Sydney-based artist Nell has a fascination with death rituals. The Haniwa, Japanese tomb ornament, is of particular interest. Arranged around a burial site, these objects serve to both protect the dead but also drive away evil. Nell’s contribution to Magic Object, is an installation titled The Wake (2014-16) which includes hand-built ceramic vessels, some of which were made at Ernabella Arts in Pukatja, and emulate the Haniwa. Imbued with expressions of humour and sadness, these objects mock our mortality. Adorned further with iconography that Nell has been using since the 2000s, including lightning bolts, eggs, smiley faces and tears, these symbols are not only of personal significance to the artist but are universally understood across many cultures. Her objects have the ability to evoke binary oppositions, opposites that cannot exist without each other. Life and death. Happiness and sadness. Light and dark. As Magic Object Curator Lisa Slade suggests ‘paradox lies at the heart of Nell’s work (and at the heart of the ‘Wunderkammer’), where objects in their greatest vitality are often also harbingers of death and loss’. Nell elaborates, suggesting that her works ‘are everyday meditations on what it means to stay familiar with the certainty of your own mortality … birth, sex and death [are] understood through physical experiences of impermanence’.
Nell’s installation The Wake is on display in Gallery 23 at the Art Gallery of South Australia during Magic Object.
Nell would like to thank the following: Ben Carter, Joey Burns, Helen Daley, Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, Jenny Orchard, Emi Tanaka, Mie San, Philjames, Warwick Edgington, Jack Talinton, Bruce Holmquist, Adele Hopkins, Jye Kwong, Marty Baptist, Elliot Jones, Julie Gibbs, Kylie Kwong, Stephanie and Julian Grosse, Nici Cumpston, Lisa Slade and everyone at AGSA, Sebastian Goldspink and everyone at Alaska Studios, Hannah Kothe and everyone at Ernabella Arts, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney and STATION, Melbourne