Tonee Messiah’s debut show at Nicholas Thompson Gallery, ‘In the Practice of Sitting’, explores three recurring themes – posture, place and sensation. Yet in her new work, familiar compositional movements and spatial relationships have been reanalysed by the unexpected confines of her home during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Observation of spaces has always played a key role in Messiah’s work, which she believes comes from her early childhood when her family transitioned back and forth between a small Kibbutz in Israel to coastal Australia, before finally settling in Sydney at the age of eleven.
‘I became observant of the spaces I inhabited and the people around me as a tactic to try and place myself within the social and physical dynamics of space,’ reflects the artist. Interestingly, it wasn’t the specific spaces that shaped Messiah’s subject but the frequent transitions. She became aware of the social nuances and the shifting energies of each environment, giving her a deep understanding of the requirements of assimilation, and her present-day ability to analyse and understand a space without relying on the specifics of language.
Utilising a non-use of language, Messiah relies on the stratagem of intuition to develop her work. Drawing on her knowledge and experience of painting, she consciously filters intuitive inclinations. Over the years she has gathered from Egon Schiele, David Hockney, Marlene Damas and most recently Amy Sillman, to refine her responses to spatial relationships and incorporate a soft focus painting technique, enabling a close link to her intuition. This approach becomes a means not to be over-intentional with the areas and planes of the canvas, preferring to create a nuance of sensations and feelings rather than a narrative discussion.
‘My work doesn’t say specific things, but it asks certain questions and will often avoid having finite resolutions to those questions, reflections on the lived experiences, avoiding the obvious facts of experiences but rather, some nuances of sensations and feelings that language can’t articulate very well,’ Messiah says.
In ‘In the Practice of Sitting’, Messiah uses her home as a testing ground and herself as the subject, exploring the sensation of confinement – where every domestic space has become inter-connected; the boundaries between each room blurred by the mindless entries and exits of each space. She explains, ‘I started to look at what are the shifts in these sensations, and I found a few key areas.’ In All Content No Form (2020), the sensation of working at her desk with the constant flow of information shooting at her seems to create a bug-eyed feeling. Within the painting Relapse (2020), the artist analyses the muscular sensations of posture, the bodily sensation of sitting, positioning, and situating. The repeated motif creates a ‘perpetual sameness’ experienced when you sit for long periods in a confined space, creating a different sense of self and perhaps reinterpretation of the surrounding area. In Synthesised Waterfall (2020), the shower, invites a different type of mindfulness and a distinct sense of distance and breadth is upheld, while daydreaming in the shower.
Tonee Messiah’s ‘In the Practice of Sitting’ grasps the viewer in curious dialogue, and leaves you with the sensation of wonderment within uncertainty.