Juz Kitson

Juz Kitson is an Australian artist working out of the historic town Jingdezhen, the ‘porcelain capital’ of China. Engaging with ceramics, textiles and drawing, her work embodies the relationship between the ephemerality of humankind and the varied mix of flora and fauna in our environment. Using found animal bones to breathe life into still sculptures, Kitson takes the literal out of expression, pausing on the bizarre and quirky aspects of our bodies. Hair moves softly in the wind while phallic structures, bulbous configurations and layered lips of porcelain beckon you to touch them but pray you don’t. Her tactile, fetishised objects invite a closer look, followed by an almost instinctual withdrawal as you question the narratives of life and death.

In Cement Fondu’s latest exhibition ‘Warm Bodies’ – a horror-themed art show with its own Halloween party – Kitson launches her first exhibited drawing works alongside her characteristic ceramic sculptures. I spoke to the artist about opening up her personal drawings to her home-city audience, Sydney.


In your new three-part installation, the duality of decay and life is front and centre. Is contrast a key focus for you?
My practice continually interrogates contrast, both through medium and subject matter. The new suspended installation exhibited alongside the wallpaper encompasses large bulbous blown glass forms that have been slumped on petrified wood and rope. They represent breast-like forms of sap dripping from a cedar tree; life exists in an opening up and oozing out, in contrast to the taxidermy Fox head found nestled amongst the many components hanging from the ceiling, blurring the barriers between living and decaying.

The three distinct works come together to ignite ideas of transience and permanence. They play with representations, intuitions and perceptions, deconstructing traditional notions of a medium. The excrescent shapes and bulbous forms represent human and animal, yet are ambiguous, embodying both femininity and masculinity.

This intersection of feminine and masculine traits exemplifies the various constructs we create for ourselves. What brought your art to this point? Was there a turning point in your life that began this act of de-classification?
The ambiguous forms explore ideas of abjection, giving particular attention to the natural environment and the human condition. Working experimentally with materials that blend the body, human and animal into hybrid forms, I’m trying to evoke the holistic cycle of our fragile ecosystem and the precarious relations between various life forms. The works represent the feminine and masculine and are suggestive of the disquieting nature of desire, life, sex and death.

I’ve always been fascinated with the evolutionary relationships between humans, plants, fire and regeneration – from as early as I can remember I would collect objects that simultaneously represented a dichotomy of intriguing yet unsettling reference points, igniting interest yet repel those who would get too close. At an early age I was exposed to Julia Kristeva’s essay Powers of Horror (1980), which examines abjection through the theories of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. This exploration of horror, castration, the phallic signifier and so many other mind-bending concepts around feminist criticism was the turning point in my practice and lead me to delve deeper into the work theoretically. Another favourite book – one that is always close by my side – is Sogyal Rinpoche’s The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (1992), a text intended to guide a person through the experiences that the consciousness has after death.

For your drawing debut, you’ve constructed a monochrome wallpaper delineating highly detailed – almost anthropomorphic – flora. What are you exploring here?
Drawing plays a significant role in my practice. I often draw the installations both before and after their execution – I have years of drawings piled up and visual diaries that have rarely been shown to an audience. I guess that’s why this particular drawing is so important, marking the beginning of a new trajectory.

You are what you think about most (2018-19) is a felt tip pen on cold pressed paper drawing spanning over 3 x 3m – which took six months to complete. Pointillist marks, obsessive lines and microscopic detail reference flora and fauna found in regions across Australia and Asia, including exotic fruits, native plants, flowers, carnivorous plants and introduced species. The botanical imagery disrupts what is true as some of the plants are invasive, expanding their scope into native plant communities. This simultaneity of  introduced, alien, exotic, indigenous and non-indigenous ultimately represents the fragility of an ever-changing world.

The creation of a wallpaper, rather than a drawing inside a frame, nods to the concept of a generated environment, which you can see in your ceramics as well.
It’s always been my intention to challenge what is it expected. For my installation at Cement Fondu, I wasn’t interested in presenting the drawing as typically framed pieces, accessible to an art collector. Instead, exhibiting it as a backdrop for the sculptures creates the illusion of life, although this illusion is paradoxical: the components of the installations are made of hard, solid materials and removed from each other on the wall, to prevent function as a complete life form. Despite this, the work appears organic, as exotic plants in a futuristic, dystopian jungle. This questions our human connection with species and the evolutionary relationships between plants and regeneration.

Configuring these pre-science biological drawings as a temporary wallpaper evokes ideas of transience central to my practice. I’m fascinated by the idea of collections of works existing momentarily in any given space.

It’s an interesting dynamic between the collections of works existing momentarily and the audience in that moment. What do you hope viewers will take away from the exhibition?
I hope that the imagery immerses and challenges the viewer, straddling territory between the poetic and grotesque. The juxtaposition of ephemeral materials such as wax, husk and fur with more enduring materials like wood, bone and ceramic is suggestive of the cycle of life – the idea that ‘life is but a series of moments’. It also creates the sense that the work is alive, in an ironic way, as all living things decay.

My works invite the audience to contemplate our mortal coil. There’s an underlying sense of the primitive drive – the guttural response is often emotive and conjures memories or future worlds. When stepping into the installation, I hope viewers will experience the grand thought of extinction and discovery.

Juz Kitson is represented by GAGPROJECTS, Adelaide and Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane.
Emma-Kate Wilson is an emerging arts writer based in Sydney. A collection of her writing is available here.

EXHIBITION
Warm Bodies
6 October – 25 November 2018
Cement Fondu, Sydney

 

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