King George V Memorial Hospital for Mothers and Babies
The interminable and important debate about how women manage domestic and public working life continues in the press and in ongoing debate. Few artists, however, are now addressing these issues. ‘Time Measured’, Pia Larsen’s recent exhibition of works on paper and metal, confronts these issues with style, wit and humour.
Pia Larsen’s prints, which were shown at the unusual but appropriate venue of the King George V Memorial Hospital for Mothers and Babies Birth Centre, reveal virtuosity in technique, allied with the question of a woman’s professional career combined with child nurturing, seen via a penetrating view of a subject which is both intensely personal but also universal.
On entering the exhibition the viewer is confronted with a number of large etchings and monoprints, for example Adrift, monoprint on paper, 76 x 340cm, in which the principle design elements are seemingly spheres and dots, arranged in the case of Adrift in an overall overlapping pattern. Closer examination reveals that these spheres are in reality multiple overprints of bosoms and nipples. The title refers to the never-ending stream of life and sustenance inherent in the act of breastfeeding. The theme of the exhibition is the question of breastfeeding and its impact on the woman who may be unprepared for this all-consuming experience. In her artist’s statement Pia Larsen comments on the shock of discovering that for a woman engaged in breastfeeding, personal time disappears. The commitment is continuous, requiring ‘discipline, vigilance and sacrifice to shifting routines’. This artist’s solution to the problem has been to take advantage of even a little time to express her dilemma, and in this way cope with it.
Etching, lithography, monoprint and saw-pierced and domed silver, brass and aluminium are worked with skill and precision. Suspended, etching/drypoint on paper, 76 x 114cm consists of the print of one over life-sized breast on which are superimposed broken parallel lines simulating a print-out from a medical instrument over time. The twenty-four broken lines in this print represent twenty-four hours. The etching Continuity, 76 x 114cm, shows six breasts of various shapes in a vertical line down the centre of the sheet, connoting one would surmise the six daily feeds of the newborn baby. The untitled lithograph in the set shows a central image of a breast surrounded randomly with finger-prints, how could the breastfeeding artist think of anything else? Although obviously not work on paper, mention should be made of the Badges of Honour, sets of silver, brass and aluminium badges, abstracted from the flattened form of a nipple, and proudly worn by the artist at the opening of the exhibition.
This exhibition, while focussing on only a few elements of design, presents a variety of elegant and decorative works. This decorative element does not detract from either the thoughtful content, or the personal and yet universal application of meaning. Although this exhibition is obviously the result of the experience of caring for her first child, the show ‘Time Measured’, has been mounted weeks before the expected birth of her second baby. This artist obviously knows how to manage time. Over the past ten years Pia Larsen has exhibited her work in various states of Australia, as well as in Lebanon and China.
Pamela Bell MA (Hons)