Penumbra, 2008

Christine Abrahams Gallery
27 Gipps Street RichmondVictoria, Australia 3121

Sarah Tomasetti’s latest series of works is a meditation on the descent into night. It lays bare the penumbra, the moment when all that is visible is sinking into obscurity, when the fixed is fused with the ephemeral. It is the unease—the sense of limbo and anticipation induced by twilight that permeates these works.

In the past Tomasetti’s images have spoken of rapture and infinity—a liminal space populated by Gods and angels, not human beings. These images were external representations of internal spaces: those instants between forgetting and remembering when the mind floats free; a momentary defence against the dominance of fears and ambivalence.

An altogether different atmosphere pervades the work in this current exhibition. Light is now relentlessly threatened by shadow, suggesting the loss of innocence that comes with a changed awareness of our connection to nature and our knowledge of how we have exploited that privilege.

But Penumbra eschews grand statements. There is neither cracked earth, nor devastated forest. The artist is in fact witnessing the comparatively pristine landscape of Wilson’s Promontory. With night falling across Tidal River, all that remains perceptible is the ambiguous sway of trees and scrub, vein-like tendrils glowing ethereal in the fading light.

It is this immense beauty that anticipates the dark. Tomasetti is mourning a world we we could once take for granted. But if her earlier works represented celestial spaces free of the impositions of human signification, Penumbra describes a whole new relationship to the natural world. As usual, Tomasetti’s landscapes are not peopled, but now the missing human presence is acutely felt.

The artist’s gaze is signified by the circular format of the works, which evokes among more natural associations, the camera lens. But while the camera may put us at a distance from the image, Tomasetti’s circular format draws us inside her immediate environment. Intoxicated by the strangeness of nightfall and humbled in the face of nature’s self-sufficiency, each moment of reverence is intermingled with a sense of bereavement. This calls to mind one of the lesser known meanings of penumbra, referring to the tissue surrounding an ischemic event, such as a stroke. Immediately after injury, the penumbra hangs in the balance. It may gradually join the dead area unless intense delivery of oxygen can save it.

At the heart of this series, there is a lament that we may never again be able to approach the landscape with uncomplicated awareness of its splendour. but there is also an exquisite moment, between the perfect shadow and full illumination, when it may be possible to find clarity.

Rachel Power
September 2008