Heaven by a String

For centuries kites have been very much part of ritual and custom for Japanese, Koreans, Maoris, and Malays. Today kite flying has attained universal appeal with thousands of devotees enjoying their aerial manoeuvres. If the pages of history are any guide to the lineage of kites, in the West they date back as far as the ancient Greeks. The kite is said to have been invented between 400 and 300 BC by Archytas from the Greek city of Tarentum.By contrast, kite flying in the Far East is believed to have begun in China around 206 BC when Han Sin, a general of the time, invented a kite for use in war. Today in China kites are flown on Kite's Day, the ninth day of the ninth month, as a part of a ritual celebration which aims to float evil away from the owner of the kite.

Kites evoke powerful emotional connections, very much at home in the imagination of a child and adult alike. as metaphors for life's many vicissitudes, they evince not only rich historical, religious and ritualistic associations with the past, but also ones for the present. The immediacy and accessibility of their performance heralds a sense of freedom, play, theatre and opportunity to explore.

"Heaven by a String", curated by Elve Olver, at The Robb Street Gallery in Bairnsdale, Victoria, was an exhibition inspired by kites which gave expression to many of these cultural and artistic associations in ingenious ways. Held in conjunction with the first world Sports Kite Flying Championship at Lakes Entrance, Australia in November, 1995, it was a selectionof art forms in miniature, ranging from small-scale sculptures, prints and paintings to ceramics, glass and jewellery. Internationally celebrated kite artist/designer Peter Travis created a spectacular aerial display outside the gallery from a kite-making workshop held at the venue. Renounded for the importance he has given to kite-tail design, Travis included several exquisite drawings and a magnificient kite. Also represented were artists from around Australia, including: Bronwyn Bancroft, Gwen Clarke, Diane Fogwell, Juli Haas, Inga Hunter, Kaye Green, Treahna Hamm, Roslyn Kean, Adele Outteridge, Leon Pericles, John Pratt, Kaiko Schmeisser, Jörg Schmeisser, Anne Starling, Jim Thalassoudis, Robin Thomas, Jenny Toye, Ryllton Viney, Wim de Vos, Jan Weir, Diana Wood Conroy and S. Wong Hoo Foon. Inga Hunter offered two different types of work as the basis for her interpretation of kites: the first incorporating found objects with homemade form; the other using manufactured materials. The fleeting nature of reality was conveyed by the fragility of the pieces, composed mainly of homemade paper and sticks. These tactile, cocoon like forms resembled structures used by insects and birds as places of temporary refuge and safety. Hunter's second approach is the use of a book-style format to suggest kite forms which recallthe playful ingenuity and sophistication of Japanese origami design. Theatrical in inspiration, these brightly coloured geometric shapes were abstractions of animal forms. When opened up the book displayedthem with extended multicoloured tails and wings suggesting forms for flight and dance. A subtle metaphysical angle was explored in the work by Chris Denton, titled Devine Tetraktys 3. This beautifully worked intaglio print of a classical kite-form, using a dramatic combination of oranges and blacks, was inspired by the theorems of Pythagoras. For Denton, the triangle constructed from 10 shells is a sacred, divine form. Both mathematical and aesthetic in conception, it questions the validity of mathematical and scientific paradigms as the certain basis for reality, while acknowledging the regenerative powers of natural law and the deep spiritual inherent in the human psyche. Bruno Leti unveils a psychological landscape in the subtly coloured and richly surfaced lines of his abstract prints. A web of continuous, sinewy, ribboned line, the trajectory of which mirrors well the dynamic movement of kites as they dance in the sky. Metaphorically, this energy form gives vivid expression to inter-connectedness which exists in reality between humanity and things fashioned by man and those of Nature. A water colour by Juli Haas, titled Departure, sets a scene of silent melancholy with the image of a kite introducing the first scene of a drama haunted by nostalgic memories. Sombre in colour, it depicts a larger-than-life figure of a solitary woman wearing medieval-style dress. She stands at the edge of a cliff, peering out to sea with her large, outstretched hands empty. On the ground at her feet, as if exhausted by a vain attempt to fly, rests a forlorn kite.

A deep sense of foreboding is imaged in the mixed media drawings of Ryllton Viney. He plays with the many meanings of the word "kite", in particular the idea of a bird of prey or one who takes advantage of others. It's a shadowy world, a landscape of the "dark side" of our natures, the territory of myth and dream that his works expor. In Celestial Kite 1, a large triangular kite-form is attracted to a circle of light, before which it hovers menacingly and untethered, waiting for its moment of attack.

A literal interpretation of kite form is evident in Lyn Piggott's finely worked earings in sterling silver. Here kite magic manifests in an elegant pendant design with three triangles linked end-to-end and finished with a serpentine tail.

Treahna Hamm introduces a captivating Aboriginal Dreamtime perspective into her sensitively worked etchings in which a kite as spirit form is the central dramatic image. In both Blow Me Down and Warby Ranger, the kite is depicted as a ghostly form patterned with distinctive dotting, fluid reptilian lines, flame, circular and symbolic animal motifs. Creating a riveting gestalt, it seems uniquely connected to its abstract background by intricate design.

In his two watercolours, Floating Icons and Merging, Owen Piggott explores the theatricality of kite display. Marvellously exuberant in colour and design, his kites soar with magisterial grace, very much celestial lords of the sky domain.

Dianne Fogwell paints a beguiling surreal world in which a quilted landscape of forest and field is stitched seamlessly to a sky that becomes the stage for kite performance. Here ambiguity presides and quaintly juxtaposed form teases the logic of reason. Airborne kites, symbolising thought, float voluptuously in luscious flower or insect form. Her images celebrate life and eulogise Nature's magical complexity.

Leon Pericles plays string theatre with a myriad of bowed ribbons and colourful, angular kites. Paterning the surface in crisply formed imagery, his crazed linear graphics frolic whimsically with imagination in a grotto inhabited by creatures of land, sea and air.

The ingenuity and complexity of artistic interpretation, explored in "Heaven by a String", suggests that the staging of such thematic exhibitions encourages originality of approach and provides welcome stimulus, nurturing and refining the nation's artistic talent in unexpected ways.

Marie Geissler
Phone: (02) 9380 5510
(Abridged version)