Claire Tracey’s art is paradoxical in that at the same time it is infested with the familiar it speaks of the faraway and the alien. Unscalable and treacherous geometric peaks – a landscape from a sci-fi novel – are constructed out of crappy plastic shot glasses, the kind you’d get at the trashy end of a music festival. A glowing, spiraling chandelier – looking like some stalactite of natural freakery – hangs off the damp concrete belly of a bridge. A closer look reveals abandoned plastic bottles, fused together along the gist of instinct. Plastic crates that resist their inanimate status, pushing like the rising un-dead out of the ground – they have just been sawed up and positioned there. Despite the contrary nature of such pieces, however, there are some overarching themes that speak volumes about the common human psyche and the cultural pressures that twist and shape it.
First, there is the idea of waste as artifact. The definition of artifact is, broadly, “anything man made.” Effectively, it is a fitting term because it recasts waste out of its role as “by-product” or “off-cut” and into an identity as a product in itself. Waste is something we create – Tracey seems to say – an artifact in the same league as a spoon or computer. The fact we do not recognize it as a product in itself with its own particular and inherent functions doesn’t necessarily pigeonhole waste as inconsequential and purposeless. Our inability to regard waste as a product with a purpose only demonstrates we are unable to recognize ourselves. “I think en mass we tend to disassociate from our refuse perhaps because it is imprinted with an impression of our imperfections,” Tracey muses. “A reminder of how we are treating this planet, of who we are in what we use.” The construction of waste is dictated by our subconscious, imbued with deep dreams and dark neuroses. If we thought rationally enough about the products we consciously design there would be no waste. But we aren’t purely rational creatures. Waste is all our personal shadows. It is a similar story with those everyday objects so accessible they become invisible. The plastic bottles, the clothes pegs, the texters. We forget they are telling representations of the way we view the world and ourselves in it. Though the function of a peg may seem plain enough, we choke them of their potential by our inability to perceive them in much depth. In Tracey’s own words:
I’d like people to rediscover the objects that they use on a day to day basis, to see the beauty in the simplicity of their construction, to be able to recognise the cultural signifiers embedded in their use and production and to be able to see the fleeting cycles that guide something like a bottle of water to be manufactured in a third world country, shipped to Australia, briefly used by the consumer then either disposed of in our waterways, recycled or turned into landfill. To see what we’re really paying for is not the water itself or the status of not drinking water out of the tap or out of the glass. We are paying for a journey that the buyer only features momentarily in.
Which brings us to the second theme: What function does the (perceived-ly) functionless (waste) or the crippled (the everyday and familiar) perform that it can open our eyes to such a journey? It certainly is not a function hinged to the “real world”, the world of jobs and time and logic. Playing with waste, experimenting with it, taps into the weird unruly landscape of the human psyche and thereby the natural and spiritual. Tracey’s works transport her beholders on a tour of this landscape via her own unfettered imagination. The art-making process for Tracey rides largely on inexplicable urge and general instinct, as perhaps the only way to access those alien meanings in waste. The process is somewhat reminiscent of shamanistic ritual. Making art “feels like action,” Tracey says. “When I get into making a piece nothing else matters. You are totally in the moment, and responding to how the sculpture wants to be made is purely instinctual and intuitive. Often I start with a good idea or a concept like making a wave out of textas but with no idea how it’s actually going to work or look. The exciting thing is finding that out.”
Through this almost animalistic approach to artmaking, a kind of magic or alchemy inevitably permeates Tracey’s art. She lists land artists such as Andy Goldsworthy as being particular influences on her work, drawing similarities in the way they respond to nature to the way she responds to the city. Goldsworthy’s work is characteristically an attempt to “touch” nature, or represent some essence of it. Tracey interprets his successes as arising from his subservience to nature. Goldsworthy is able to create portholes into something as complex as nature because he doesn’t pertain to commandeer and control it, but rather allows it to move and breathe within gentle, flexible parameters. Tracey calls Goldsworthy’s art “a visual haiku, in that the sum of its parts are more than the ingredients.” Tracey’s own art follows this compliant philosophy. Evidently happy to channel both the infinite power and infinite weakness of the human mind, she plucks clues from those things that are generally and narrow-mindedly overlooked – the cheap and the trashy or the just plain mundane. By arranging such typically unnoticed objects in ways that let observers recognise that intangible power and weakness simultaneously and automatically inspires these same observers to infuse their own feelings and interpretations in the art piece. It is thus necessarily by its own blithe and anti-didactic nature that Tracey’s art alchemically assumes a “visual haiku.”
These three themes – waste as artefact, the value of the non-valued and visual haiku – and their related considerations experience a fair degree of crossover. There is no visual haiku without its discretely non-valuable parts. Neither is there any great alchemic potential in objects consciously perceived as valuable to become lenses for the deeper, darker parts of the human psyche. It is the shifting dynamism between the themes that Tracey explores so prolifically in her art, and which allows her to actively investigate the effects of a recent world she sees as causing its inhabitants to experience reality en masse: “[M]ass production, mass media, and mass rubbish all have an effect on us and as a generation we are the first to start to feel the effects of this. We live in the comfort of repetition, and this state of being is largely unnoticed in our day-to-day lives,” Tracey maintains. “Whether it’s good or bad I notice this and I want to share that perspective with others.”