Submitted Review

Georgia Morgan 'Fermented Preserves'

  • Bett Gallery • Hobart

  • 09 April—30 April 2021

  • Briony Downes • Published 13 April 2021

  • Commissioned Article

Installation images Georgia Morgan ‘Fermented Preserves’, Bett Gallery.

‘ordinary materials can transcend their humble origins’

Directly down the centre of the gallery is a long white table filled to the edges with tall, vase-like ceramic vessels reaching up over smaller, wide-mouthed pots. Each appears handmade and is covered with bold and colourfully painted images of animals and plants. Red hibiscus flowers burst across the surface of one particularly vivid pot while others feature durian fruit, fish, horses and lashings of fluidly painted-on text. The arrangement is reminiscent of a market stall or a lab table displaying the spoils of an archeological expedition waiting to be deciphered.

This collection of embellished ceramics is the centerpiece of Georgia Morgan’s exhibition, Fermented Preserves. The culmination of time spent working with curators and artists as part of the 2019 Bett Gallery Graduate Award, Fermented Preserves is Morgan’s first solo exhibition in a commercial gallery. In addition to the ceramics, on the surrounding walls are a series of photographs and paintings. The paintings reference the iconic Asian food brand, Ayam, and also include recipes written in spray paint and marked out by blocks of colour at varied intervals. This Dream is Real, 2020 is a photograph of Morgan standing next to a palm tree on the bank of a river. On closer inspection, it becomes clear the palm tree is made of strips of dark green plastic and curved tendrils of tubing. Draped around Morgan is not cloth but yellow netting and a blue tarp.

Morgan has a penchant for using unexpected materials throughout her practice, which extends across sculpture, video, installation, painting and photography. A pivotal point of influence for Fermented Preserves was a trip to Malaysia that Morgan undertook in 2018. While there, she searched for her Tamil mother’s childhood kampong (village), a place her mother speaks of frequently when recounting family history. During this time, Morgan came upon a local Hindu temple, constructed from slabs of concrete and a blue tarpaulin. Despite its simple construction, Morgan sensed its importance as a sacred space. Soon after, Morgan began using materials like concrete, netting and tarpaulin in her creative practice as a way to build spaces and objects of meaning. What she is most interested in is the way ordinary materials can transcend their humble origins to become something more.

In Fermented Preserves this is most effectively illustrated in Morgan’s photographs of found objects, Rooster (Ayam Brand deity #1), 2020 and Sardine (Ayam Brand deity #2), 2021. Visually riffing on the Ayam rooster logo, Morgan has brought together pipes, traffic cones, garden hosing and gumboots into the abstract shape of a rooster. Similarly, Sardine presents a vertically positioned army green sleeping bag stuck with blue netting and topped with a large plastic visor to signify an open tin of sardines. Each of these assemblages are much larger than their real-life counterparts, alluding to the god-like status Morgan has assigned to them.

While there is a sense of deliberate construction in the photographed assemblages, Morgan creates her ceramic pieces intuitively. The finished objects are not exact replicas of real items but imagined objects, tangible forms built from memory and the oral histories passed down from her mother (who left Malaysia for Sydney carrying few personal possessions or photographs). Responding to this lack of visual documentation and physical heirlooms relating to her maternal heritage, in the ceramics and images of Fermented Preserves Morgan brings into existence a uniquely personal and deeply meaningful mythology that slips unapologetically between memory and reality.