Lincoln Austin

Field of Vision

Lincoln Austin's abstract sculptures meld the interests of minimalism and op art to explore the ways regular, repeated forms can generate optical illusions and effects. The Ipswich-based artist is known for his small intricate works, but this will change with the imminent opening of Brisbane’s new building Northbridge, which features his massive wall relief Once Again.

Art Exhibition previously on at IMA - Institute of Modern Art in Australia.
From Saturday 02 May 2009 to Monday 22 June 2009

Which the I Saw image Image from Catalogue image

Published by Institute of Modern Art on Wednesday 15 July 2009.
Contact the publisher.

For our show, Austin presents two different kinds of work: a collection of his glistening silver-mesh sculptures, with their permutations of interpenetrating rectilinear forms, and Field of Vision, a gallery-filling relief that covers the floor and two walls and creates dazzling effects akin to lenticular images—it’s his largest gallery piece to date. Austin is also our 2009 regional resident.

Field of Vision Catalogue Essay

Lincoln Austin talks to Robert Leonard

LINCOLN AUSTIN: I started my Imperfect Pattern series back in 2002. In these works, I take mathematical patterns and realise them in the material world, often introducing subtle irregularities. Field of Vision is the fiftieth work in the series. Its superstructure is a square module made of slotted, interlocking lengths of Corflute: a 3-D grid of cells that increase in size at a ratio of 1:1.2. The module is repeated fourteen times across three planes (two abutting walls and the floor). A cross, made of pieces of coloured Corflute (red, blue, green, and yellow), is inserted into each cell. There are 5,880 pieces in total: fifty-four variations in the coloured pieces and ten in the white pieces.

ROBERT LEONARD: It’s like a card house. Assembling it must have been a big job.

Over time, the scale and complexity of the Imperfect Pattern works has increased, so constructing them is now a marathon event, testing my endurance, commitment, and patience. Field of Vision was all cut and assembled by hand. Initially, the Imperfect Pattern works were small and their depth was limited to the thickness of the mat board. But, by the time I got to Field of Vision, the works had greater relief. There were times when I was making it when I was worried that the structure would collapse.

Watching you install it, I was taken by its IKEA-style flat-pack quality.

I needed to transport the work from my studio to the gallery, so I came up with a construction method that allowed me to assemble it on site. I had been waiting for a chance to use Corflute, a material primarily used for disposable signs and packaging. The work consumed a lot of time and material, so it was important that it could be disassembled, not simply discarded once the show was over. That also means the piece can be reinterpreted. Being modular, it can be reoriented to suit other gallery spaces (it can also be shrunk or expanded as necessary).

The earlier Imperfect Patterns occupy a single plane. Moving into three planes brings other factors into play and the effect is very different.

Part of the fascination is how different the module appears from the side and from the front. By using three planes, it is possible to show three alternative views of the module simultaneously.

Field of Vision seems to be scaled to the viewer rather than the space. Why didn’t you make it the full height of the wall?

The height is familiar, being that of a standard domestic door. It was important to not make the work overbearing. Filling the entire space would have left the viewer feeling overpowered. By not covering the interior architecture completely, the viewer is made aware of that interior’s scale relative to the scale of the work.

What’s going on with the colour?

The colours from the inserted crosses reflect against the white of the Corflute and of the wall behind, generating half-tones. The strong primary colours make the work more playful and childlike. In some ways what I do is not so different to a child playing with building blocks: seeing how high a tower can be built before it tumbles down.

How do you see your work in relation to the traditions of op art and minimalism?

I’m a great fan of them. There are parallels between my work and Judd’s wall-mounted boxes, Vasarely’s patterns, Flavin’s hazy colour, and Agnes Martin’s grids. There are also parallels with the Russian constructivists, 1950s British geometric abstraction, Roman mosaics, Islamic patterns, and so on. All of these traditions use pattern and geometry as a vehicle for conveying metaphors or philosophical concepts. Geometry exists outside time and isn’t subject to fashion or ideology; pattern is another matter.

I’m interested in the range of responses to Field of Vision. I’ve heard it described as psychedelic and erotic, but also bureaucratic and nauseating. Actually, it seems to be all these things at once.

I hope so. Due to the practicalities of making this freestanding three-dimensional structure, there is a degree of bureaucracy: boundaries and structures must be maintained. But, once this is sorted, the work can be experienced as playful. ‘Erotic’ is a wonderful term. For some the erotic is bureaucratic, for others psychedelic, for others nauseating.

Minimalism courted ‘the gestalt’, favouring forms that could be apprehended instantaneously as wholes. Your see-through, stainless-steel mesh works are complex, yet this idea of the gestalt persists in them. However, it seems to have been completely jettisoned in Field of Vision, which is ‘too much’.

At first glance, it would seem that way, but the works are really not that different. In Field of Vision, the pattern is straightforward. Its large scale and repetition across three planes generate complications that make the work more difficult to mentally map at first, but, once understood, there are no tricks or deceptions. Conversely, although the mesh works appear coherent, there are moments when they also trick the eye; when it is difficult to gauge their depth or to know whether you are looking at an outside or an inside surface. In my works there are perennial themes: transparency, fragility, reflectivity, pattern, geometry. All my works can be described through these terms.