TarraWarra Museum of Art
Until May 24th

There is something poignant about Denise Green’s current exhibition Evanescence at TWMA given this past summer’s events and these beautiful autumn days seem to make it more so.

Recently, my sister and I decided to take a drive up to Kinglake and the Yarra Valley for the first time since Black Saturday. As you drive further up the hill from St Andrews these days, the bush abruptly turns from a rust splattered landscape to an extraterrestrial wilderness festered with carbon black limbs supporting empty canopies through which the hills are visible and nude like a crowd of stubbly skulls. The disfigurement is gruesome and the irrevocability of it is distressing to experience in the real.  It is easy to forget how beautiful it was. I thought of Kurt Vonnegut’s description of the bombing of Dresden in Slaughterhouse 5 as a single flame that ate everything that could burn reducing the once spectacular city to nothing but minerals like the surface of the moon. My sister anxiously turned to me at one point and said she felt almost guilty for saying it but that she found it eerily beautiful. She was right, the awe we felt was due in part to the signs of renewal already sprouting in brilliant attacks of bright green from the ashen trunks of the eucalyptus trees and partly from the unique and hostile existential beauty of such a vast and altogether alien landscape, like the Antarctic or, indeed, like the moon.

Driving back down the hill into the Yarra Valley, we dropped in on TWMA and visited the current retrospective of works by Denise Green. Green’s paintings are quiet, delicate handlings of objects of metonymic significance. The image of the rose was the most tangible for me as it fades across the canvas implying the transience --or ‘evanescence’-- of objects, of all things, of life. From what I have read, these works were evoked from personal experiences of loss including the death of her mother and from Green’s own private trauma of having observed the destruction of the Twin Towers from her Manhattan studio. A connected leitmotif is the repeated image in the Square Column Series of a single stone fragment that was given to Green from the ruins of the Frauenkirche, the Baroque cathedral that was the jewel of Dresden before it was destroyed in the firebombing of 1945 to be painstakingly rebuilt sixty years later.

Looking out the column windows of the impressive gallery space, beyond the golden vineyards, you can see where the fire-lines had raced across the hills like some dreadful Storrier painting only a hundred-odd days ago. There is something incongruous about the two visions: the apocalyptic nature of fire in contrast to the sanguine beauty of a typical Autumn’s day in the Yarra Valley. These juxtaposing relationships between beauty and destruction, loss and renewal embody Green’s work and what better paradox than the thorny beauty of a rose. Green’s titles insinuate their intent: A Rose is… acknowledges the metonymic underpinnings of Gertrude Stein’s most famous attempt to reinstate the power of the word, the representation, to evoke the referent itself in all its splendour. For me, Green’s rose reverberates across the canvas, succeeding in such an evocation.

The current exhibition of Green’s work at TWMA can be interpreted as a sensitive meditation on the themes of grief and beauty, devastation and regeneration. A complement to the region’s recent history, the exhibition is worth a visit if you’re able to make the trip out and support the local communities in the fire-affected areas.

By Sussi Ross

Sussi  Ross

Of Danish/ Australian parentage, Sussi did her schooling in Copenhagen before returning to Melbourne in 1997 where she completed a degree in Creative Arts at VCA. She currently works as a freelance artist/ graphic designer and exhibits in Melbourne.