Teagan Ramsay QUT Art Awards: Exhibition Review

What does it mean to talk of “space”? The word at once invites the idea of specified place but also the notion of absence, a gap, a void. Teagan Ramsay’s work can be seen as mediating these two, almost oppositional notions of space. Her ambient, durational videos depict domestic spaces, yet without their usual inhabitants. In this way, they are not so much empty as they are emptied: we can sense people were in them a day, hour or even minute ago. There is something ghostly underlying Ramsay’s interiors. The ghost is haunting because it is at once present and dead. Much the same, the people in Ramsay’s scenes are both there and not there: lingering in the wood, glass and concrete.

The Queensland house is the subject for Ramsay’s latest series, but we could equally say it is the sitter of her portraits. House 184 (2015) depicts the interior of an unkempt share house with a personality of its own. The house is filmed from various angles. The first looks out from a dark room to a frosted window, the second onto a pile of dirty laundry, the next to a coffee table piled with mugs, Heinz sauce bottles, toilet paper and bong, and finally the camera rests on a corner of the house, the white interior of the bathroom just visible in the background. Over the images plays a droning, high frequency sound.

Room (2016) films the same house but with quite a different personality. The video shows only one scene: a tall window seeping light into the house as a thin curtain moves back and forth in the breeze. There’s less of the grunge of House 184 here, and the house itself seems to have softened.

While Ramsay’s scenes are expressive, the medium of video gives the works an air of documentary. This sets her art in line with something like the Becher project. Bernhard and Hilda Becher aimed to photograph the disappearing industrial architecture in post –war Germany. What they produced was a vast typology illustrating that many of these public structures shared particular formal qualities and indeed, shared a kind of personality. Like the Bechers, Ramsay reveals something of humanity in the very non-human structural forms. Of course, Ramsay’s work is not taxonomy but the same respect for objects and architecture remains.

Behind the two projected videos stands Ramsay’s installation work. Windows taken from a Queensland house are stacked together, as if making a bonfire. The wood is lit from below and beneath it Ramsay has placed a carpet very similar to the one seen in House 184. The installation forms a nice materialisation of the videos, as if Ramsay has plucked the important elements of her films and arranged them in the real world. This small pile of material – a deconstructed Queenslander – works particularly well in the gallery space. The gallery architecture is much like the houses Ramsay depicts. After studying the wooden panels of House 184 or the windows piled before us, we might turn our heads and realise we are in a very similar space. The works ultimately encourage us to read the place we are in with as much care as the ones depicted on screen.

Teagan Ramsay’s exhibition is small but important. Young artists are returning to architecture, but perhaps with more nuance than their predecessors. Ramsay reveals the presence a space has when we are absent. There is both an emptiness and a richness in her works, which uncovers the complex relationship we all experience with the space around us.

Reviewed by Sophie Rose