Pink heaven for gallery lovers

Paul Bloomer wrote this review of Roseland at Bonhoga Gallery. It appeared in The Shetland Times on 26 May 2006.


IN 1965 the American writer Harold Rosenburg coined the phrase " anxious object”.

It was to describe the anxiety people had begun to feel when on entering art galleries they came upon "art objects" that threw up uncertainties about the object's aesthetic intentions or status as a work of art.

The exhibition "Roseland at Bonhoga" by Burra-based artist Roxane Permar is based around a collection of 3,000 pink and rosy objects collected by the fictitious artist "Echolalia" that might cause some viewers to experience the same anxiety that Rosenburg describes when attempting to pin down an obvious meaning.

Before we enter the show we are made to take off our shoes as if entering a religious shrine or a house-proud wives house, then suddenly you are transported to another world where every thing is pink. The immediate effect is very powerful and the soft new carpet underfoot adds to the sensuous experience of being suddenly thrust into pinkness.

Reactions will vary to this show depending on age and sex. The greatest fans are most likely to be little girls who might find themselves in a place akin to heaven, while little boys might find themselves in girly hell. A red-blooded male friend said it made him feel sick while a female friend said the show is like an advert to interior design bordering on kitsch.

The show is actually very complex with a dominant theme of gender, and by gender I mean the cultural construction of femininity or masculinity as opposed to our biological sex. Everything in the show refers to femininity in some form or another, we have glass cabinets full of curlers, threads, flowers beads, handbags and every thing is pink.

The only thing I could find that had in any way vague masculine connections are the glass cabinets by their industrial manufactured prefabricated nature and upright phallic shape. These cabinets provide protection to the objects, create distance between the viewer and the contents and the glass is cold and inert compared to the contents within. They are the least stable things in the show and add a slight degree of threat to an otherwise very calm environment. Just one gentle push and they will shatter into a thousand sharp splinters sending every thing flying on to the ground in a broken heap.

The most stable thing in the show is the pink, womb like room and one gets the feeling that whatever one does to the contents of the room the comforting protective pink will always be there.
So the show is about containment on at least two different levels, the objects are contained by the glass, which is in turn contained by the pink. The symbolism of each of these containments could not be more different.

The glass cases invite us to look at the contents within and construct our own meanings and narratives. The non-threatening nature of the room make contemplation easy, and there is a degree of intrigue as to the person who collected these objects, each one precious and resonant with memory.
What kind of obsession might drive Echolalia to collect them and does their very careful and beautiful arrangement reflect a desire for order and control?
The cases could be museum pieces or they could be inviting a female shopping extravaganza. Is the room an explosion of unexpressed desire or is it a deeper longing for a return to a more primordial state? Is the room a desperate holding on to memories or is it a consciously overt statement singing the praises of women?

It would be easy to say that the show is a celebration of femininity alone but contradictions and ambiguities abound. Part of the room is devoted to creativity where you can sit and make pink prints with the flowery stamps and pin post card messages to the wall. On another wall is Roseland memorabilia that you can buy, such as T-shirts and postcards proudly announcing I have been to Roseland.
By turning all these incongruous elements of the show pink, the artist not only disguises their overt meanings but also feminises them. If the T-shirts symbolise trade and commerce and the creative corner symbolises creativity (two areas of western culture that have been male dominated) she is effectively reclaiming them for women by inviting active participation.

This is made all the more interesting by contrasting them with the plates and cups in the cases, objects symbolising domesticity (an area of western culture that has traditionally been the domain of women) and thus relegating them to museum like history by putting them in the cases. Elsewhere on the floor are shrines of flowers suggesting religious like purity contrasting yet further with the Disney land like commerce of the T-shirts for sale.

On the far wall are digitally drawn maps of Roseland, for Roseland exists in locations around the world. A quick google search threw up 17 pages of references to it.
In June Roseland will be transported to a mobile garden shed in the village of Roydon near Epping Forest on the outskirts of London and in August and September a garden in a park in Düsseldorf will also be transformed into a Roseland experience.

Once you have visited Roseland you will not forget it because it is a place that exists in the mind as much as it exists in the world. When you look out of the windows of the gallery you look upon a Waltonesque landscape of summer and roses. Birds sing in the gallery and the aroma of rose petals infuses the air that is tinted with rose-coloured light.
When I left the exhibition reality felt somehow harsher and colder after being in the enclosed comfort of Roseland for an evening.

The mark of a great piece of art is not just its aesthetic power, but also the fact that its meaning does not reveal itself straight away. You pull back one layer and come to another; it will mean different things to different people in different times and places. Roseland is an important piece of art.

Roseland runs until 18th June and is a must see exhibition.

© The Shetland Times Ltd.