It is an artist’s prerogative to practice alchemy. Bringing forms together that intrinsically repel is an intoxicating power. Colliding opposites and dual realities. Polarising pastiches and coexisting identities constructed truths and contradictory perceptions. Eloise Cato’s practice has embraced the plastic age and all its manufactured mannerisms in the context of the machine of the art world, how its machinations fascinate and inform.
Quasi sees the continuation of her Raw Artificial series in which she twists the man-made into naturalised forms, hijacking injection blow moulding machines of mass production to manipulate polyethylene into unexpected monochromatic abstractions. Endeavouring through the guise of a natural form, a cloak of ebony charcoal, to mask the sins of the synthetic. This surface is gently painted in a highly laborious and time-intensive process that’s not evident through the counting of brushstrokes. It’s easy to dismiss on sight what is usually most valued in the work- the artist’s hand. It is disguised in minimalist simplification and does not allow the reading of these forms as paintings without prior knowledge. Contradictorily, the compositional forms denote the speed of machines. Here the artist’s hand is increasingly evident in the fight against or harmonic conversation with the machine to dictate line. The physicality of the whiplash line made in intense heat is clear, thinking and responding quickly is key for the artist to endure… saving hands from a burn or two. Shape is defined by artistry, moulds that create the multiple- the traditional use of the machine to mass produce is rejected and removed. In a purist ‘farm to table’ process, Cato sources plastic from its gritty molten origin rather than being dictated by prefabrication, which holds onto the legacy of the original form- the history of what it once was. In that intent, Cato does not recycle. In modernist tradition, this ensures no pollution of concept. She offers complete clarity for the art object to exist in its simplest form as a gestural mark- the wall elevated to canvas as the language of abstraction is free to play out authentically.
The genuineness of an art form is often debated, the term ‘wall furniture’ is lobbied about in the art world. To class a hierarchal distinction, the school of abstraction is often the victim with its open obliqueness in translation and lack of visual assertion of ‘this is a… dot dot dot.’ In a somewhat diminishing sensationalist and glossy era, Cato sets herself against the post of what is valued but embraces irony to point a stick at what is consumed- art as a manufactured product. Cato hijacks mass production and enters factories which the art world intrinsically seeks to distance itself from being the ‘high end of town’ and temples of the ‘one of one.’ In the spirit of the 1854 novel, North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell, it’s through a leant appreciation of industry/machine and dialectical materialism that Cato seeks to unify. All phenomena consist of mutually contradictory elements and that change is the result of their internal contradictions. Plastic enabled cultural democracy, it was the greatest equaliser of the 20th century yet was initially invented to mimic luxury goods, natural polymers such as tortoiseshell, horn and tusk- the triumph of man over nature. Have we caused irrevocable harm with the over consumption of plastic with single use purposes? Yes, it’s hugely problematic. Paradoxically, plastic was early marketed in earnest as an ecological disaster preventative. As an 1878 sales pamphlet for celluloid boasted: “As petroleum came to the relief of the whale, so has celluloid given the elephant, the tortoise and the coral insect a respite in their native haunts; and it will no longer be necessary to ransack the earth in pursuit of substances which are constantly growing scarcer.”
Working with manufacturing machines it’s easy to believe the essence of the artist is stripped out from the work. Yet this body of work is deeply personal to Cato with hidden meanings that are unveiled by personal conversations and built relationships with the viewer. It’s her belief that translating her inner world as a private person into the exteriorisation required by contemporary artists requires balance within a digital age of oversharing, where the personality of the artist often becomes a greater currency than the voice of the artwork itself- a manufactured experience. This is where her materials and their imbedded identities hold so much bearing- they dictate meaning, authenticity and a personal symbolism/language. For charcoal, Cato goes to the bush surrounding Berrara, the South Coast, where her family has a deep-seated relationship. While Mike Nichols’ film, The Graduate, had its influence on her dad, Cato grew up with the legacy of industry and plastic. “There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?” Playing between the stacked towers of crates in factories and being fascinated with the artistry of manufacturing, Cato was exposed to a secret world kept from society, yet its products consumed daily. Knowing plastic was bad and good, necessary but abused. A former century defined by equalising growth, the latter by downfall. A complicated identity of evolving perceptions and a lot of grey. In oppositional defiance, it became completely intoxicating to explore, and oil paints and pencils were momentarily set down.