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Fellow Focus: Michaela Gleave

Jul 04, 2013

‘I’m just loving my life right now,’ enthuses Sydney-based visual artist Michaela Gleave. ‘It’s a bit stressful… because I’ve got so much on but I’m just getting to do the most amazing things.’

Thanks to the professional development support of her Australia Council for the Arts Creative Australia Fellowship for an Early Career Artist the past twelve months have certainly been busy for Gleave. She has travelled to Asia and Europe; had a number of solo and group exhibitions, curation opportunities, a theatrical commission and a six-month residency with the CSIRO.

Currently she is in Tasmania for SITUATE Artslab having just completed the installation of her solo-exhibition, A Day is Longer Than a Year at the Fremantle Arts Centre. Also this month she will be exhibiting at the Anna Papps Gallery  in Melbourne.

Building international networks and exposure for her work was a major objective of Gleave’s Fellowship. Early on it enabled her to exhibit a solo show, We Are Made of Stardust, through Anna Papps, in the 2012 Hong Kong International Art Fair and to travel to dOCUMENTA (13). In 2014 she will again exhibit overseas spending five weeks in Japan developing a sound-based work at Tokyo Wondersite . It will also be a useful opportunity to experience and respond to a different culture.

A related goal for Gleave was to find a block of time, a space and supportive facilities to make substantive work overseas, something she is pursuing through a three-month ISCP residency in New York  that will finish off her Fellowship next year.

Gleave’s practice centres on the physicality of sensory perception, playing with the ways in which we understand and respond to the world around us. Our understanding of reality is reliant on our perceptions, she explains yet they are limited. ‘I’m really interested in the malleability of perception and what that means for the things that we can’t see… hear or … feel…’

Working across a range of media including installation, video, photography and performance her projects have utilised pyrotechnics, LED and theatrical lighting, natural phenomena such as cloud and snow as well as delighted audiences with floating balloons and billowing glitter.

Finding practical ways to create the effects she wants can be time-consuming and expensive. Gleave’s projects frequently require considerable trial and error and experimentation with technologies designed for quite different purposes.

Another significant benefit of the Fellowship, worth $60,000 over two years is the financial certainty it has provided. ‘It’s enabled me to continue to make the work I want to make without having to worry too much about the problems of paying for it.’

The Fellowship has also provided a valuable platform from which to explore areas outside of the ‘visual art world’, like her residency over the past six-months with the CSIRO’s Astronomy and Space Science Division.

Working with scientists who are studying light from stars so far away that it is only detectible as radio waves provided an interesting space to reflect on her own work. ‘It forced me to expand my idea about what light is… light is my primary material as an artist’.

‘I thought I’d been making work about science for all these years, which I have,’ Gleave explains as she has been inspired and referencing astronomical forms in her work for some time. ‘But it made me realize that my interest is closer to home, in terms of humans and the body.’ It’s brought her full circle, back to her interest in sensory perception and how we see and think about the world around us.

Her current show, A Day is Longer Than a Year  is a culmination on her research while with the CSIRO. The installation consists of two theatre spotlights, one red and one blue, that slowly orbit the room in opposite directions, their beams rising and falling, shrinking and stretching. The work plays with shifting scales, evoking the movements of planets and stars but the lights could similarly represent molecules or cells. The colours are also suggestive of the way distant objects moving away or toward the Earth appear more red or more blue respectively.

Taken together, the international exposure, residencies and the creative freedom Gleave is gaining through her Fellowship are providing invaluable support as she establishes herself as her own artist. ‘What can I say?’ Gleave sighs. ‘It’s really wonderful.’