Words by Anthony Thomas
“I’m in the studio making flubber!” Louise Zhang’s voice bursts down the line. “There’s something really awesome about the alchemy of making it. When you mix any sort of liquid glue with water and borax it reacts and becomes this rubber thing. I find that really fascinating.” The recent fine art honours graduate fromSydney is experimenting with new interpretations of the Blob in her studio for an upcoming solo exhibition.
The Blob became Zhang’s primary vehicle for exploring the playfully grotesque. “I like the intersection between attractive and repulsive and how you get the simultaneous pull of all these different elements at the same time. The Blob was a really appropriate form to communicate that. Conceptually, it’s a term that defines a lot of things but also visually and physically it can be mutated into a lot of different things. It can be something really pretty but also something really disgusting.”
She concedes no apologies for her gravitation to experimenting with everyday materials to bring her visions to life, though she admits this affinity often makes for a volatile creative process. Something she thrives on. “It’s very unpredictable. All the forms are influenced by how the materials end up setting. I use a lot of expanding foam in my sculptures and the way it sets over time becomes the shape of the Blob that I work with.”
Sculpture is a relatively recent addition to the young artist’s practice, a direct response to the changing creative context she experienced throughout her research project, Seductive Monsters. “It’s about the ‘monstrous cute’, so rereading cuteness as a form of monstrosity. If we take Hello Kitty and analyse it in a real world context, the reason it’s cute is because it’s fabled. It has no fingers or mouth. Everything has been smoothed out into an unthreatening, friendly silhouette. Imagine it in the real world and it loses that illusion.”
However, as a painter, Zhang soon identified that communicating these concepts exclusively through the medium was not only becoming internally unsatisfying but also hindering the effectiveness of her messages. “The paintings always came before the sculptures but I wanted to move away from a flat surface. Last year was an exploration beauty and ways of evoking the blob, rather than seeing it so pictorially in terms of trying to address my thesis.”
Accessibility to her work is something Zhang also holds dear. But don’t mistake that for blind desire to satiate the needs of an audience, a vivid awareness that one exists is perhaps more fitting. “It would be great if people knew what I was about but in the end, as an artist, I’m making things to put out into the world. I don’t make things in my basement and leave them there, so considering that audience of people is important. Whatever they find attractive or bad or fascinating about the piece is… What I’m trying to say is it’s really for them.”
And from a viewer’s perspective, Zhang’s liberal utilisation of colour is perhaps the most immediate touch point. Applied in a manner that’s dreamlike but not quite surreal, colour maintains a ubiquitous presence in her work, with preference given to tones existing on the artificial end of the spectrum. “I really like the fact they are so manufactured and out of the ordinary. There’s something a little more stimulating about things that don’t exist in nature.” I asked her if she was the kid with all the glitter pens in high school.
“No, actually! I did most of my drawing with ink. It was my time at art school, where the projects really pushed us to use different materials, that I discovered my love for colour. One really saturated colour can really change how you perceive a work. I don’t want to connect colour with emotion but I definitely think the use of colour alters the way we view work.”
Irrespective of what individual experiences you bring her realms of infinite intrigue, it’s hard to deny the sense of fascination they conjure. “It’s the reason I love cartoons so much. That sense of nonsense logic that can only exist in, say, Adventure Time because it doesn’t make sense in the real world. I hope to also activate that.”
It’s also what’s driving her fledgling Masters research. “Things are still in flux and the more research I do, the more I discover. (It is becoming) more focused on amusement parks through the neo-baroque. (They are) the make-believe brought into a physical realm, a manufactured and controlled space to allow for play and the absurdity that would otherwise be outcast in normal life. I’m exploring these types of fictional space more and wondering why we need and have them.”