A massive rainbow-hued installation of trussed-and-hung spray-painted fabric has taken over the foyer of Sydney's Carriageworks this month, an act of peaceful resistance to an late-Victorian industrial aesthetic that's all brick, cast iron and steel.
The walk-in sculpture has been created by German artist Katharina Grosse.
Free and open to the public until April 8, the installation is striking from the outside, but visitors can also enter the work via one of three 'slits' in the perimeter of the fabric. Inside lies a vibrant valley of colour where walking on the artwork is not just allowed — it's unavoidable.
Grosse is known these days for large-scale colourful spray-painted works, created either directly onto the landscape and built environment, or onto fabric layered on top of those surfaces.
Her previous installation in Australia, a 'wall painting' for the 1998 Biennale of Sydney, represented a turning point at which she was moving from paint-on-canvas to larger, site specific works.
The power of colour
Grosse says she's always been obsessed with colour.
"It stirs up a lot of emotions and sensations in people, memories. It's something that we register in our thought before our language kicks in," she says.
The mutability of colour is also part of its appeal for Grosse — and she notes that her installation looks quite different in the day time, under natural light, compared to night-time, when a rig of spotlights is deployed to dramatic effect.
"This work looks so different every day," the artist says.
The Carriageworks installation is the largest fabric work Grosse has created, and a first in terms of its form.
"I've never done a work like this before," she says. "I've worked with fabric, but never with only folds and only fabric. I previously used fabric in relation to soil or trees or other materials."
Grosse wanted "to do something that's very different from the architectural situation here", creating something "soft and folded" to contrast against the hard surfaces and lines.
Meticulous planning — then spontaneity
As one might expect, the preparation of the canvas for the work was highly planned.
Grosse and her team work with models of three different sizes to trial configurations for how the fabric is hung, draped and knotted.
"The smallest model shows me the overall relationship of my work to the space [the Carriageworks foyer]," Grosse explains.
"The next size up helps me understand how large the fabric should be — because it's far bigger than the surface area [of the foyer]; it's crammed so that I get these rich folds and all of the texture. The large model is the one that I needed to figure out which points I was going to use in the roof construction, and what the different knots are going to look like."
What happens afterwards is more spontaneous and intuitive.
"I started with a light colour, because I wanted to see how I moved in the space," she says.
"[The colours I use] really has to do with the situation I'm in — the light."
Grosse had to cast aside her initial fear of making mistakes on a large scale.
"I had an experience when I started making these large site works, maybe 18 or 20 years ago: I had a small mock-up model that I was looking at constantly as I worked; I was so afraid that I might do something wrong that the end result was frighteningly close to my model — I realised, that's not worth my effort, to just produce something that I already know," she says.
"I decided that going forward, I had to absolutely believe that nothing can go wrong. When you feel open, and don't limit yourself by fear, you're more likely to create something you would not have envisioned."
Keeping things open-ended
Grosse often gives her artworks enigmatic names that sound more like stage directions than titles — in this case: The Horse Trotted Another Couple of Metres, Then It Stopped.
"It doesn't mean anything, but it conveys an atmosphere," she has said of this title.
For Grosse, keeping her work ambiguous and open-ended is important for a simple reason: she doesn't want to exclude anyone.
"People can bring their own thoughts to it. If the work isn't open-ended, then the viewer would only be looking at it from the outside — and feel quite excluded, I think. You would start to think 'Do I need to read the text before I can understand this?' Whereas I think there are many things that come from your own experience that can help you understand the work," she says.
As an example, she points to a strip of golden-brown paint, ostensibly dribbled down the canvas, and speculates: "It's like honey coming off toast, perhaps."