Cans rolling up hills. A kayak paddle shooting vertically through the air. Lead shot is emptied into a funnel, falling to fill what appears to be a limitless tube. These subtle, seemingly impossible actions found in Jessie Bullivant and Susan Jacobs’ collaborative exhibition, Energetic Discipline, not only proffer thoughtful, unexpected observations, they also pinpoint the pair’s prime curiosity: the relations that exist between form, matter, physics, energy and effort.
Borrowed from the field of geomancy, a method of divination that interprets the energies and spatial characteristics of sites, the term ‘energetic discipline’ is applied here as a reference to Bullivant and Jacobs’ situationally responsive working method. With a shared interest in exploring the physicality and limits of a given context, the pair dislocates established structures and assumed truths in an attempt to ‘divine’ information from their environment (1). Constantly making use of found materials, overcoming failures and adapting to their set conditions, this investigation can be positioned somewhere between blind faith and controlled experimentation.
The systematic practice of divination aims to organise outwardly disjointed, random facets of existence in such a way that they provide acute and unforeseen insights. For Bullivant and Jacobs, this is achieved through the transformation of potential energy, with the pair sharing the ability to see the latent potential that exists in a given circumstance. Take Being under no illusion 2010 by Jacobs. Created in response to a dramatic architectural intervention in the back gallery of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, which saw the ceiling severely lowered so that it almost met the floor, Being under no illusion made inventive use of the newly compressed space. Jacobs installed a series of devices that caused pieces of graphite to levitate through the simple might of electromagnetism. Utilising the always-present yet invisible force of gravity, the graphite hovered mid-air to produce an almost imperceptible gap between the object and its supporting surface. Like Rachael Whiteread’s casts of the area underneath a chair and the void within a cardboard box, this feat made obvious the negative space that surrounds and envelops us; extrapolating the tensions existing between real and illusionistic space, and highlighting the paradoxical concept that emptiness can be revealing.
While Being under no illusion manipulated the expansive elements of air, weight and gravity, Bullivant’s (produce, project) series of 2010 instead uses another ephemeral medium, light, to examine the physical, or plastic, properties of matter. (produce, project) consists of a series of junky assemblages fashioned out of humble materials including standard desk lamps, portrait-size mirrors and overhead projectors, which bend and contort their light sources onto nooks in walls, behind fire hydrants and around corners. Bullivant’s constructed reflections augment and skew the original beam, causing a disruption between reality and its copy. This ripple, or altered double, questions the very nature of seeing: which image is more charged, meaningful or real?
Unlike the exaggerated mysticism of art history’s most famous shamans (Joseph Beuys, Yves Klein,) Bullivant and Jacobs both perform subdued, small-scale acts of alchemy; turning the overlooked and concealed into something surprising, almost otherworldly. They give shape and substance to matter that is amorphous, invisible and on the edge of perception and materiality.
Though frequently exploiting untapped resources, their individual practices are also consumed by lost or misdirected energy. That is to say, Bullivant and Jacobs are as interested in artifice and exertion as they are potential and transformation. In Security Illusion 2009, Jacobs inverts Yves Klein’s iconic image Leap into the Void 1960, by jumping from a trampoline on a raised platform into the open doors of her home. Not only does Jacobs pointedly reverse the path of Klein’s leap of faith, she also goes some way towards revealing the magician’s trick.
Bullivant is alternatively fascinated by the idea of ‘active stasis’; a contradictory term used to describe a large amount effort that produces little or no return. For example, Direct Aerial Work 2011, saw Bullivant hire a helicopter to hover above the site of RMIT’s gallery as a way to fill the space without entering it. The vehicle transported nobody and the event was not documented, meaning the gesture simply disappeared into the everyday function of the world (2). Similarly, Lift and Lower 2010, involved the superbly pointless act of moving water from a dam to a container raised by a crane, then releasing the liquid back into the original body of water.
Given the pair’s competing desire to ‘create something from nothing and nothing from something’ (3), it is unsurprising that the key projects in Energetic Discipline both maximise and waste energy. Drawn from off-site visits to a wind tunnel in Port Macquarie and Anti-Gravity Hill near Hanging Rock in Victoria (where, as its namesake suggests, objects are seen to move upwards on a sloping road, defying the laws of gravity), Bullivant and Jacobs have created an explorative and discursive body of work. Energetic Discipline acknowledges the mutability of all things and brings into focus a myriad of oppositions: vertical and horizontal, natural and artificial, expenditure and conservation, planning and spontaneity. Ideas, objects and forces are set in motion, and we have the pleasure of interpreting the results.
1. Email conservation with Jessie Bullivant and Susan Jacobs, 2012. 2. Ibid. 3. Artist’s statement by Jessie Bullivant for Lift and Lower, 2010.