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?
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.