Lives and works in Melbourne
Through critical investigation James Geurts draws out geographic and conceptual forms that are layered within specific sites of research. The artist examines how natural and cultural forces shape perception.
Geurts works across the disciplines of sculpture, drawing, video, photography and Land Art.
Exhibitions include: National Gallery of Victoria; White Cube, London; TarraWarra Biennial, awarded the ACME Studio residency London, Australia Council for the Arts, Gemak, Den Haag Netherlands; Centre for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv Israel; The Sovereign Asian Art Prize, Hong Kong, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide; La Chambre Blanche, Quebec; and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.
SEISMIC FIELD / 2018
Seismic Field examines the relationship between geophysical forms and consciousness. Geurts intervenes the processes of scanning, polaroid photography and 3d mapping as site actions, disrupting the form and colour field, blurring the lines between geology and technological praxis. The works investigate seismic phenomena and cultural context, amplifying their perceptual and physical thresholds.
NATIONAL GALLERY OF VICTORIA
Floodplain identifies a series of sites and cultural institutions along the floodplain of the 242 kilometre Yarra River (Birrarung) to examine conceptually where the ancient river and the contemporary city collide.
Based on more than six months of field and archival research undertaken by James Geurts at the State Library Victoria and Melbourne Water, this project explores the impact of floods on the environment and their residue. Floodplain examines where the river has been significantly rerouted or widened over time, in order to influence the potential of future floods, and it draws out unique connections between the river and key cultural institutions situated within the Yarra floodplain.
This project suggests the natural power of great floods through a series of photographs capturing site-specific light installations. The neon sculptures by Geurts signal the high-water marks of historic Yarra floods, and represent the debris and residue left after the water has subsided.
His photographs, taken at the intersection of day and night, give form to the invisible force and breadth of floods.
TOPOGRAPHY OF WATER / 2014
Topography of Wateris a series of site and time-specific works on paper and Polaroid photographic works made at various water bodies around the world. This series of works was made at threshold sites, the meeting place of two bodies of water: Sydney Harbour/Pacific Ocean; St Lawrence River/ Saguenay River, Quebec, Lagoa de Obidos /Atlantic Ocean, Portugal, Halifax Harbour/Atlantic Ocean, Nova Scotia; Birrarung River /Port Phillip Bay, Victoria; Towamba River/ Twofold Bay, Eden; Tidal River/Bass Strait, Victoria; Upper Yarra Resevoir/Birrarung River, Victoria.
Drawing In, Drawing Out: Sydney Harbour/Pacific Ocean,was made on-site during the in and out going tides, drawing toward and away from the body consecutively, relating the five-hour tidal moment to breathing in and breathing out.This process is referred to as ‘psycho-topographical mapping’ – a practice associated with psychogeography and its exploration of place and perception. Frequently the works are developed across a number of media in response to a single site in what Geurts refers to as ‘expanded drawing practice’.He gains a sense of each place through extended periods of fieldwork, taking note of what the site reveals, hides and suggests over time.
Drawing : Psychogeographyworks involve modifying the developing process of large format Polaroid photography at each site. Geurts exposes the chemical layers of the film to extreme temperatures, humidity and salinity, whilst drawing out abstractions through his gestural intervention on the film’s surface. These gestures seek to align with the physical dynamics, atmosphere and psychological states suggested by the site. This process of combining drawing techniques to translate a sense of space and the movement of water bodies aims at an ‘expanded potentiality’ of experience that conveys both the shared and distinct features of the geographical locations in which he has worked around the globe.
In 2013 Geurts established an ongoingconceptual art project called the Embassy for Waterthat functions as a curatorial and critical umbrella for a water-based series of artworks and events. Embassy for Wateractivates the central role of water as a physical and imaginary presence in the interwovenwaterways throughout the world, with which the human water-body is a part.
Through this spatial multiplicity, Embassy for Waterdraws together particular water flows as part of an inescapably global water body that defies national boundaries. In collaboration with artist and curator Julie Louise Bacon (UK/AU), he devised an iteration of the Embassy for Waterthat formed part of Leeuwarden’s successful bid to be named European Capital of Culture 2018. This will result in a year-long program of art events in the Dutch city and the surrounding area.
- James Geurts, 2014
BASTARDS OF PARADISE / 2006
"Between Elegy and Resolve — testing the weather" by Ken Bolton, 2006
James Geurts’ recent works have included moving projections that are abstract and powerfully ambient—an amniotic surround of pulse and pattern— and works that resemble more closely fi lmic narrative vignette—as well as static works that are akin to traditional painting and sculpture. They work singly and, assembled, aggregate effectively as installation. Picnic, not in the current exhibition (but shown recently at Conical Gallery, Melbourne), is a triptych of moving images. Its three frames show aspects of a single scene in which a wind blows across what appears to be a picnic shelter. We see the scene as more or less iconically Australian and suggestive of a narrative mise en scene. But the action, it becomes clear, is that white strands and clumps of foam are blown from a depression on the scene’s edge across the foreground. The viewer only registers this after some time, and it is a little longer before we begin to see this as unnatural waste material, something toxic. We note, still later, that there is a further deposit of the material in the more distant background. The scene is all of ‘pretty’, ‘depressing’, ‘actual’ and ‘neutral’, and it also is patently ‘ongoing’. Is it an event we have any control over? In close-up the white foam is attractively fl uffy and at the same time vaguely oleaginous. Picnic is not atypical. Focusing on moments of separation, containment and isolation, Geurts’ work overall contemplates the growing divide within the relationship of the human and the land—apprehensively, regretfully, and with urgency. It makes no stentorian Green protest and neither is it elegy for a lost cause. In fact it does not address itself to already fi xed convictions. Much of the artist’s work functions on a monumentalising scale, working with microcosmic detail—leaf and branch, wavelength, pattern. This is nothing so corny as ‘nature in a grain of sand’. Rather that that grain’s infi nite extension is implied. The grain of the natural world (cellular growth, patterns of movement, of decay, renewal, and flux) is, in mass, the medium and support for our own lives. Geurts typically works with real or abstracted patterns of wind, cloud, or with the manner in which different materials deliquesce, stream or change shape under pressure from wind and gravity. The effect is a kind of sublimity which elicits a vote-for-nature effect on the viewer. The more abstract pieces employ with heightened colours, some of which evoke the natural and others of which evoke a chemical, nonorganic and ‘poisonous’ homogeneity (CLH5). This last is absorbingly ominous, doing the sort of work a Jeffrey Smart painting never does, the latter’s disquieting irony here becomes palpable threat. Impressively, the fl oor piece—an abstraction of images of containers—works to offer a pretty counter or grace-note to the more evil attraction projected behind it, but serves also to act as a guard denying us full access to the latter’s space, aping the impersonal barriers we expect to encounter on such sites. Stage 2 is long, horizontal in format, blue in overall colour. One is reminded of the American Abstract Expressionist Robert Motherwell’s series of paintings collectively entitled Elegy for The Spanish Republic—and also of some of Morris Louis’s ‘veil’ paintings: like Motherwell’s, Louis’s ‘veils’ are large and brooding. Geurts, who began as an abstract painter, is able to harness these effects to his theme. Other pieces in this same format in Bastards Of Paradise are of ice-flfl oe and leaf-like patterns—so the degree of abstraction varies, is intentionally and productively indeterminate. Often it is created through literal weathering and chemical change: frames abraded and fading, hues bleached by the heat of a fluoro, say. Our recognition of the natural in these abstractions—patterns of movement, of interval, of structure (tidal, crystalline, cellular and so on)— is also recognition in the sense of the word that connotes acknowledgement, an acceding to. It is recognition that is not made simply on the surface but which the work has us absorb more deeply. It is ‘academically’ interesting as well as immediately so, that this new application of the Sublime should have the same improving, enlarging effects on the ‘participating’ viewer as envisaged by the Romantics. I say ‘participating’ because we are required, I think, to put ourselves ‘under the spell’ when we sense it as there, available, proffered. It is this respect, among others, that James Geurts’ work is openly propositional, to a degree declaring its intents, foregrounding its strategies. That is, its manner of proposing, of address, is offered undisguised. On the other hand, the induction the work would effect is via a relatively complex understanding or reception—made of both the somatic and intellectual. It is Assent/Recognition that is somehow bodily, or fuller than mere ‘front brain’ apportioning of categories, for it brings into play the body’s somatic and instinctive registers of scale, calibration of threat and of predictable sequence, in parallel with our rational reception of the data as art works.