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Sighting the Past

Sighting the Past

 |  by Elif SUNGUR
The University's Macleay Museum has provided both the inspiration and the venue for a new exhibition of jewellery by four Sydney-based contemporary artists. On invitation, Diane Appleby, Keith Lo Bue, Susanna Strati and Alice Whish have made works specifically in response to the museum's rich collections.

All incorporate visual references from the museum as well as interpretations of nineteenth century philosophical and scientific ideas - and this is highlighted by showing the works in juxtaposition with specimens from the collections. There's much diversity of style and approach. Coloured sculptural pieces, made of metal, wax and found objects, themselves look like anatomical specimens which surrealistically cross boundaries of classification.

All segmented objects, they explore the processes of dissection which museums use to examine and store specimens. Diane Appleby and Alice Whish took inspiration from the Museum's ethnographic collections.

Appleby's vibrant pieces made from aluminium, silver and silk are a contemporary response to the elaborate ceremonial combs made in Papua New Guinea, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Solomon Islands.

Using the basic shapes and forms of such combs, Appleby has, as she says, "reinterpreted these objects in a way that might catch the eye of the modern-day user of hair gels and waxes" - and her display includes not only combs but bowls for hair wax and gel, and 'dippers' of sinuous, delicately shaped silver.

In the light of her own experiences working with Yolngu women from Galiwinku, Elcho Island, Alice Whish's intricate pieces were made in response to artefacts from north-eastern Arnhem Land that are held in the Museum's collections.

Several of these artefacts are also on display, along with the materials that Yolngu people use to make such objects - ochre, shells, feathers and beeswax. In her finely worked jewellery Whish has incorporated similar materials and has adopted the looped basketry style taught to her by Yolngu women (pictured.

The visual language of the Macleay's natural history displays provided a reference for Keith Lo Bue's works which blur the lines traditionally drawn in museum collections between 'art' and 'artefact', and 'artefact' and 'specimen'. They mirror the composition of museum objects and occasionally include parts of specimens similar to those found in the collections.

Sighting the past: four contemporary jewellers respond to the Macleay Museum is the first collaboration between Sydney University Museums and Jewellers and Metalsmiths Group Australia-NSW (JMGA-NSW). It is one of several local jewellery exhibitions coinciding with JMGA's 12th Biennial Conference held 27-29 January at the University of Sydney's Camperdown campus, at the University's Sydney College of the Arts and at the Powerhouse Museum.

Three other of these jewellery exhibitions are currently showing at Sydney College of the Arts.

Sighting the Past can be seen until 11 May 2006.

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