essay by ken scarlett

The Other Side was conceived as a result of the purchase and installation of Brigit Heller's enchanting sculpture Poles Apart in the garden forecourt to the Icon Museum of Art, Deakin University. This engaging and evocative work of woven annealed wire was acquired by the university in 2004 with other sculptures by significant and emerging artists, in order to enhance the spirit and aesthetic qualities of the Melbourne Campus at Burwood. Collectively these striking sculptures have been placed in a sculptural walkway, visible from many viewpoints, providing accessibility and visual stimulation's.

The University community was inspired by Heller's artistic practice, which encouraged the artist to produce this new series of works for the current exhibition at the Icon Museum of Art. Heller's creative production is immediate and evocative. Her organic compositions in rich earthy tones are life-affirming, inviting and moody. They show a regard for the work of Australian sculptor John Davis in that they are delicate assemblages of raw materials largely drawn from the Australian landscape, each beautiful and mysterious, often small in scale and imbued with a distinctive personality.

Heller obtained a Certificate of Art and Design from the Auckland Institute of Technology in 1996 and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the VCA in 1998. ......and some CV stuff

The Icon Museum of Art is delighted to present this exceptional exhibition of Brigit Heller's work and would like to thank Ken Scarlett for his essay contribution in this catalogue. - Caroline Field

Essay by Ken Scarlett:

From the time of her arrival in Australia in 1997 the Swiss born Brigit Heller has consistently used natural materials and favoured techniques that require working by hand. Logs of wood, Mallee Roots, split firewood, Eucalyptus branches and particularly the young growth of Willow trees have been her chosen media. And even when she has edged beyond 

These locally found materials to use galvanised iron or rusting fencing wire, she has been at ease with such Australian materials. Not only has she adapted to a totally different environment, she has also brought with her a European sensibility and childhood memories of traditional basket weaving. The fusion has resulted in some highly distinctive works.

I distinctly remember being very impressed when I first saw her work in an outdoor exhibition at Mt Macedon in 1998, her final year at the VCA. Entitled A time of healing, it consisted of a simple cairn of burnt branches and twigs, cut at one end and stacked to form a slightly irregular cone. Nearby was another heap of burnt and blackened logs of wood. A reminder of the recent bush fires, it was both a simple memorial and a thought provoking sculptural arrangement. Using local materials, the newcomer from Europe had made a telling statement about this Australian environment. Her career as a sculptor had begun!

If the cairn in A Time of Healing may have been reminiscent of Andy Goldsworth and the spiral use in a work constructed of split firewood at Kyneton may have paid homage to David Nash, the installation of Mallee Roots in the VCA Graduate Show at the end of 1998 displayed a gutsy vigour which would have made Goldsworthy appear somewhat precious.

It was Flying Blind, however, exhibited at the Gasworks Park in late 2000 that introduced Heller's work to the public in Melbourne. Consisting of five towering cylinders of woven willow branches, 2,4 meters high, it held a commanding position on the flat lawns, and was undoubtedly one of the most original and successful works in this very diverse and innovative exhibition. Unexpectedly narrow at the base, the forms appeared to spiral upwards, imbuing the works with a sense of vitality and movement. While realising that they were made by hand, they had also a feeling of organic growth as they emerged, plant-like from the soil.

Though new to the scene, Brigit Heller quickly came to the notice of curators and selection committees and was included in prestigious exhibitions. Her large-scale work Prophecy, in the 2002 Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award put her in competition with some of Australia's leading contemporary sculptors, her work was both highly commended by the judges and the winner of the people's popular choice award.

Like the work previously shown at the gasworks these three forms were woven from Willow branches over a steel structure, but unlike the earlier work they were massive and heavy, more earth-bound. Nearly two maters in diameter, yet hollow, they tempted the spectators to try and lean over the edge and peer into their dark interiors. 

She is aware that she has been type-cast as the sculptor who weaves, and certainly she has exploited this technique more than any other current sculptor. Not that all her works are based on weaving, for a she has said,: I try to divert. I feel that I have to sometimes take a risk and try something new. "Once upon a Time" shown as part of an exhibition at Seawinds near Arthurs Seat in 2001, was certainly a different development, consisting of five vertical posts in galvanised steel, each containing orderly stacks of neatly cut small branches. Standing tall and slender in a circle, relating in a subtle manner to the trunks of the nearby pine trees, the work had a dignity and commanding presence. Then, in a complete change of scale, Heller made a number of minute works of exquisite refinement of a shop window display as part of the Toorak Village Festival of Sculpture. Using a range of rusted discarded food tins, she stuffed each one with very small objects, which somehow became transformed and took on a mysteriously precious quality. 

Just a Rosalie Gascoigne enjoyed scavenging for her materials around Canberra, Brigit Heller delights in working with the materials she gathers in the country-side around her in the Lancefield area. The collecting of materials is an essential part of my work. It takes me almost as long as the work itself. In one of her most successful installations, Poles Apart, shown as part of the McClelland Survey and Award in 2003, she switched from willow to wire to weave six gigantic flower-like forms set on high steel poles. These forms of nature now emerge from the lawn outside the Icon Museum of Art making a great contrast to the urban environment, giving people something else to experience.

Inside the Icon Museum of Art will be a range of new works (and new materials) proving the originality, versatility and finely tuned aesthetic of this artist who has impressed us all with the work she has produced over the last seven years. Indisputably, her is a career to be watched with great Interest! - Ken Scarlett