Mysticism installed at the Domain

Jenny Zimmer

Fate has intervened, to temporarily transform the Australian Centre of Contemporary Art's slice of the Domain into a mystical garden shrine.
      Micky Allan's Installation, the first in a series of artists' "Experiments" planned for ACCA. combines the memories, experiences and thoughts of 45 restless years.
      The ephemeral paraphernalia of her developed soul is used to delicately embellish the buildings and grounds. Her touch is light. The effect, momentous.
      The installation inhabits the three main galleries, the corridor, the lobby and office - and the gardens beyond. Meant ro invade the senses, its open doors intentionally incorporate the breeze and fragrances from flowers growing outside.
      Visitors are invited to make images of flowers and pin them to a wall in the vestibule - like one might light a candle in church or pin a paper mantra in Tibet. Jon Cattapan was drawing a flower when I visited.
      Inspired by the architectural spaces and applied decoration of spiritual places - like Istanbul's Santa Sophia or Matisse's Chapel at Vence - she has made ACCA's colonial cottage into a magic place.
      Mystic symbols are strategically positioned throughout. Crosses, pyramids, stars, spirals and flames are woven into a personal liturgy unlike any from orthodox religions. She borrows randomly from the rich symbolic heritage of Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
      Micky Allan is not interested in any single religion or specific definition of spirituality. She abhors dogma and the misuse and short-fallings of the major religions.
      Her obsession is "the life of the spirit", or the "energy" which causes religious thought. Her spiritual spectrum is large. It includes a universe of sources encountered during travels abroad or in the text she has studied. Lyall Watson's Heaven's Breath, A Natural History Of The Wind and theosophist Alice Bailey's Treatise On Cosmic Fire are high on this list.
      The installation confronts what she finds ineffable, incorporeal and impalpable. Ludwig Wittgenstein suggested things like "thought" or "soul" - even wind, flame and cloud - are impossible to describe in words because they cannot be caught and held, or closely observed.
      Their aspects float about, manifesting as disconnected symbols which have acquired, by some mysterious process of consensus, spiritual meanings. Such symbols address the human understanding directly - like music or gestures.
      Micky Allan studied painting at the National Gallery School. Her early recognition was based on theatre work and avant garde photography. She discarded the camera about seven years ago, preferring to pursue a more abstract imaginative process through painting and drawing.
      She favours "works on paper", frequently utilising pencil, charcoal, pastel, watercolour and collage techniques - often in combination. All of these appear in the installation, along with a range of new materials including broad swathes of greyish recycled paper, transparent drafting film and pearlescent paint.
      The installation should be treated as a whole; but for present purposes let's take it room by room.
      The "Charcoal Room" is totally clad in recycled paper primed with glowing pearlescent paint. Dense charcoal drawing is used to create an angel-inhabited forest glade. A beatific angel leads a serious searcher through the trees towards a pool which may symbolise the fountain of life. The room is unlit, except for a spotlight focussed on a large, fivepointed star of white river pebbles assembled on the floor.
      The theme is "spiritual guidance" - the atmosphere is profoundly harmonious and peaceful.
      Micky Allan's repertoire of symbols is "discovered" in the room opposite. The long wall is covered with translucent film, the back of which is painted in the deep magenta colour used for burial rituals in Benares. Two other walls are hung with framed drawings; high above eye level and vaguely reflected in a deep red film.

Each drawing introduces a symbol: pyramid, cross, fivepointed star, flower, jewelled staff, orb and logarithmic spiral. More symbols are scattered about the building and a Buddha sits between white rose bushes in the courtyard.
      The main installation area, opening out on to the Domain, is glowing white. The longitudinal walls are swathed in white silk, gauze and paper; the latter daubed with etherial swirls of iridescent white paint. White on white on white.
      Though distant from each other, the end walls are powerfully connected. One is almost tantric: the paper cladding painted with a huge diagonal cross, centred squares and logarithmic spiral. These are coloured but float over a ground of luminous white brush marks. It is completely abstract. Its non-objectivity is communicated to the opposite wall where the artist's symbols are gathered into a pictorial configuration.
      A centrally positioned archangel surrounded by a mandala of white light is seen against a golden pyramid. Chalky white clouds and effusions of lemon-orange light scud across the sky, colliding with the edges of the pyramid. Below, are icy alpine peaks.
      The angel carries a golden orb and a "fleur-de-lis" wand with golden sparks. The power of these symbols is re-iterated by two huge stars made of metallic prisms and arranged symmetrically on either side of the angel.
      Banks of gallery lights flood the end walls creating what Micky Allan has called "a seamless connection" between the real and imaginary, thought and intuition, science and art.
      The installation is an extraordinary manifestation of an artist's spiritual life. It, and accompanying forums and events relating assets of the spiritual in art, will eventually be documented in an anthology published as a permanent record of the event.
      Congratulations ACCA, Victorian artists have frequently lacked such opportunities to integrate processes which liberate the imagination.

Jenny Zimmer
The Sunday Herald, December 3, 1990