such objects can take on an aura. Within the dominant western rationalist-materialist paradigm in which many of us live, the concept of an aura is problematic and disruptive. The possibility of a person, even an object, possessing a spirit or soul – let alone that spirit being perceived by another – is difficult to reconcile with the prescribed realities governing our era. Of course, the potential for belief in an aura is also informed by one's own cosmology, personal experience and subjective knowing. What can more easily be agreed, is that objects used in spiritual or ceremonial practices can take on a perceived power of their own. This may be more apparent within their cultures of use, but is not limited to them. These historical artifacts (and their contemporary heirs) may be widely revered within a museum, yet wield their greatest power when employed inside a church, temple, or other spiritual site or ritual context. Within such spaces, these objects are used to point towards the unseen, and presented as conduits for the divine. As Gillespie points out, their energy is invisible – indeed, it is projected upon them by the viewer. In this sense, these objects' power is cultural: a means of focussing our individual and collective thoughts, beliefs, feelings and desires, which they in turn reflect. Yet this does not preclude the possibility they possess the capacity to contain or channel a real spiritual presence. Perhaps, as my father is fond of saying, in counterpoint to the well-known phrase: you will see it when you believe it. The repurposing of everyday objects to grant them esoteric functions is a recurring strategy in Gillespie’s practice. Central to this exhibition are her abacus works, Higher Consciousness Integrating Calculators, constructed of Walnut, brass, wooden beads, gum nuts, resin, wax and cast concrete. In attempting to count that which cannot be counted, we contemplate the absurdity of measuring spiritual development in numbers. Yet, conversely, the laws of mathematics remain universal even as our understanding expands and evolves. In these recent works, Gillespie adopts the ancient golden ratio to shape her dimensions, foregrounding the profound yet often overlooked beauty of mathematics and its manifestation in nature as sacred geometry. Sacred geometry has historically ascribed symbolic and sacred meanings to certain geometric forms and proportions, determined by observing mathematical principles evident in nature, and predicated on the belief that God is the ultimate geometer. We see this geometry in the example of the Nautilus shell's construction, its growth determined by the Fibonacci spiral which is related to the golden ratio. We also see these geometric principles used in both eastern and western architectural constructions considered sacred, such as churches, mosques, temples, altars, monuments, ancient pagan sites and in some religious art. As such, sacred geometry can be seen as a kind of cosmic blueprint which connects vast scales of time and space to produce harmonious functional and aesthetic relationships. Gillespie's Higher Consciousness Integrating Calculators share this geometry and reference its histories. As contemporary sculptures, they are also capable of direct interaction with their audience, and by moving their carved counters, seemingly infinite iterations are possible within their tight parameters. Further, they can be known through both sight and touch – still a rare quality for art. The cast concrete bases further ground the abacuses in a contemporary context, while nodding to Brâncuși. They may suggest flux and equilibrium, the linear and cyclical. Here they gather in circles as if speaking to one another. Spooky wooden carvings also populate this imagined world, Spirit Forms materialised in solid wood. Presented as mediums, teachers and students of the occult, Octavia, Subtle Being and Spirit Guy have their eyes painted – seers of the unseen. For the artist, they suggest alternate histories, or even possible futures. Her Higher Thought Forms series refer to Christian icon painting, which were often rendered upon wood, and echoed in her use of gold leaf or gold paint, also used in religious relics to signify the divine. Gillespie reflects on the devotional methods of making these historic works, often involving intense periods of fasting and praying. In her own process, she experiments with energy fields, meditating on these works at length. She notes: I have often been interested in the human energy field and the possibility of seeing thought forms in space. I recently read Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore where ideas took physical forms as characters – spirit-like, but not spirits. I am also thinking about how objects might acquire ‘magic’ energy. Here the artist engages in a dialogue with consciousness and material, with histories of 'spiritual art' and the present moment. Higher Thought Forms also engages aspects of the spiritual in twentieth century modernist abstraction, aspects often misunderstood or even repressed in their earlier art historical interpretation. In Higher Thought Forms 1 her gold and magenta brush strokes appear to float in space, painted inside recesses carved in to the surface of the wood, and over finer markings in a subdued palette of black, white and green. Their rendering has liberated them from representation, yet their orientation, grouping and hue suggest both form and energy: an ambiguous human head at once facing the viewer and seen in profile, an open fire, a swarm of insects floating on invisible currents of air. The work hovers like a thought perpetually taking shape or dissolving back in to formlessness. Gillespie foregrounds the potential of contemporary art to engage, evoke, even channel the spiritual – through artist, object and audience – and without retreating to a singular theological framework to justify or bolster it. Instead, her practice gently points to the limits of rationality and the intellect to provide, and account for, the experiences we may value and long for the most. In this sense, art will always possess the capacity for magic. Emil McAvoy
 Wanda Gillespie, Email message to author, February 5, 2019.
 Gillespie's use of native trees such as Sheoak, Banksia nut, Kauri nut and Punga also reflect her positioning in the Asia Pacific region. Further, her use of timber reflects the influence of residencies in Asia, working collaboratively with indigenous practitioners in Java and Bali, and learning from their traditional carving techniques. The artist has also studied at the Melbourne Guild for Fine Woodworking under master carver Ronnie Sexton.