Ash Keating, (detail) Natural System Response, 2014. Enamel, aerosol, synthetic polymer and water-based clear coat on ply panel, 65 x 60 cm. Courtesy the artist and Blackartprojects.
NATURAL SYSTEM RESPONSE
Appearing as abstractions, Ash Keating’s Natural System Response immediately took my mind back to an aerial photography project in 2012, flying thousands of feet above the central desert in Western Australia. Suspended in a tiny Cessna, like floating in a slow-moving tin bullet, we were out searching for patterns and sites in the landscape. Some were known and mapped, others entirely unknown, observable only at particular altitudes and specific times of the day. It was a privileged view, in every sense, where de Certeau‘s notion of ‘considering vectors of direction, velocities and time variables’ becomes apparent in understanding that ‘space is a practiced place’. Up here, the curvature of the planet slips away over a forever horizon, taking the mind’s eye with it. On most maps, this space is marked as an ‘empty’ swathe of desert, an indictment of colonial proportions, but flying above at a low altitude, the land shifts to become surreal, delicate and alive.
While related in perspective to the panoramic aerial images of Arthus-Bertrand, Keating’s new series of paintings could be viewed as literal landscapes, with the atmospheric vantage of satellite images and aerial photographs. His methods of layering and combining earth tone paints, pressure sprays, and graffiti repellent, link his environmental practice with the techniques of his larger-scale urban interventions. Keating continues his performative process here with smaller actions in the studio, where the mixing of gloss paints, slipping and shifting across the smooth surface of marine ply boards, build up and run off in ways that emulate the patterning process of natural systems. In this sense, Keating is performing painting as landscape.
Keating is using what could be called topological mixing, a process-based technique that engages chaos theory to reveal systematic patterns. These kinds of pattern dynamics are rarely visible from the ground, unless you have an Aboriginal knowledge of land perhaps. In the air and in these paintings, we see the shifting colours and angles of sunlight across the immensity of the land unravelling in subtle contours. Recombining from moment to moment, we can begin to grasp the vast interrelated ecology of natural living forms that affect the borders of human comprehension.
Yet comprehension is not required for destruction. We might even say it is essential. The slow accumulations of fragile ecosystems fed by branching tributaries, become disrupted by the horror of deadened wastelands, the by-products of our mineral and economic rapacity. From a distant perspective, the marks of humanity appear only as faint lines of roads and pitted scars in the surface, wounds and dark tailings that stain the land with antediluvian blood and dust exhumed.
These marks of consumption may seem minor in all the apparent vastness, blinkered flashes and spatial isolations. Our cultural distance from these desert environments is deemed ‘remote’ only by the relative position of our appointed centres. So it is simplistic to speak of the desert as mythical or to romanticise its affect, for this reinforces false notions of the infinite that underlie the continued exploitation of modern Australia. Keating’s paintings, hovering from an unnatural perspective far above a naturalistic ground, act here as triggers to an awareness of the present-future, as more-than moments of space and time.