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Solo show: Jan Senbergs - Through the Imagination (over)

4 October 2011 until 29 October 2011
  Jan Senbergs - Through the Imagination
Jan Senbergs Populous peninsula, 2010 acrylic on linen 142 x 201cm
  Niagara Galleries

Niagara Galleries
245 Punt Road
3121 Richmond, VIC
Australia (city map)

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Imagine this

Sometimes it is important to have some order in our lives. To understand where we fit and how we belong to each other. Maps can do that. On a map you can see where you are in relation to your neighbour or to the next planetary system. They have no limits. You just have to find a map big enough for your ideology.

When we were young, we had a big world map pinned to our kitchen wall and I remember thinking how colourful the world was in a seventies pastel kind of way. Precociously, I memorized the capitals of some obscure countries, and have used this knowledge to good effect at trivia nights where no-one else had any idea that the capital of Upper Mongolia is infact, Ulan Bator, or it was when our map was printed. That's the thing about maps, they become out of date. They are actually a means by which we can mark change, not only of roadworks and re-routed rivers, but also social and political revolution.

We raise an eyebrow to the naivety of early map makers describing the size and location of the Great Southern Land, but we may not feel so smug as future generations invariably disprove some of our own core beliefs. The truth of the present is almost certainly not the truth of the future. Despite this, maps have a certain authority; an authenticity that is not necessarily justified. Cartography is much more an art than a science and how much or how little imagination the cartographer possesses determines how interesting our journey might be.

Luckily for us, Senbergs has no shortage of imagination. His 2009 exhibition, Capriccios drew on fanciful landscapes of Melbourne. Likewise, the works in this exhibition Through the Imagination, are not of place, but of mind. Senbergs delves deep to create map-like landscapes of fictional worlds. Interwoven and interlocking roads encase cities and form bridges to the outlying suburbs of our imagination where buildings rise like monster machines, and in some cases become the machines of war.

The mood is decidedly futuristic, though try to navigate the fly-overs, bridges, tunnels and intersections of Citilink and it is possible to declare that the future has already arrived, even if it might take a while to work out just how to get to where you are going if you missed the first turn-off.

Ring Road 2011 encircles a Melbourne-like metropolis while out beyond, in the badlands, the sub-urban proliferates. It appears that the city centre is floating, held tenuously in place by a series of life-giving conduits pumping resources into the glowing city. In Populous Peninsula 2010, the city is fed by elegant bridges and causeways. This is another scene built purely from the mind's eye, yet who knows if the artist may also be an oracle?

Scale is of little concern in the imagined landscape. In Paolozzi's city 2010, buildings contort and twist and burst at the seams to contain whatever seethes within. There is an underlying sense of the apocalyptic in many of these works. Cities grown in such a haphazard way must certainly fall at some point, but for now are linked and held together by sinuous rivers of traffic.

Senbergs makes some interesting detours of reference in these new paintings. He first became aware of the work of Adolf Wolfi (1864-1930) in the 1970s, but this is his first homage to the troubled outsider artist. A diagnosed schizophrenic, Wolfi spent most of his adult life in a Swiss psychiatric hospital. He obsessively drew detailed illustrations for manuscripts, combining this with his passion for mathematics and musical notation. One can see how Senbergs would be intrigued by this artist and his complex compositions of overlapping geometry. There is something of the same frenetic intensity in the work of both artists. In each of the three works on paper, Wolfi's haunted faces appear like franchised Luna Park entrances along the imagined roads and bridges decorated ornately with a geometric design (as Wolfi himself might have done).

The ancient Egyptian, Ptolemy (90-168AD) was regarded as the greatest astronomer and geographer of his time. His influence was felt well into the 16th century, including his assertion that the sun revolved around the earth. The acceptance of this theory by the church was a big roadblock to the progress of astronomy until the time of Galileo. Ptolemy's real legacy is the system of co-ordinates to plot location. Like a painting planned using the golden mean, this grid overlays all maps. It's implied, even if you are not fortunate enough to live within the meticulously planned grid of Melbourne. The parallels of latitude and longitude are a universal language.

Senbergs has given us the construct of cartography to interpret these paintings, yet of course they are not maps per se. They come to us through his imagination and an old man's imagination, apparently, is filled with many things, including some rather lusty thoughts if Old man's head 2010 is anything to go by. The imagination knows no bounds. No restraint is required, nor justification. It can't ever be wrong and similarly these works do not need to contain the verifiable.

The exhibition's title gives away much in how we should view the works. Sometimes we are too informed by knowing, so with either the wisdom of an old man, or the wonder of a child we should allow ourselves to be guided by these psychological and metaphorical maps on a journey through our own imagination. The question is, are we there yet?

Gina Lee
Associate Director
Niagara Galleries
September 2011

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