On one side of Furneaux Street, people are bustling around the Canberra restaurants. It’s about six o’clock in the evening, and people look like they are starting to unwind from the public servant grind. What they don’t know is that on the other side of the road, just over the pedestrian crossing, there is a stunning exhibition of work produced by Canberran artist. This seems to be par for course in Canberra: so many arts events going on right under the nose of people rushing somewhere else.
Which is a shame, because Annika Romeyn’s Luminous Earth exhibition is currently on show at the Canberra Contemporary Art Space and it is worth checking out.
For most of the pieces, Romeyn adapts geological ideas and structures through an extremely impressive display of skill. A recurring idea of layers seems to emerge from these works. There are the sedimentary layers of small rocks intricately detailed in drawings and watercolour stains. There are the visual layers of mountains sketched as grand landscapes. And, sitting somewhere between the extremes of the tiny and the massive, there are three stunningly beautiful pieces which could represent either and both.
These three pieces are worth going to see in their own right. In one glance, they look like they could be the inside of uncut gems. In the next, they look like they could be the inside of some glistening cave. I had to check that they were just two-dimensional paintings — the use of light and colour makes them look and feel like they’re three-dimensional sculptures. They are breathtaking.
The exhibition brings dead earth to life. Cold rocks become warm and inviting as attention is drawn to the beautiful moments that we would perhaps just overlook in our rush to the restaurants on the other side of Furneaux Street. Here are the beautiful things that could be beneath your feet.
For all of that, there’s a gap between the audience and the work that doesn’t seem to be overcome. Each piece seems to reflect something that, in the untamed wild, captured Romeyn’s attention. These feel like moments that she discovered at random, by chance, and now they’ve been captured in the individual pieces. But that random, chance moment feels like it’s a private moment for the artist.
It’s something that seems to come about as a result of the pieces being in exhibition. Although each individual piece works on its own, the impression of the works as a group makes you feel like you’re intruding on somebody’s alone time, like you’re invading somebody’s sanctum sanctorum. The artist is alone with nature and you’re not respecting their privacy. The space has become a shrine to the magnificence of introversion, and we’re parachuting in to gawp.
There’s also the problem that some of the pieces don’t seem to fit. One in particular — a long strip of small pieces that includes some drawings of people — feels like it jumped in by mistake. It doesn’t fit thematically with the others, focused more on the human than the mineral. The way that some of the pieces are displayed also feels a bit sloppy; it’s a shame when the curatorial aspect of the exhibition isn’t as precise or detail-oriented as the pieces themselves.
But for those pieces that are transcendent — the pieces that seem to connect you directly with the grandiloquent private language of rocks — all of the little quibbles are immediately forgiven. This is an exhibition worth seeing.