Text

Catalogue essay by Stephen Palmer, Between the sky and the ground II, Bus Projects, Melbourne, 2016

Between the sky and ground II (an image)
Fiona Williams
by Stephen Palmer


Between the sky and the ground suggests the familiar territory of everyday activity; a loosely designated space within which some events are to occur. It seems also to name a kind of non-site, the infinitely small space of a line of demarcation within a painting or a photograph. This is indicative of the conventional condition of the landscape image, typically balanced between these complimentary fields. But Fiona Williams’ images abscond this familiar line. Instead her practice attempts to enter directly into this notion of ‘between’: entailing a fraying of the distinction between sediment and firmament, atmosphere and object; defying orientation in favour of the partial or transitory.

Indeed Between the sky and the ground appears to name quite an extensive zone, yet the images themselves, as is consistent with Williams’ wider practice, operate through a strategy of intensification and exclusion. An image would seem to be something shown, something given to sight, apprehendable. Here what is shown speaks of something else, something concealed, or of the limitations of what is recorded and given to our viewing. A tightly framed Polaroid, cropping an area of grass and concrete, operates like a glance towards the earth as one wanders or stumbles towards some other point. Though discrete, the dramatic perspective of this image lends a lurching rhythm echoed elsewhere in the exhibition. Paintings on aluminium pick up snippets of foliage, which flicker on the surface of the metal as if caught there temporarily. At the same time the aluminium seems as if it could be a permeable surface–like that of a river–from which the marks are emerging, as if feigning the temporal development of a Polaroid.

Central to the exhibition is a video, captured by the artist as she walked along the bank of a river, following the line traced by the flowing water.[1] Here what can be captured within the confines of the frame, and what remains unseen whilst performing this expedition, is of consequence. The gait of the artist, and her shifting attention, permeates the image. What we see is not simply the document of a journey, but rather the process through which the river becomes pictorial, or rather, becomes cinematic. The components of this process title the work–the river, my camera, and me–indicating the basic instruments in relation to which the river perhaps cannot help but transform itself into an image. In another sense the river is already an image before the artist begins this engagement, and the process of the work is an attempt to decompose this image, to allow the river itself to intervene in this moment, even if the work inevitably returns it back to image status.   

This work provides the point of departure for a number of others in the show, including a large number of small paintings, which appear to reconstitute particular frames of the video. These images add emphasis to discrete compositions, which would otherwise be lost in the flow of the recording, and at the same time scratch at the stability of that footage. Though this use of a large number of paintings in a regular format is unusual in the artist’s broader practice, these images share with previous works a method of careful selection and redaction. Looming fields are left empty (as are facets of objects, or areas of detail in previous paintings) while other sections are painted with a rapidity, which largely obscures definite reference in terms of scale and form. These omissions work against the sense of the image as an authoritative representation or neutral picturing of the world. And they lend a tension to the image, in terms of the bearing of the unseen on the marks that are produced. Furthermore this configuration of extracts confounds all sense of the linear temporality of the video, as well as the implicit teleology of the recording as a ‘journey.’

There is another type of movement at stake here, into the interval between frames as discontinuous images, or even painterly marks as discontinuous gestures. This is compounded with the artist’s onerous and subtle configuring of images and surfaces within the gallery space, which anticipates the aleatory shift of natural light and the audience’s gaze. Between the sky and the ground calls for an attentiveness to the image as never fixed or finished, but caught in a ongoing process of negotiation.

Stephen Palmer is an artist and a lecturer in Fine Art at Monash University.




[1] In making this work Williams attempted to “move in time with the river’s own duration.” This strategy served as an attempt to depart from the typical filmic practices to which this place had been subjected.



Catalogue essay by Jan Bryant, hesitation, Bus Projects, Melbourne, 2014


Hesitation… Picture a space, a break … an ellipsis, a pause / what falls into the chasm of this faltering juncture, this momentary slice into thought or action to which we designate the word ‘hesitation’? The artists in this show, Alex Achtem, Catherine Connolly, Stephen Palmer, Fiona Williams, have formed a communion in hesitation. As both a method and an ethics of making, the artists are at their most ‘honest’ when they are struggling to find the certainty of next the ‘action’.  To be in the grip of ‘hesitation’ is to be carried by hesitation’s own sense of time… This feeling of timelessness is without the measure of certainty… And yet, uncertainty, by its very nature, is inevitably harnessed to its dialectical other…

For the artist must give up, must yield, must surrender, without hesitation, to the certainty of the next move.

And thus, as with hesitation, (un)certainty may live for only a millisecond, before being synthesised (momentarily) into its opposite…

Or, at other times, more rare, less precious, certainty may sustain the hubris of the finished work, in the way Atlas held up the celestial sphere…



Picture the poet who thinks “the mind need not rush in to fill a void … In the broken thing, moreover, human agency is oddly implied: breakage, whatever its cause, is the dark complement to the act of making; the one implies the other. The thing that is broken has particular authority over the act of change.”

[Louise Glück, 1993]

Picture the gambler the moment before the dice are tossed in the air, poised with dice in hand—she shakes…hesitates…shakes again. This pause, this stretching of time, this deeply inhaled breath is a pause just before chance takes over, and in that breath is the concentration of both the greatest expectation and the greatest uncertainty.

Picture the metaphysician who proposes; “to begin for good is to begin in the inalienable possession of oneself. It is then to be unable to turn back; it is to set sail and cut the moorings. From then on one has to run through the adventure to its end. To interrupt what was really begun is to end it in a failure, and not to abolish the beginning. The failure is part of the adventure. What was interrupted does not sink into nothingness like a game. This means that an action is an inscription in being. And indolence, as a recoil before action, is a hesitation before existence, an indolence about existing.”

[Emmanuel Levinas, 1947]

Picture the novelist who writes… these revolving, confused evocations never lasted for more than a few seconds; often, in my brief uncertainty about were I was, I did not distinguish the various suppositions of which it was composed any better than we isolate, when we see a horse run, the successive positions shown to us by a kinetoscope.

[Marcel Proust, 1914]

Picture the editor of Nietzsche’s notes who must negotiate after the philosopher’s death the abyss of difference that falls between the writer’s intent and the reader’s reading, and who finally decides that “suspension points … do not indicate an omission [but] are Nietzsche’s ‘hesitation’ points.”

[Kate Sturg, 2003]

Picture the artist Catherine Connolly who treats hesitancy as a formal quality of the work, as well as an ethical approach to practice. Her work is formed in negotiation with the materials and their possible arrangement in space, a process of extemporisation that is charged with diffidence and hesitancy. There is a point of possible collapse between the thing, as a finite thing, and a thing subject to change over the life of the exhibition, for the materials will persist through time, beyond the will of the artist. Slight and faulting, the work’s affect will be found in the remains of small gestures and modifications … and it is with such self-effacement that the work and the artist enter the world.

Picture the artist Stephen Palmer who intensifies the experience of hesitation by literalising it. In uttering the ‘um’ of hesitation, he has stretched the time of its being.  And by shining his bright light on the timelessness of the ‘um’, he turns hesitation into both the method and the content of his work. In thrusting the um of hesitation into the infinite space of self-referentiality, the dialectic comes to a stop, and the end of history engulfs us in the timelessness of a single gesture...

Picture the artist Fiona Williams. Uncertainty unfolds as a process of questioning tested against how the work might be constituted once it enters ‘the world’—how to make the lightest of interventions, the smallest of touches, and how to capture atmospheres that are as light as the airiest of abstractions. Fiona’s dusty, light-drenched, starlight drawings and cyanotypes struggle to ‘represent’ that which can’t be represented (an ethical approach that actively delays the violence of representation)—the transparency of air is ‘captured’ through a range of mediating agents… illumination, camera-less image capture, the drawings of the artist…

Picture the artist Alex Achtem whose silence is a hollow, voiceless murmur from afar, so that the absence of her communication is hesitation itself, a black hole of silence, where the depths of all silence lives…(for the sake of analogy, it is so quiet here it feels as though even my loyal electronic friends and their persistent, high-pitched humming have all left me, and I am all alone with the silence of books which now have only small bullet holes into their souls)…

Picture the critic, and the critic of the critic who each imagines “this halt is only a halting, a hesitation, a pause in the progress, which will be driven inexorably on-by tradition, by history, by the restless energy of the imagination.” For it is the job of the critic to disrupt the fluency of the viewer. 

[Michael Sprinker on Geoffrey H. Hartman, 1980]

The poet, the gambler, the metaphysician, the editor, the novelist, the artists, in the midst of this moment of confused/confusing, blurriness, which is both nothing and everything to thinking and practice, each discovers that they are now without the communion of others, which reminds me of Rousseau’s final walks, where he tells us; “I am now alone on earth, no longer having any brother, neighbour, friend, or society other than myself.”

[Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Reveries of the Solitary Walker, 1776–78]


 [Works cited]

Rüdiger Bittner (ed.), Friedrich Nietzsche, Writings from the Late Notebooks, (trans.) Kate Sturg
Louisa Glück, “Disruption, Hesitation, Silence”, The American Poetry Review, 1993
Emmanuel Levinas, Existence and Exitents, (trans.) Alphonso Lingis, 1978
Marcel Proust, Swanns Way, 1914, (trans.)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Reveries of the Solitary Walker, 1776–78
Michael Sprinker, “Hermeneutic Hesitation: The Stuttering Text”Boundary, 1980




Catalogue piece by Victoria Wynne-Jones, Between the sky and the ground, Northern Centre for Contemporary Art, Darwin, 2014




There you are!

Sunlight falls. As seen from above, pale green trees interrupt the light, creating black lace shadows on the brown soil. A squirrel scampers across the dusty-dry ground. Dust and ground.

The ground is something beneath us that we constantly tread upon. It can also be the background, something to be written, painted or drawn upon. The ground is something we all draw upon in footsteps and tracks.

White paper creates a ground for writing, painting or drawing. It craves marks and symbols, points and lines… it begs for ink to seep into it, for blue or black or blue-black ink to swish across, to create watery horizons, stratified landscapes with waterfalls.

White paper creates a ground covered in snow. Points form in the snow. Perhaps they are people as seen from above, perhaps they are stars seen in negative. Little crosses in the white snow look a bit like the footprints made from small birds. As seen from above. Traces of movements of smallness.

Making an event –however small – is the most delicate thing in the world…

As seen from above, snow has fallen to the ground. It lies in drifts and banks. Someone has made a path through it… “something that can be passed through.” Peering from a window to the scene and snow below one can look down upon a field of snow.

Snow upon the ground. Dust and ground.

A background of night-sky blue and against it gradations of white. Against the night-sky are milky galaxies of multitudes of crowded stars swirling around. Scattered and dispersed. White powder, dust, powdery snow, the trace of a thrown snowball? 

The spreading splatter of a thrown snowball… a snowball of tightly-compressed snow. Snow padded together into a ball by gloved hands then thrown, thrown onto a ground, a blue ground. Or just merely dust upon a ground. Ever so slight but present, dust was there upon the paper, then touched by the sun the dusting leaves a trace. Sunshine falls upon the ground, dust interrupts the light, creating white absences.

Positive then negative, blue, then white. Exterior, interior.

Peering from a window one can see the scene below. Peering through the screen of a phone one can frame vines and trees in a forest. Through the screen of a phone colours became slightly grey, faded, pixelated. Water sitting over stones looks blue then grey, all awash as if asking for a brush to be dipped into it.

Dust motes rising and falling, in the air, gathered dust in the corners of a room. Fallen snow and sandy soil. Spray from a waterfall, the smell of rivers and streams, the dampness of trees, undergrowth and grasses. Warming sunlight and the sharp coolness of shadows. Changes in the atmosphere. Paths, hills and fields. The smell of snow. New paper, quietly marking pens and pencils.

Small decisions and small moments…

There you are, squirrel!


Victoria Wynne-Jones, June 2014

Victoria Wynne-Jones is currently a doctoral candidate in Art History at the University of Auckland and a curator at Window gallery.



† Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues, trans. by Hugh Tomlinson a.o., Columbia University Press, New York, 1987, p. 66.







Exhibition text for Untitled (snow-white), Seventh Gallery, June, 2011


Untitled (snow-white)
9 - 25 June 2011



Despite avoiding a closed title, there are multiple suggestions made by the sub-title of this exhibition which form part of the internal logic that draws these works together. “Snow-white” is a reference to Gerhard Richter’s over-painted photographs, a series of works often annotated with two dates of recording, that of photographing and over-painting. Richter’s use of this title was intended to evoke the potential of the colour white and the different fictive and generative potential within both the material of paint and photographic images. A painting of a photograph will also always have multiple inscriptions of time, though this may not be directly noted beyond the trace left after a certain remove. And they may be almost entirely fictitious.
Snow-white also recalls the idea of something that appears deathly, but is actually alive or retains a vitality, like a photograph may be at the very least awaken-able.Most of all, the works chosen here could be said to function aesthetically like snow. That is, having a visual intensity, while acknowledging also the difficult of seeing and the near impossibility of holding. The paintings on aluminium have a level of visibility that is dependant on and changes within light: the aluminium surface both holds and reflects light, a dim but extensive sense of space, and the viewer’s reflection, each shifting as one moves across the image. And the material of paint both creates and withholds its subject. Within this push and pull effect the works regain a temporality, in the viewer’s present. When I work with photographs it is quite specifically to find something new, to open again an image of what has been, to what may be now.  

                                                                                                                                                     Fiona Williams 2011
                                                                                                                                              






Catalogue essay by Rebecca B. Adams for Untitled (Photographing II), Inflight ARI, October 2010


Against Representation: 
Fiona Williams’ Untitled (Photographing II)
­­


Whilst concerned with photography as subject matter/content, Fiona Williams’ project/practice is a fluid and painterly one. Approaching the subject of photography and photographing temporally, as opposed to the notion of static objects presenting truth or authenticity, Williams posits painting as ‘event’[1]. Evading the photographic subject, Williams pictures whilst attempting to deny representation; she produces images that are referential rather than directly representational. She hovers delicately on the brink of representational sentimentality, pulling back at just the right moment, because ultimately what is represented at all is irrelevant – it is the encounter that matters[2]. As interpreted by Simon O’Sullivan, avoiding figuration can be viewed in Deleuzian terms as an attempt to move ‘beyond the figure’; the figural to be distinguished from figuration as a deterretorialisation and ‘becoming’ of the figure; the figural employed for affective encounters.[3] ‘Affect’ can be defined as “the effect a given object or practice has on its beholder, and on their ‘becomings’”- they are felt experiences.[4] As such, painting as a practice can be viewed as the ‘making perceptible of the imperceptible’, or as the visualization of affect,[5] experienced in time.

The work occupies a liminal space between memory and representation; it is involved in a constantly shifting process of becoming[6] (as opposed to mimesis), thus memory for Williams is a theoretical rather than a sentimental or nostalgic concern. This distinction can be apprehended best via her deliberate avoidance of representing too clearly her subjects; undeniably the subjects she chooses to photograph/paint/film/draw are highly personal, drawn from life, yet she holds herself (and us) back from falling into such a trap via the obtuseness of the manner of representation and the apparently arbitrary subject selection. The irrelevance of the subjects of Williams’ pictorial representations constitutes content in and of itself; the permeable sense of melancholia associated with obscured visual content connotes/invokes memory. Williams’ practical utilization (or invocation) of memory as fluid and inter/changeable repetitious artistic process could in this manner also be construed as an implementation of Deleuzian methodology.  Memory here is not nostalgic; it is undergoing an ‘active synthesis’[7] of construction, interpretation, de-construction and re-constitution via repetition and the recycling of works and motifs in a seemingly endless search for affective potential[8].

Williams’ employment of repetition and recycling can be read as an articulation of thought processes of memory and becoming. According to Deleuze, memory is an active construction, in which elements are repeated, but are always different as each time we are thinking about them differently[9]. The repetition of ‘the same’ in representation and resemblance must be distinguished from the repetition of difference, which is ‘that which cannot be represented but only repeated’. To quote O’Sullivan (quoting Colebrook), “We need to repeat difference and thinking; the minute we feel we have grasped what difference and thinking are then we have lost the very power of difference. Repetition is not the reoccurrence of the same old thing over and over again: to repeat something is to begin again, to renew, to question, and to refuse remaining the same”. Here, repetition is interpreted as ‘reactivation’, not re-presentation. [10]Just as in Williams’ practice, where works are re-used in new configurations, maybe with new/other elements but always with different potentialities for affective encounters and signification. The ‘work’ is constituted by this active practice of configuration for new potentialities, rather than by the production of individual works themselves.

Standing on the precipice of intelligibility, there is a palpable sense of searching for something meaningful in Williams’ work, to which this active process of memory is key. All the whilst denying direct representation of subjects close to heart; the subject is always obscured, flattened out in blocks of colour, overtaken by reflection. Longing, yearning, drawing out through decision-making, drawing back in; not revealing too much; self-preservation. For all its melancholia, Williams’ work is thus a highly personal project; a point no doubt contested by the artist herself, yet undeniably present. Her practice is inseparable from the manner in which she exists within the world, just as each work is connected to every other work; this is an art practice that can only function in its multiplicity; one cannot really speak of individual works as the practice is irreducible to the physically isolated elements that constitute it. Works can only be read in the terms of their relations to other works, and one could argue that to attempt to divorce a single work from its context is the point at which the project ceases to function; it becomes unintelligible. A sense of loss permeates Williams’ work – not only due to the absent or ambiguous subject, its blotting out by the harsh blinding glare of the sun, or its omission from the painted surface in favour of the cold dull reflectiveness of aluminium. It is precisely this potential for loss, for unintelligibility and obliteration of meaning that is most striking.


Rebecca B. Adams
September 2010

Rebecca B. Adams is an artist and writer living and working in Melbourne. She is a Kings Artist Run Initiative committee member and studio artist, and is currently undertaking a Masters of Fine Art at Monash University.

[1] Simon O’Sullivan, Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari: Thought Beyond Representation, Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire 2006 p.135
[2] ibid p.125
[3] ibid p.59
[4] ibid p.38
[5] ibid p.47
[6] ibid p.55
[7] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, Continuum, London 2004 p.102
[8] Simon O’Sullivan, Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari: Thought Beyond Representation, Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire 2006 p.43
[9] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, Continuum, London 2004 p.102
[10] Simon O’Sullivan, Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari: Thought Beyond Representation, Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire 2006 p. 134





After many conversations in the studios at Kings, a catalogue essay by Rebecca B. Adams on two of my favourite texts for Photograph Videos (Polaroid Project 2008-09), Kings ARI, June 2009 



Fiona Williams: In Search of Lost Time

Upon its initial publication in the English Language, the title of Marcel Proust’s literary masterpiece A La Recherche du Temps Purdu had been translated as Remembrance of Things Past. Photographs, viewed in terms of their literal functional purpose, serve as documents to remind us of things in the past - events, people, places. As a medium that represents the past, photography carries all of the requisite associations with memory, nostalgia and romanticism that the interpretation Remembrance of Things Past also connotes.

Polaroid photography can be viewed as quite a nostalgic medium. Its particular softness of image, the immediacy of gratification it affords, and the familiar sound of the camera spitting out the film are all reminiscences from a childhood of the 80s - arguably the heyday of Polaroid. Fiona Williams’ Photograph Videos and Photographs displays a definite fondness for the medium. Polaroid photography is a notoriously difficult medium to control (Roland Barthes once described Polaroid as “Fun, but disappointing, except when a great photographer is involved”)[1], however Williams utilises this inherently fickle nature to dissociate her images from dialogues concerned with ‘good’ photography. The artist maintains that the subject of her photographs is relatively irrelevant, selecting landscapes during long walks based entirely upon instinct and their evasiveness of subject. However, in the broader context of Williams’ art practice (which includes painting and drawing as well as photography and video) visual motifs are repeated over and over. Landscape is one such element; another is the horse, which has an ethereal presence in Photograph Videos and Photographs. The pale horse has a strong symbolism grounded in mythology, and has associations with both eternity and death. The pale horse has also found a place in the popular contemporary imagination, functioning on a symbolic level in Hollywood productions such as Blade Runner and Twin Peaks. Perhaps the pale horse has been adopted by Hollywood as an avatar for an as-yet unacknowledged trauma, and can thus be seen to function in this work in a similar way.

Photograph Videos and Photographs gives the impression of landscape only; shrouded in the familiar dreamlike haze characteristic of Polaroid, images are chosen for the ‘right’ balance of presence and absence. Barthes describes the ‘fantasmatic’ nature of landscape photography as awakening desire; it carries him forward to a ‘utopian time’, and sends him back into himself (into memory).[2] It is this fantasmatic nature that is arguably present within the evasive landscapes of Fiona Williams’ Photograph Videos and Photographs. Rather than speaking directly to conscious memory, Williams teases out subtle identifications that are perhaps unnameable. As Barthes says, “The incapacity to name is a good symptom of disturbance.”[3] This subtle relationship to the uncanny, echoed by the doubling of image and object, disrupts and complicates the potential for nostalgic identification with the work.

In recent revisions of the translation of A La Recherche du Temps Purdu, Proust’s title has been given its literal translation, In Search of Lost Time. This significant revision implies an emphatic shift from memory and nostalgia to an intellectual pursuit; the ‘Search’. Deleuze argues that memory is only one means of investigation in the Proustian Search, as the Search is oriented to the future and not the past.[4] Fiona Williams’ Photograph Videos and Photographs (Polaroid Project 2008-2009) also refutes interpretation founded solely on an investigation of memory.

Fiona Williams’ Photograph Videos documents Polaroid photographs developing. A photograph is taken along a walk (time wasted), placed on the ground, and filmed whilst it develops. Emphasis is placed upon the ‘coming into being’ of the photographs, for filming ceases as soon as the image has developed sufficiently for its content to have become apparent. The video gives us a ‘real-time’ experience of photography. The Polaroid image develops on screen at an almost imperceptible rate, and is given a temporal context by the video’s soundtrack - birds in the background, the artist’s weight shifting as she crouches behind the camera. We are privy to the artist’s process - a large proportion of which is time spent waiting.

Photograph Videos is installed in the gallery alongside the corresponding Polaroid photographs, setting up a reflexive indexical relationship between the works. We are presented with the birth of the photographic image and its inevitable decline; time is collapsed, and notions of mortality and the passing of time are emphasised. Barthes claimed that photography has an inherently traumatic structure by enabling us to view the past by ‘deferred action’[5]. In Williams’ Photograph Videos, this action is not only deferred but reproduced, repeated, and looped. In this collapse of time photography’s traumatic structure is revealed, made visible by the marked disparity between the filmed photographs and their corporeal photographic referents. Here, the photographic moment exists as past and present simultaneously. Lines of time intersect and ‘multiply their combinations’[6] as we view Photograph Videos and Photographs (Polaroid Project 2008-2009). According to Deleuze, the kinds of time regained in the work of art are ‘time passed’ and ‘time wasted’;[7] Photograph Videos and Photographs (Polaroid Project 2008-2009) both documents lost time and embodies its recovery. 

Viewing Photograph Videos and Photographs (Polaroid Project 2008-2009) is a contemplative experience. Time passes slowly watching the images develop in the Photograph Videos. This is ok though; Deleuze reminds us that time is necessary for the interpretation of signs, and anything that forces us to think is important to the Search.[8]

We are all Egyptologists.[9]



Rebecca B. Adams
June 2009

Rebecca B. Adams is an artist and writer based in Melbourne.  Rebecca and Fiona share a studio at Kings Artist Run Initiative.



[1] Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, London 2000; trans. of La Chaimbre Claire: Note sur la Photographie, Paris 1980, p. 9
[2] ibid, p. 40
[3] ibid, p. 51
[4] Gilles Deleuze, Proust and Signs, Continuum, London 2000; trans. of Proust et Signes, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris 1964, p. 4
[5] Margaret Iversen, What is a Photograph? Art History, Vol. 17 No. 3, September 1994, p. 455
[6] Gilles Deleuze, Proust and Signs, Continuum, London 2000; trans. of Proust et Signes, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris 1964, p. 56
[7] ibid, p. 40
[8] ibid, p. 61
[9] ibid, p. 4