Iconic Imprints

Heather Ellyard, 1999

Iconic Imprints is more than an investigation into the visual vocabulary of the sacred from 14th and 15th century European Masters. It is an exhibition about recharging lost meanings and mapping them in a new field.

Sarah Tomasetti uses a double starting point: technical and symbolic. Technically, the work is absorbed in exploring and recontextualizing the fresco process from its monumental roots to a more fragile interior position; the grand scale of the original shifts to the intimate scale of the domestic, carrying the original recipes intentionally into contemporary space.

The symbolic picks up sacred icons which refer to the environment of the quattrocento; the vessel, arch, table, knot, cloth and isolates them (gives them breathing space) to engage in post modern questions of appropriation and meaning, breaking through the earlier closed circuit of adoration-of-form as a means to apprehend God.

Tomasetti has loosened venerated images from their frames, peeled them away from their sacred time-and-place confines and imprinted them on our contemporary sensibilities with both their remnant-histories and liberated-options accessible for re-interpretation.

The question is how much residual meaning hovers around everyone’s understanding of the crucible/vessel with its implications of transmutation? How much mnemonic charge attaches to Giotto’s table with its illogical vanishing point? How much older meaning of the last supper or the sacrifice clings to its displaced presence in the post modern field? How charged is the woven cloth? How much gender and history are fitted, a priori, into its folds? How weighted is the movement from cloth to veil to knot to shroud, with vestigial aura? And the abstracted arches/tombs which function as intimate modular units, how much architecture-of-memory do these white on white devices carry into their current minimalist domain?

The major shifts in this imagery from history to abstraction are subtle and the answers are not assumed. This work is not an attempt to reenter the Church through a re-awakened iconic vocabulary. It does not ask or beg to re-enact impulse, as it once was. Neither is it an exercise in cultural appropriation as an endgame, where meaning is replaced by a cunning polemic about absence of meaning.

In an immediate sense, Tomasetti’s work is very seductive, an alchemy of texture and mark, with tracings of pattern and scientific formulae and linguistic definitions that verge on the exquisite as they implode on us... even before the urge for meaning. But this sensory pleasure is used with purpose and amazing grace to advance towards a secular zone where aesthetics and fragments of unbound cultural memory meet to make an imprint. The pared back borrowed imagery makes space for santuaries of silence, recharged through the courage of beauty.

It is an exercise in how lost meanings may enter the light.