Scorch - accompanying exhibition texts

to render permanent that which is impermanent

The transience of existence and fragility of life are recurring themes throughout my practice. I use natural materials like twigs and charcoal to form a poetic commentary on human relationships with nature and our personal struggles to accept what is natural and uncontrollable in our lives.

Kath Fries, Hold dear (detail view), bronze, nylon and charcoal,
installed at galleryeight. Photograph by Peter Cramer.

The sculptural pieces in this exhibition suggest metaphoric narratives of our fallible human endeavours to hold together and immobilise moments of growth, decay and memory. Hold dear (2011) reflects on the human grieving process and the challenge of emotionally letting go of loved ones after they pass away. A bronze cast magnolia branch protrudes out of the wall, tied with black nylon netting that stretches across the space to seemingly drag a mound of burnt wood along the floor. The strength of the branch, tension in the netting and dead weight of the charcoal infers a poetic commentary about our human resistance to natural cycles of aging and occurrence of death.

The bronze twigs in Scorch (2012) are balanced precariously, simultaneously fragile and resilient, marking a pause in time between the fiery furnace that formed them and a future moment of unravelling and succumbing to gravity. The word ‘scorch’ conveys tangible quick impact and flinching response, describing a fleeting moment that has past rather than the present remnant objects of the final artworks. As such Scorch and Hold dear trace futile attempts to render permanent that which is impermanent, echoing the recurring pursuit of contradictory endeavours in our lives.

Kath Fries, March 2012
Artist statement, Scorch exhibition

The artist would like to thank:
The NSW Artists’ Grant initiative and NAVA, Peter Cramer, Megan Robson, Vivienne Fries, Arnel Rodriguez, Crawford’s Casting South Strathfield, The ArtStart Grant program and The Australia Council for the Arts, Parramatta Artists Studios, Sydney College of the Arts The University of Sydney, The Lord Nelson Hotel, Art Month Sydney and galleryeight.


SCORCH: Kath Fries solo exhibition
2 - 22 March 2012
12 Argyle Place, Millers Point, NSW 2000


Kath Fries, Hold dear, bronze, nylon and charcoal,
installed at galleryeight, photograph by Peter Cramer

the world that we know

The world that we know is reconfigured and remade in the work of Kath Fries. In her artworks, which encompass artist’s books, installation, painting, photography and sculpture, we are taken to another place, one in which familiar objects are transformed into something unrecognisable and unexpected. She creates situations that play with assumed behaviours and expectations to consider human relations and our interaction with the natural world. In the exhibition, Scorch, Fries considers the futility of attempting to try to influence the progression of time. Presenting a major sculptural installation, Hold dear (2011), and a new body of work, Scorch (2012), the artist explores ideas around the progression of life and the nature of memory.

Much of the Fries’ practice is ephemeral in nature, she frequently works within public or outdoor spaces, in which the work is subject to both natural and human interaction, and uses organic materials, such as coal, wood, feathers and flora, which deteriorate over time. The artist documents and re-presents her temporary constructs in the form of photographs and artist’s books. The changing state of the works in both the original context and their subsequent presentation in recorded form, not only emphasises the elusive nature of the work but also reflects life cycles of growth, change and decay. Additionally a consistent trope in the artist’s work is the reinterpretation of elements from previous works. In new works, existing materials and crafted objects from previous artworks take on different roles and meanings. The instability of the artist’s works draws parallels with the nature of the world around us and the fragility of life.

Kath Fries, Hold dear, bronze, nylon and charcoal
installed at galleryeight, photograph by Peter Cramer

Hold dear is a large-scale installation that consists of a large bronze magnolia branch, which appears to have grown through the wall rupturing the enclosed gallery space. Multiple buds are dotted along the branch, tightly closed teasing us with a promise to bloom into metallic blossoms in an unknown future. Wrapped around the branch is a length of black netting trailing down to the gallery floor, weighed down by a mound of black charcoal. A trail of black soot can be seen behind the mound, tracing the path from where it has moved from its original position a short but not insubstantial distance away. There is an ambiguity to the scene that is unsettling. At first it appears that the netting is slowly becoming wound around the branch as it continues to grow encroaching into the white gallery space and pulling the mound of charcoal to be brought closer to the bronze branch. And yet, from a different angle it appears as if the fabric is being used as an anchor in an attempt to restrain the branch. A bronze branch caught by a dead weight.

Site and context play an important role in Fries’ works, informing material, construction and interaction. Additionally, the artist often references folklore, fairy tales and historical myths in her works, exploring representations of daily life and the real world within fictional constructs. Referencing familiar counterpoints such as a story from childhood or an architectural feature of the site, she creates situations that evoke particular sensations and personal memories. Through such devices her works create their own elusive narrative, seeming to be both of this world and at the same time entirely foreign. In this exhibition, Fries challenges the assumed distinction between the gallery environment and the external world. By presenting material that appears to have physically permeates the sterile white environment, the artist draws broader observations about attempts to restrict and control unstable life forces.

Kath Fries, Scorch series, bronze, twine and charcoal
installed at galleryeight, photograph by Peter Cramer

A series of small bronze magnolia branches are suspended from the wall in the artist’s new series of works, titled Scorch. Some of the branches are tied up with twine, others with weights of coal hanging like pendulums. Other branches are left bare, but look like desolate trophies, undignified and completely removed from their natural environment. Where twine is wrapped around the branch, it appears to be an attempt to restrict or control their growth. There is a sense that twine and charcoal ballasts have, if not proved futile, only minor impositions to the growth of the young branches. For despite any similarity the specimens may initially exhibit on close inspection it is apparent that each branch is completely unique. As the line-up of twisted organic shapes in Scorch illustrates no attempt to tame or subdue time can control life, or death.

In Hold dear and Scorch, Fries has used a direct casting technique which creates a unique replica of the living magnolia branches. The very process of casting an object in bronze is one that demands an act of destruction to create the finished artwork. To create the bronze casts a mould is made around the branches, which are burnt out when the molten bronze is poured into the moulds. It is then the act of attempting to as the artist notes ‘render permanent that which is impermanent’ which enforces the impossibility of such a task. Although the bronze is an exact copy, the original living form no longer exists and all that remains is a static object.

The magnolia branches scattered with small buds, are representative of life and its possibility. In creating a bronze cast of the branches at this particular moment, Fries draws our attention to both life and death. The branches, now permanently immortalised at moment in which they are on the verge of blossoming with new life, are a symbol of the fleetingness of time and the cruelty of creation.

In the exhibition Scorch, Kath Fries’ brings inanimate objects to life. In these tableaus the objects do not simply represent living objects but were once themselves independent living forms. In this way the objects are both selected and arranged in reference to this  conceit. In this regard the exhibition is a memorial to time. The works, Hold dear and Scorch, meditations that change is inevitable despite human persistence to halt its progress.

Megan Robson, March 2012
Catalogue essay, Scorch exhibition

Kath Fries, Scorch series, bronze, twine and charcoal
installed at galleryeight, photograph by Peter Cramer