Hilarie Mais, Bearing Effigy, Installation, 3 x 3 m, Art Gallery of NSW, 1994.Hilarie Mais
Hilarie Mais, Identifying Structures
Hilarie Mais' works are the result per se of the logic of their own structural being: their complex visual orchestrations are not pre-conceived or otherwise externally determined: each has occurred, the resultant image-motif of the work's intrinsic structural logic, a new kind of abstract visualisation, informed according to the formational principles of natural occurrence. They are thus both autogenous and abiogenetic to the extent of forging a form of 'equivalent' sensory experience from non-living materials.
The outcome is not predetermined but an evolution upon the decisions made during the construction of the form. As in an organic growth, the evolving pattern is a display, an outward manifestation, of the growth. The structural decisions made have an ongoing implication in the evolution of the pattern: the sculpture is literally grown and the pattern reflects the growth system; a process of steps and responses - as in a natural form responding to its environment. Therefore, the resultant patterns, sequences, are not mere phenomenology but the expression of the form, which in turn produces the visual 'phenomenological' outcome involving the eyes/brains need to find and detect identifying pattern. *1
Much of Mais' work of the past decade has been influenced by her observation and analysis of natural growth processes, the principles of which inform the order and displacement of her visual constructions, be they three-dimensional objects or paintings. In similar manner to the ways in which natural forms such as shells, leaves et cetera will come about by means of specific genetically determined growth sequences, so do these works programatically 'grow' into their own visually distinctive, sometimes ruptured outcomes. These works, with their obvious structural irregularities, scale and directional variability, perform the determinant functions of their own visual ordering as, concertedly, both instigator and modus.
RES, 2010 and Mist III, 2012, the most visually extreme, least structurally homogeneous examples of Mais current works, are at the interstice of three spheres of engagement: her long and abiding involvement with the historic culture of abstraction, with the processes of growth in nature and, not least, with the nature of the human visual Gestalt. In essence these recent works are truly 'Primary Structures', but in a new developmental sense within her oeuvre, a form of Abstraction made actual through its interaction with the two hard-wired species survival spheres, the psycho-biological human Gestalt - the perception of nature - and the generative unitary systemic within all nature, Growth. Where this work differs significantly from other forms of recent 'Abstract' art is in its cogent realisation of third effects, the accumulative in the human visual response; our innate capacity to identify and complete fragmentary or 'incomplete' perceptual data.
Mais developmental history traverses and intersects the history of modern and post-modern developments in the field of abstraction: since the time of its beginning development in the early 20th century in Russia, the practices surrounding and developing from constructivism; a core maintained within her work's ever-expanding variability. Of particular relevance in this regard is the work of the English Constructive artist Kenneth Martin, whose drawings provided renewed insight into the previously unforeseen possibilities of systemic approaches in the realisation of spatial constructs. An important coevally related source of formative stimulation came from the American Minimalists and their attitude to 'democratic' materials and structural approaches. In a number of ways her recent development of the systemic in art - its form and meaning associative - simultaneously retrieve and extend from her formative works realised in the 1970s in New York, affirming the cyclic character of her working evolution, of constantly revisiting and expanding upon earlier ideas and propositions/developments. Since the 1970s Mais work has been "in the post-minimal stance, the feminisation of Minimalism; the imperfect, the hand made, incorporating the presence of the artist; and autobiographical"*2.
*1. Artist's statement 2010
*2. Excerpt from conversations between the artist and William Wright
I arrived in Australia in 1981. It was the beginning of a new life in a new country. By 1988 I had been included as an Australian artist in the 1985 Australian Perspecta and two Biennales (1986 and 1988). I felt I had embraced and been embraced by my new country and my first impressions were already a thing of the past.
I had come here with Bill who had accepted the offer to direct the 1982 Sydney Biennale. We had been living in the centre of Manhattan for the previous six years and the move to laid-back Sydney was a challenge in some ways. New York in the late seventies was a time of great energy and transformation due to a number of things, central to which was the feminist agenda and outlook. It affected everything and of course it was a transforming influence for many women artists including myself. This was very evident in my last body of American works the Weapons Series.
While I had made complex rectilinear structures for many years, the beginning of my using the Grid was quite pivotal and began in 1986. There was a transition from the spiral and round works, which were archetypal and in themselves a departure from the overtly autobiographical iconic pieces I made previously and opened up a whole scope of possibilities within its investigation. The grid became the vehicle for an ongoing emotional expression.
At this stage the Grids leant against the wall, acting as entry points, barriers, or as the invitation to transition. I have often employed the structural vocabulary of the Russian Constructivists and the Minimalists. Both movements were also very early influences and of course the Constructivists were important precursors, not just in relation to Minimalism but also and importantly in regard to Feminism: so many of the best and most recognised Russian artists then were women.