Experiencing Reverie at The Dax Centre

Caitilin Punshon
The current exhibition at The Dax Centre in Melbourne is called Reverie. The name refers to a state of creative imagination. Many of The Dax Centre's past exhibitions have been about mental illness. This one shows some more hopeful aspects of that experience. Reverie is explored through key themes. These include connecting with people, being in the natural world and feeling calm in certain spaces. Some of the art is about night and dreams. Many works use colour to express emotion. The exhibition gives viewers a chance to experience reverie for themselves.
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Caitilin Punshon on 09/08/2013
close up of hand painting with paintbrush
close up of hand painting with paintbrush

Reverie is an exhibition that is rich in both ideas and possibilities.

Imagine a place where your mind is at peace. A place of calm and wellbeing. A space open to possibility. What would it look like? How would it feel? What colours might you find there? What images and shapes? More importantly, what could you bring back from that place to nourish and strengthen yourself through the challenges of daily life?

Reverie at The Dax Centre

These are the kind of questions and reflections that might arise while wandering through the current exhibition at The Dax Centre in Melbourne. The exhibition is called Reverie and it invokes that quiet state of allowing one's mind to wander and imagine, to conceive and to dream. From images of fantastical forests and gardens to imaginative portraits and intriguing abstracts, the artworks in Reverie convey a feeling of openness and space.

The art in the Cunningham Dax Collection is renowned for its powerful expression of the complex and often challenging experience of mental illness and psychological trauma. Past exhibitions at The Dax Centre have explored themes of depression, mania, terminal illness and suicide. Reverie invites the viewer to engage with the art in a different way.

Finding hope in reverie

We thought it was really important to counterbalance the discussion of illness which we do very well here with that viewpoint of hopefulness and how the use of the imagination and creativity plays in that, says Viona Fung, one of the curators of the exhibition.

Her co-curator Emma Last concurs. We do talk about mental illness. We provide lots of information and allow people to walk in the steps of those who have had an experience of illness. But I think it is important to offer a message of hope as well, she says. Feeling positive, feeling able to take the next steps towards whatever, imagining different possibilities, different futures, different outcomes.

Capturing a small movement

Finding that hope and taking that next step can be difficult, though, as Viona and Emma both know. With this exhibition, they are seeking to show those crucial but elusive moments that enable a person to shift away from despair towards something more positive.

What we're trying to do is just capture that small movement in these images, Emma explains. We look at these images and we're just wondering, were people feeling hope at this time?

Exhibition themes

The attempt to depict these subtle shifts emerges in the exhibition through the sensitive selection and presentation of artworks. Ideas of reverie are explored in a number of key themes. Simple domestic scenes hint at what may be consoling memories or future wishes. Encounters with the natural world are balanced by notions of the sanctuary offered by interior spaces. One drawing, for instance, shows an empty room. The door to the room is open and a view can be seen through the window.

Other works muse upon the mysterious allure of the nocturnal world. These include images drawn from both dreams and the unconscious. Pictures of starry skies float beside those that suggest reverie may sometimes involve the recollection of painful memories. A sense of strength is evident in these works, however, as if the act of creativity enables such memories to be considered anew. This is the feeling in Joan Rodriguez's 'Mother in the Moon'. Here, the dynamically drawn lines seem to flow with emotion.

Colour is also used expressively in this exhibition. Vivid oranges, yellows and purples bloom in several abstract works. They seem to allude to feelings that soar free of form or words. The presence of brightly hued tapestries by Suzanne Donato lend an added texture to the exhibition. Other artworks in more subdued tones evoke a sense of tranquility. A series of eight paintings in gentle shades of greens are grouped together on one wall. It is easy to pause here, absorbed in them.

The value of self-reflection

The value of self-reflection filters through all the art in the exhibition. Both curators believe this is an essential element of reverie. The artists talk about reverie as being able to access a quiet internal space, Viona notes. If not a physical space, at least an internal space where they can connect with themselves, and that facilitates and enables them to play and explore.

Some people think of it as meditation, some people think of it as daydreaming, adds Emma. Other people think of it as prayer, as solitude. It's the word that I think talks of those processes and how you can sort of be with yourself to assemble different ideas, to come up with different possibilities.

Experiencing reverie for yourself

Reverie is an exhibition that is rich in both ideas and possibilities. So much more could be said about it, but the best way to get a sense of its allure is to see it for yourself and to allow its soothing beauty to wash over you. In curating this exhibition, Emma and Viona have not only managed to capture those fleeting but precious moments of hope. They have also succeeded in creating a space in which viewers may share in their own experience of reverie, serenity and wonder.

Reverie can be enjoyed at The Dax Centre until 21 September 2013. For more information including opening hours, visit The Dax Centre website at www.daxcentre.org.

Readers comments (4)

Beautifully written article Caitilin. I saw the collection yesterday and am still reflecting on it. The dream like qualities of many of the works pricked my imagination and the artistic statements left me with something to think about. If I am in the area I will see the exhibit again, I can definitely recommend a visit to the Dax centre.

I'm so glad you enjoyed the exhibition, Peter. I particularly liked the wall of green paintings. It was lovely just to sit and get lost looking at them. Hopefully more DiVine readers will find their way to this exhibition and find themselves in a state of reverie too.

Caitlin, thank you for your vivid accounts of the Dax. You have performed a wonderful service in writing about the Dax Centre and its amazing collection of art. Your account of the Reverie exhibition is especially thoughtful.
I hope that you will continue to review future exhibitions and in so doing encourage the public who are not familiar with the collection to visit the centre and experience the artworks for themselves.

Many thanks for your kind words about my articles, Sidney. As I hope my writing shows, I have genuine admiration for the mission and work of the Dax Centre and its staff. I will certainly continue to visit the Centre whenever I'm able and I hope to keep writing about it too. We are very fortunate to have such an extraordinary and valuable collection of art here in Melbourne. Hopefully people will continue to benefit from the insights this collection offers.

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