Julia Gorman’s solo exhibition Something About Something Else is the product of a 2020–21 residency at the Billilla Artists Studio Program, which is housed in a late nineteenth-century art nouveau mansion. The resultant works take their cue from the art nouveau motifs abundant in the mansion and suggest the logic of non-linear histories, while also mediating upon the binary concept of visibility and obscurity.
Loose links between moments in history are grounded by Gorman’s invocation of art nouveau, whose demise coincided with the outbreak of World War I, and, as Gorman says, ‘everyone just wanted to be modern after that’. Following the war, avant-garde and modernist practices such as Bauhaus and de Stijl superseded the highly decorative style. When this body of work was made, Gorman was thinking about the fact that we too are in a moment of historical crisis and rupture, catalysed by the COVID pandemic.
An abstracted, decorative floral pattern chosen by Gorman for its art nouveau characteristics is a leitmotiv throughout Something About Something Else, operating as a metaphor for the ever-sprawling, opening out of history and time. Significantly, the motif is slightly different between paintings, since Gorman chose a different colour palette for each and because the works are obviously produced by hand, with the scratchy application of oil stick evident throughout. What the viewer also sees in this finish is the speed with which Gorman applied the oil stick. Of course, these works were created between lockdowns and Gorman was obliged to produce with a sense of urgency every time she was granted access to her studio. A more recent collection of large ink drawings, made during the 2022 Omicron wave, were produced in another brief period of intensive creative practice. Gorman’s work communicates the immediacy that the ongoing pandemic has made second nature in our daily activities.
To add complexity to this question of historical time, Gorman also introduces a play between visibility and obscurity – this binary is most evident in Gorman’s clay sculptures which, embedded with mesh or shards of coloured glass, grant the gallery visitor only an incomplete, altered view of what lays beyond. If Gorman’s paintings represent the sprawling sense of time, then her sculptures complement this in suggesting time as a kind of sift that lets certain things through and leaves others put.
Repetition, speed, slowness and rupture coalesce in Something About Something Else. Ultimately, a varied temporal logic is the exhibition’s central element. Right from the beginning, Gorman’s works inhabit several speeds. Her paintings and sculptures are executed relatively quickly but they take much longer to dry and reach a point of exhibition—the paintings alone take about six months. And then, of course, there is the concept of reaching across time. If art nouveau was the endpoint of a slower (i.e. not machine driven) fashion that was killed by the crisis of the war, then we can jump forward approximately one century to our current period to consider how this pattern might be playing out before our eyes.
— Amelia Winata