Agatha Gothe-Snape: The Outcome Is Certain
At the opening reception of Agatha Gothe-Snape’s survey exhibition, The Outcome Is Certain, Lisa Havilah, chief executive of Sydney’s Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, read aloud a series of letters she’d written over the years to Gothe-Snape. Amid a sea of artists, academics, friends, family and curators, Havilah declared her great love and respect for her friend. Around the room, these feelings were palpable.
Gothe-Snape’s practice deals with language, feelings and gestures, and traverses mediums including, but not limited to, performance, text, drawing, sculpture, audio, video and the digital. In charting her oeuvre to date, curator Hannah Mathews has mounted a survey highlighting what distinguishes Gothe-Snape: her use of performance strategies in all contexts, and her positioning of familial, art historical and collaborative relationships at the centre of everything she does. The resulting exhibition at the Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) in Melbourne is an intimate and immersive insight into the work of this mid-career artist, in which the personal and the professional bleed together.
As one moves through the first of five physical doorways in MUMA’s foyer, Wet Matter (2019) is among the first works encountered. An augmented sonic reality experience, Wet Matter was made in collaboration with Google Creative Lab, musicians Alyx Dennison and Evelyn Ida Morris, performance artist Brian Fuata and choreographer Lizzie Thomson.
At the work’s edge, a member of the Google team greets each gallery visitor with instructions, strapping them into a harness and handing over a set of headphones. Wet Matter takes place within the white cube of MUMA’s largest gallery, and is visually composed of sparsely placed exhibition furniture, a wall drawing of continuous ampersands and countless Xs marked out in cobalt blue duct tape. But it is not the visual that is significant in this work. Instead it is the audio – and how you, as the participant, respond to what you hear – that is important.
As you cross the threshold into the work itself, the deep timbre of Fuata’s voice describes the onboarding process: “This medium has no content in itself but has the power to arrange everything else around it. Wet Matter comes into being as you encounter it.” Fuata’s introduction lasts for two minutes; after that, you are left to your own devices.
Walking deeper in the gallery, you stumble upon one of Thomson’s monologues. “I am disintegrating,” she says. Then, after a pause: “You are the waves.” To your right, Fuata asks, “How do you treat someone after you need them?” There are multiple lines of sound crisscrossing this space: monologues and field recordings of birds chirping and children playing. Standing on top of a piece of exhibition furniture that resembles a bank of seats, you can hear Thomson again, this time saying, “My brain is a weaving. It is the colour of straw.”
Though highly experimental and prone to error and false starts, Wet Matter successfully collapses the divide between the institutional and the personal. By allowing the user an opportunity to navigate a gallery imbued with found sound and monologues written and delivered by Gothe-Snape and her collaborators, this work blurs the performer–witness binary. The content of these soliloquies, though personal in nature, is universal enough to choreograph strong emotional responses as one encounters them. By the end of my journey, I found myself moved to tears, standing in a puddle of feelings – some old, others new – pooling at my feet.
Linking Wet Matter and Five Columns (2019) is a dark corridor punctuated by five monitors mounted on yellow scaffolding poles and displaying a collection of Gothe-Snape’s PowerPoint works. These include 20. Empty Gesture (with Sarah Rodigari) 2013 AGS.ppsx (2013) and 70. Listening Exercise, 2019 AGS.ppsx (2019). Since 2008, these PowerPoints have been both a form of notation used by the artist and a medium synonymous with her practice.
Five Columns is a work by Wrong Solo, Gothe-Snape’s long-running collaboration with Fuata, which centres on performance in the gallery. This particular work was originally presented at the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, as part of Gothe-Snape and Wrong Solo’s 2019 exhibition Certain Situations.
Five Columns emphasises the collaborative processes through which Wrong Solo’s practice comes into being. Theirs is an inherently porous practice, which incorporates multiple modes of performance and art-making, from language-based m/st/uttering to dance. Five Columns deals with this porosity by showing Fuata and Gothe-Snape at work with five significant collaborators: Sonya Holowell, Ruark Lewis, Sarah Rodigari, Brooke Stamp and Lizzie Thomson. Each of these five collaborators was invited, by letter, to participate in a day-long improvisational workshop. As part of this, each collaborator took part in a one-on-one workshop with Wrong Solo, the last 10 minutes of which was filmed.
In a gallery minimally furnished with a mauve wall, an expanse of cobalt blue carpet and one of these commissioning letters, Five Columns exhibits these pieces of video footage simultaneously across five suspended monitors.
Each collaborator/column is delineated by a different colour, and each of the five monitors is installed in a different configuration. These marked differences in presentation connote the specificity of each collaborator’s discipline, and the lineage and history of this discipline. Five Columns stands as a monument to, and an acknowledgement of, the key collaborations that contribute to Wrong Solo’s thinking and practice.
The works in the final two galleries that make up The Outcome Is Certain address Gothe-Snape’s influences and the influences of her peers. Alongside 24. Heavy Reading, 2013 AGS.ppsx (2013) and Living Sculpture (White) (2013) – works that nod to her having grown up amid Australian sculptors, including her father, Michael Snape – are eight iterations from the series Every Artist Remembered (2009-18).
Initiated at Firstdraft, Sydney, in 2009, Every Artist Remembered is a series of performative drawings that document interactions between Gothe-Snape and invited collaborators, who are asked to name the artists who have been significant to their own practices. Over two hours, these unrehearsed performances trace the personal art histories of the participants.
In these drawings, Australian artists such as Lisa Radford and Mikala Dwyer rub shoulders with Bruce Nauman and Joseph Beuys, and names such as Daniel Mudie Cunningham, Gordon Bennett and Jenny Watson are repeated across drawings. Connections between artists and lineages of influence make themselves apparent, and shared histories emerge.
In her essay in the monograph that accompanies The Outcome Is Certain, Julie Ewington recalls, “In 2011, Agatha Gothe-Snape said that her art-making felt like moving through rooms with fogs that comprise different areas of knowledge and experience.” As I exit this exhibition through the fifth and final physical doorway, back into the MUMA foyer, it strikes me that this statement is also a perfect summation of this survey. While each of MUMA’s galleries addresses an individual facet of Gothe-Snape’s practice, performance and collaboration have been carefully threaded throughout to weave together the whole.__
Agatha Gothe-Snape: The Outcome Is Certain is at Monash University Museum of Art, Caulfield, until April 9.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 29, 2020 as "Certainties in life".
A free press is one you pay for. In the short term, the economic fallout from coronavirus has taken about a third of our revenue. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.