Review: Matthew Bradley, Destroyer of Worlds, Greenaway Art Gallery

Matthew Bradley has recently been orbiting around the possibility of life as defined by an alien Other.

Ridley Scott has it that any period is fascinating: the more ancient, the better. He should know. Redefining life on earth through the lens of ancient extra-terrestrial intervention pumps his plotlines with chest busting force. Just imagine the impact of discovering that a long long long time ago some aliens dropped in on Earth and either died here or left some trace of the visit such as a star map, or equivalents of shot up baked bean cans. Like – hang on – we humans have this destiny (having stuffed up the earth) to colonise the outer reaches of the galaxy. And now you tell us that some other guys are space warp factor of 10 trillion light years ahead of us. Time to check our cultural coordinates. Matthew Bradley has recently been orbiting around the possibility of life as defined by an alien Other. It is a natural consequence of an adventurous child and youth hood spent either climbing things or gazing heavenward. Imagining being in space or speculating on what’s out there has become embedded within his practice to the point where it is now beginning to assert its own internal narrative. As a child he was enthralled by the media reported prospect of Skylab’s fall to Earth and the prospect of not only landing in Australia but maybe his own backyard. Some other lucky kid in Western Australia scored some fragments but that only spurred Bradley into forging his own Skylab moment. The back story to this current work is a hypothetical event, eons ago, involving a battle in space and fragment of spaceship debris falling onto a pre Cambrian Earth, being transformed by heat, and recast in its earthen mould.  Remnant, a visually complex totemic/death ray weapon-like floor work purports to be an amalgam of a naturally recast (found) object fused with forms created by the artist. It might be a weapon or a model of a space station. Or it could be, as Bradley suggests, a skin pore and, if so, a fragment of something so large it beggars the imagination. Something about its Home Mechanic design has a District 9 resonance that is hard to shake off. This ‘might be’ principle also applies to a series of cast metal vessels arranged on a shelf. They look like artefacts retrieved from a gutted antiquities museum and as such have an edgy, contemporary character. Bradley has learnt to accommodate technical success and failure as he experiments with casting. The vessels carry the imprint of this uncertainty in occasional asymmetries, partially cast components, unpolished patinas and random surface bubbling. They look naggingly familiar – an Art Nouveau vase here – a Tang Dynasty vase there. Around twenty vessels are on display. Bradley plans to eventually make one hundred. Their current role within his practice has the potential to track metaphoric territory. The hybridity of the stylisation and decorative features infer the kind of cross cultural exchanges that, for example, followed the collapse of the Roman Empire, and the aesthetic creolization associated with classical art and design being subsumed with so-called barbarian cultures. They are distinctive objects which command presence through their complex visual identities which embody tension between beauty and violence.  Arranged in small ‘families’ along the shelf it is easy to see why the artists ascribes to them qualities associated with chess pieces, totemic clan gatherings and the like. Andromeda, a polished bronze wall sculpture, sits apart like an ascending rocket. It embodies the idea of a super being as less a physical entity and more a life force. Its Iron Man-like ‘golden leg’ (modelled from a cast of Bradley’s leg) morphology expresses blurred distinctions between reality and the unknown. It is ambitious. It is lonely (like that big guy in the opening roll of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus who has to take one for the team) and hopefully will inspire Bradley to further explore tensions between the idealised and the churn of vulcanised, barely controlled possibilities. And it is a terrific sculptural form with some uncanny resemblance to Jacob Epstein’s 1913 Rock Drill. A floor installation, The Year of a Thousand Suns, sits in the middle of the gallery. This is My Studio Rules territory –  some gas bottles, hoses and the very crucible used to make the works in the exhibition, complemented by a rough cast ‘galaxy’ whose presence pumps up the idea that it’s all about the very big picture really. It’s a stretch but somehow the audacity of the gesture works in its guileless state – in the same way one can choose to join in Bradley’s free-ranging speculations on questions of existence and human evolution with an open mind and spirit of adventure. It’s all in the mind, as the artist reminds, ideas forming “like molten blobs of metal in the head”. Matthew Bradley Destroyer of Worlds Greenaway Art Gallery Until Sunday, May 8 greenaway.com.au matthewbradleystudio.com Image: Matthew Bradley, Remnant, 2016, cast aluminium on concrete blocks, 334 x 24 x 33cm. Courtesy of the artist and GAGPROJECTS / Greenaway Art Gallery; Adelaide. Photo Grant Hancock

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