Submitted Review

Lisa Roet ‘30 years of drawing’

  • Finkelstein Gallery • Melbourne

  • 22 September 2020—26 January 2021

  • Marielle Soni • Published 17 December 2020

The David Greybeard Tour is in the final days of its Melbourne leg. A poignant visitation celebrating Greybeard himself, his species and the important work of the Jane Goodall Institute. A large scale inflatable chimpanzee sculpture by Lisa Roet looks down upon human traffic. He extends his hand in welcoming kinship with a sense of grace reminiscent of religious painting of the 16th Century – a Correggio primate.

A symbiotic contradiction exists here, as this singular work atop a major arts precinct is designed for attention – a drawcard, but does not live in isolation. 4 kms away behind secure entry points lies his backstory. ‘30 Years of Drawing’, a solo presentation of work by the same artist, evidence of 30 years of research, empathy and an unflagging fervour for animal justice. “The least I can do is speak for those that can not speak for themselves” – Dr Jane Goodall’s quote could convincingly be the motif for Roet’s own creative career.

‘The hand as tool. That torn fingernail? Sharp, maintained, a great pick, knife, shovel — a veritable Swiss army knife.’

Presented in the new Finkelstein Gallery the space is subterrain, a backdrop of concrete floors, white walls, no windows. A selection of predominantly monochromatic drawings on paper creates the bulk of the show – small scribbles of pacing madness (patterns made by encaged monkeys) to large scale studies of hands, fingers, palms – detailed enough to predict their future. Amongst these charcoal offerings are recent bronze sculptures for which the artist is renown plus an extraordinary marble finger (the detail of the split nail plays delightfully with the associations of the medium).

A truly enthralling video work ‘We Are Animal’ (2015-6), a collaboration with Chinese artist Shen Shaomin is a standout. Human participants become animal through movement, sound, poetry, and instruction from hypnotist Tom Silver. An edification in the value of anthropomorphic reversal.

Hands and eyes often act as psychological expressions in art. By focusing on the hand, Roet draws a direct human/primate link, a profound one that successfully impacts the viewer. The fingernail, torn and vulnerable, evokes empathy as we see our hand in theirs. The hand also indirectly refers to the brain. The hand as tool. That torn fingernail? Sharp, maintained, a great pick, knife, shovel – a veritable Swiss army knife. The tool of a sophisticated thinker and problem solver, reminding us that we share 96-98% genetic similarities to our various primate cousins. “The structure of the brain of the chimpanzee is startlingly similar to that of the human” – Dr Jane Goodall.

Visual relationships between the gestures of each work, singular digits, a stray hair, contorted wrists, splaying fingers – offer a distinct impression of language. Standing encircled by these animated manus perhaps we can almost hear them. An image comes to mind – footage of an Indonesian orangutan raising his hand in defiant gesture to fight a digger as the arm of the machine lays waste to forest that once was rich with life, family, future.