Something has happened: Georgina Cue’s Substance of Light

Light from a woodcrafted window is matted into embroidery, stretching across a carpet rich in colour and detail. The window, unglazed, casts no superfluous reflections. Is it sunlight, or moonlight? Who are the incomplete figures hanging on the walls? What has come before? Georgina Cue’s Substance of Light asks us to suspend our sensibilities and hold that suspense as we move through her space.

Embroidery is a highly focused discipline: its textures detailed, its every mark comprising many moments, never erasing the trace of the hand. It’s a meditative practice that evokes further mediation. Cue takes advantage of its deliberative duration to craft works strongly referencing time and light, repetition and suspense. Her embroidery articulates an opulence that unsettles us as we follow its sequence of curious forms.

Unlike Narelle Jubelin, whose works abstract modernist houses into crafted stitches, Cue embroiders a pre-modern bourgeois saturation, an overdetermination of individual moments. And unlike Michelle Hamer, whose hand-made pixels freeze a fleeting moment in suburban fringe development, Cue depicts the urbane event: something has happened.

Cue brings us to this scene via crime photography, film noir and the cinema of suspense. She is fascinated by the “disembodied artefact” captured in forensic images “because very often they’re unsolved crimes, they have no specific location or date, they’re just these free-floating little trace elements of an event.” Each of these genres stimulates tense sensations in the body of the viewer, carefully abstracting objects from their familiar surroundings and setting them into unexpected new relationships. “Making the textures with the embroidery, I can summon more of a narrative,” she reflects. “What really interests me are the small signifiers that turn it into a narrative setting.”

The highly stylised artistic direction of Alfred Hitchcock is a great inspiration: “it charges objects with importance that you can’t necessarily place immediately.” The key in Notorious; the portrait of Carlotta and her jewellery in Vertigo; Manderley’s every precious item in Rebecca. Hitchcock gives these objects a mysterious quality, lighting and framing them like actors giving emotional close-ups. In doing so, Hitchcock creates a saturation of meaning – not by elaborating the context, but by displacing it.

That the gallery itself does precisely this is not lost in Cue’s installative work; each one of her small signifiers builds a sense of anticipation. The crown of the headless monarch with her irrepressible pride; the seemingly familiar, uncannily bourgeois pattern of the carpet; the exposed pencil evoking the chalk outline of an unknown victim. There’s something here for you to interpret.

Among these juxtapositions sit a diversity of influences, genres and approaches for Cue herself. Substance of Light marks a transitional period in her design thinking – in both her set of artistic concerns, as well as her compositional mode of thinking through the work of the hands. Cue sees embroidery as a drawing technique, combining free movement and tentative composition with embellishment and fine detail. Its discipline, bounded by the frame, is a constraint that Cue both diligently accepts and explicitly rejects. Carpentry, on the other hand, offers “a different way of thinking” for Cue – thus its appeal. “There’s no centre point,” she says of her recent experiments in chair-making. “You have to attack it from every angle.”

As both a disciplined and an experimental artist, Cue sets her own constraints, and here too her design thinking is in transition. This year alone Cue has presented her work in seven exhibitions, and for the first time on her career, none of these have been in artist-run spaces. Her studio is full of well-thumbed books spanning contemporary art and the gothic, as well as Edgar Allen Poe and of course works on Hitchcock. To arrive at her current narrative mode, Cue worked through mapping and diagrammatic thinking, inspired by the intricate paradoxes of Jorge Luis Borges. The map casts ideas across a plane, seeking meaning in what emerges by connecting possible trajectories between objects. Borges’ paradoxes make it equally possible and impossible to traverse that plane and find that meaning. And yet, Cue notes: “The unjustified is often more interesting than giving something an explicit context and a reason.” We make our own meaning, but we do so with our entire bodies.

A film set resolves narrative human movement into physical space, a range of possibilities lie waiting to be discovered. In the cinema of suspense, our heightened sensibilities are eager to pounce on each object, each shadow and light. “It’s the simplicity, the sensation,” says Cue. “That’s what I try to look for in art, in my own work. To give the viewer an actual sensate experience.” It’s a constructive understanding of narrative through installation that inspires Cue’s current direction. Approaching the thinking of Thomas Demand and Callum Morton, Cue has moved from diagram through diorama to the narrative stage – or, at least, “the backdrop to a film or a set without its protagonists – an uninhabited, but lived-in space.” A familiarity we can sense.

Unexpected juxtapositions interrupt us, displacing our mental flow and upsetting our emotions. We stop and reflect; we feel differently. “I think my work has the closest affinity to Manderley,” Cue reflects of Hitchcock’s Rebecca, itself a masterpiece of suspenseful narrative as well as highly disciplined artistic direction. “That film probably more than any of his others has that haunting sense of light piercing through the apertures of Manderley…”

Instinctively we are attracted to shadows; equally so, we are drawn to the light. “My work is complex and labour-intensive, yet it doesn’t give itself away,” Cue confides. Where is the light’s origin? What key unlocks these clues? We remain in suspense while Cue storyboards her next crafted space, making substance of light and making light of suspense.


Substance of Light (Georgina Cue), catalogue essay, Craft Victoria 2012