b. 1953, Port Pirie
Lives and works in Adelaide, Australia
Angela Valamanesh’s work is both familiar and mysterious: recognizable, but not immediately understood. Her drawings, ceramic objects, and watercolours are the result of an incredible depth of research, referencing complex scientific, historic, and philosophical ideas.
Valamanesh’s imagery stems from micro- and macro-biology, historic anatomical and botanical illustrations, natural history collections, and rare books. Valamanesh’s oeuvre is populated with the animal, vegetable, and mineral with glimpses of microbes, bacteria, pathogens, and spores.
Angela Valamanesh was born in Port Pirie, South Australian in 1953 and currently lives and works in Adelaide. Valamanesh holds a Diploma in Design in Ceramics from the South Australian School of Art (1977), a Master of Visual Arts from the University of South Australia (1993), and a PhD from the University of South Australia (2012).
Valamanesh has participated in many solo and group exhibitions including: Heartlands, Contemporary Art from South Australia, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (2013); and the South Australian Living Artists Festival, Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, Adelaide (2015). Valamanesh’s work is held in several significant collections in Australia including the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra and the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.
“The practice of building groups or arrangements has existed in my work for a number of years now and their linear qualities still remind me of the way letters form words or sentences on a page. Also in this more recent work the reference to the way specimens in collections are often presented to us is perhaps relevant.” (excerpt from artist statement, 2007)
 Kenneally, Cath. Angela Valamanesh: About being here. Wakefield Press, 2009.
ALMOST HUMAN -
‘Art, philosophy, and science each erect a plane, a sieve, over chaos, a historicotemporal and mutually referential field of inter- acting artworks, concepts, and experiments (respectively), not to order or control chaos but to contain some of its fragments in some small space (a discourse, a work of art, an experiment), to reduce it to some form that the living can utilize without being completely overwhelmed.’
- Grosz, Elizabeth, 2008, Chaos, Territory, Art. Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth, Columbia University Press, Pg 28.
The various works in Almost human began with my observations and drawings from an anatomical textbook for medical students. Later I branched off into the field of comparative anatomy and detoured into the province of early scientific illustration made using microscopes. These collected observations have become a deep pool of imagery that I can draw upon.
I like the idea of fishing in relation to making art - perhaps it’s like the sieve that Elizabeth Grosz alludes to - not knowing what fragment I’ll catch and being surprised sometimes.
ARTIST STATEMENT -
Once again my work takes its cue from scientific illustration, in particular the world of the microscopic. Airborne, 2011, is based on images of pollen grains. Seemingly infinite in their variety, each flowering plant requiring pollination by a specific grain, they were first observed and illustrated with the aid of a microscope in the 1600’s by botanists such as Nehemiah Grew. Ferdinand Bauer’s more recent watercolours painted in the mid 1800’s are, like Grew’s images, still recognisable as the same material portrayed with the use of today’s electron microscope.
In Airborne the cavity formed by plaster casting of a solid form acknowledges transience and loss, impermanence. Every living flowering plant has had a different pollen grain and the study of extinct flora includes the study of fossilised pollen grains, paleopalynology. With this in mind I set about making a visual representation of a minute fraction of the invisible material surrounding us: the world in which we are embedded.
Apart from pollen grains, the other microscopic material represented in this exhibition is the parasite. Again, of startling variety, and offcourse not always microscopic, parasites, both plant and animal, according to ABC Radio National’s Natasha Mitchell of All in the Mind constitute half of life on earth. We need some parasites, although not all, and probably not those that manipulate the behaviour of their hosts by co-opting their brains.
The Earthly garden series with its combination of ceramic and watercolour on paper again relies on the transformation of scientific illustration. Echoing the phenomenon of collecting, naming, describing, ordering and classifying, ultimately an impossible task when one takes into account the predominance of microscopic life around us and the extinction of many life-forms,the works take the form of poetic distillations.
A LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING
ARTIST STATEMENT -
'There is no science without fancy, and no art without fact.' Vladimir Nabokov
The works for this exhibition are all drawn from images of microscopic life, most of which come from early scientific illustration, from sources such as the Barr Smith Library’s Special Collection. Some are more clearly identifiable than others. I am interested in the interconnectedness of life and the potential of a union between science and poetry, the rational and the irrational, formal and symbolic.
A little bit of everything, an on-going series, is perhaps more directly related to rare book collections. Apart from the text and images contained within the early publications, the physical quality of the paper, often slightly buckled and dotted with age spots, like old skin, is fascinating. Watercolour on paper is a completely different process than making objects from clay but there are some similarities such as the transformation of material from wet to dry and the surprises that arise due to the unpredictable qualities of both materials.
WORKS FROM THE NATURAL HISTORY COLLECTION
ARTIST NOTES -
Anatomical studies have been used extensively by artists over the years especially as reference points for figurative sculpture and portrait painting but early anatomists also made three dimensional wax models of body parts as teaching aids and these surprisingly durable and beautiful objects have also been inspirational.
More recently the imagery in my work has included enlargements of microscopic organisms. The work usually begins with what I think is an interesting image, sometimes developed from a drawing or photograph to a three dimensional form and scale which feels right.
Somehow the use of clay as the media for constructing these forms feels appropriate to the subject matter, something to do with it being such a common material that we are all connected to.