Wanda Gillespie MARS Gallery, Melbourne, 2016 Auckland Art Week @Artists Alliance, 2017 Unseen, Unknown, Unveiled, Malcolm Smith Gallery Auckland Disrupt, Whitespace Gallery, Auckland, 2018
Beyond Language: Wanda Gillespie
Wanda Gillespie is a fabulist of the highest order. In the past she recreated the world as we know it – not only in the ancient icons she unearthed, but in going so far as to dissect the history from whence they came. She revived buried pagan myths, which carried hints of aged Antipodean and Indonesian archipelago cultures, but in forms previously unbeknownst to archeologists and scientists. Gillespie’s discoveries were, of course, elaborate fantasies which, born as they were replete with archeological field notes, detailed storylines and their own intricate mythologies, bordered on acting as elaborate hoaxes. In those early works an ancient history was unearthed. In her latest foray she has moved to the far not-so-far future to a new, environmentally post-apocalyptic, world where a shadowy organisation known as the High Commission for Human Awakening commissions artists to create totems in order to communicate directly with the human spirit. Levitation Practice is one such futuristic, ritualistic talisman. As always with her work Gillespie accompanies her elaborate carvings with equally elaborate mis-en-scenes. While in the past these have often taken the form of archeological field notes, with Levitation Practice she accompanies the work with an almost wistful reminisce from the period post “the difficult times of regeneration after the major environmental disaster of 2083.” The work, found tucked away in a corner of a lounge room, had been carved by her great great grandmother “apparently in the late 2150’s during the time of the Great Regeneration.” The old woman had been one of the artists chosen by the High Commission for Human Awakening to create these timber conduits in order to access greater understanding of the human spirit: “It came to be known that through regular mediation and levitation practice, humans would make the necessary evolutionary leaps needed for long term survival,” she notes. “She was instructed to create the faces of the primary guiding spirits who would assist the changes in the souls then living. The spirits markings and knowledge were strange for people at that time, but slowly the collective conscious took hold, and our earthly ancestors began to understand the many layers of space, time, reality, and the various subtle realms. Higher Consciousness Integrating Calculators were used to assist the seekers in their daily practice, ascending one level, one bead at a time, until like bicycle training wheels, they were no longer needed. “ Gillespie’s Higher Consciousness Integrating Calculators – elaborately patterned abacus’ – may recall the strange sub-genre of Cyberpunk – that of Steampunk, where the future relies on steam power rather than electricity, seen in such novels as The Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson (2015) and The Difference Engine by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson (1990). Or even the real Difference Engine developed by Charles Babbage and Linda Lovelace in the 1800s – a crude and clunky predecessor to todays MacBook Air. But the Higher Consciousness Integrating Calculators were designed to do something far more intriguing than our so-called sophisticated computers are capable of – calculating human spirituality itself. In past works Gillespie has utilised tinkered history, her field notes littered with references to real archeology and the potentially impending shifts inured by global warming. With this latest body of work she has untethered herself from existant terra firma – this is a future all of her own, yet one we can strangely relate to. Gillespie hails from Auckland, New Zealand, a land where indigenous ritual and creativity was clearly a powerful influence. In 2000 she relocated to Melbourne and expanded her interest in Australian indigenous culture. In between she visited woodcarvers in Java and Bali. Creating, in her earlier work, The Antarctic Kingdom of Gondwanaland and the research unit investigating this mysterious world, the Museum of Lost Worlds, and in more recent work the High Commission for Human Awakening, would seem to be Gillespie’s almost desperate attempt to control her own unruly imagination. “There is an interest here in authorship and distancing myself from the work,” she admits. “But also in re enacting recreating, from instructions (from spirits) or bits of information pieced together from the work.” But for such strange creations, sculptural icons that sit outside the realms of fashion and contemporary discourse, Gillespie has clearly caught a nerve. Since emerging from the Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland University and then in 2009 completing a Masters of Fine Arts at the Victorian College of the Arts, her work has been in high demand. Alongside a ridiculous gamut of awards and residencies she has found a broader audience that are clearly keen to join the Cult of Wanda. But of equal import is the way in which we, the viewer, voraciously consume these icons and objects. They may be fantasies rendered in beautiful timbers, yet we seem to recognise them. Gillespie could just have well titled her kingdom the Museum of Lost Memories, for deeply buried memories they seem to inspire. Future or past, rituals, beliefs, ceremonies, births, deaths, celebrations and loss are all carved into these totems as Gillespie attempts to articulate a world beyond language.