Lee Bethel | Flourish

For Lee Bethel, elegant constraints are the foundation of her workings, manipulating the fold, the grid and the seed. In her hands, the paper fold reveals its capacity for resilience and malleability. It is both a tangible folding of paper and a metaphorical folding of time and memory. The works suggest states of being that are "open-ended ... non-exclusive and unlimited, exterior and infinite." The inside is nothing more than a fold of the outside where the interior becomes exterior. 

To visit Bethel's studio is to gain insight into her purposeful arrangement of cut paper and collected seed, and to note the shifting qualities of the grid in her work. Sketchbooks reveal axonometric drawings of possible relief structures. There are collections of cut paper shapes and seed casings that work as a glossary of forms. She presents these elements within the grid to highlight both their similarity and gentle variance. The seed types in the current exhibition include local and introduced, the marbled Coral Princess pod from Western Australia, reddish brown Sichuan peppers and tiny spiked buds fascinating in their regularity.  In another sequence, Bethel has used bell jars as a further classifying structure. These are articulate environments that suggest a furthering of the fold into vertical growth patterns – columnar twists, multiplying tetrahedrons, architectonic skins.

A restricted colour palette emerges via chemical processes: opaque encaustic thickening the paper and an irregular application of copper sulphate creates a rust that extends underneath the grids. A subtle wash tint has an illusory effect, playing with micro-shadows cast by the sculpted paper.

The repetition that Bethel employs is a contemplation on process work and time. The emergence of the grid in her early work was an act of memorium, linking with the handkerchiefs her mother would fold and prepare for her father. It has since become a formal classification system, its framework used to highlight repetitive and subtle differences in nature. The grid presentation allows for intricate readings of these natural forms. And if we expand the concept of the grid to a broader scale, it is also used to bring an ordering system to the landscape. Lee Bethel noted this on her residency at Hill End – an imposed order, the street network, had been overlaid on an unruly surface. The rusty wash introduced on her new works evokes this fluid landscape that has been subdivided and cut through with an ordering grid.

Lee Bethel's Flourish untwines the possibilities for formal extension in process work. The word itself describes both natural growth and a poetic physical gesture. In Flourish we might find those parallels between Bethel's variations on a theme and changing states in nature.

Flourish opens Friday 13th October.

-Melody Willis

* Parr, Adrian2005  "Fold", The Deleuze Dictionary, Edinburgh University Press, pp 107–