Wednesday, 10 June 2015


June 11 – 12 July 2015

Swiss-born Brigit Heller’s route to sculpture was one she has described as the ‘discovery of a new and fascinating world, which I am still exploring, experiencing and diving into every day’. Heller’s adventurous spirit is stimulated by her environment, urban and natural – she works in the city and lives in Central Victoria, and so has access to a wide range of stimuli.

Her most recent work, Off the Ground, (image below), formed part of a one-day event at Gasworks, South Melbourne, April 2015. The show, From Nature, responded to the brief to create organic ‘living’ public art using natural found materials, in much the same way indigenous peoples reach for what is around them to create what they need and enjoy.

                                           Off the Ground - 2015

Heller finds that: ‘in the landscape I experience a much bigger sense of freedom and generosity … I can explore shapes, and forms of material, as objects are wrapped, reassembled or altered … works are usually created in a very spontaneous way. I go to a place and become inspired by what is there. I use natural materials or ready-made objects which I place in the landscape.’

Heller’s work is not without humour and wit. She observes:
‘It is my intention for the changes in objects to be aesthetically subtle, poetic and in some instances to be entering the realm of the ridiculous. Whilst still recognizable, functionality in all instances has seriously been tampered with.’ 

                                          Talamophora - 2012

Her work has been influenced by an appreciation of the work of:
‘Andy Goldsworthy, David Nash, Richard Long, Bob Verschueren and Niels Udo. Artists that create within a landscape not necessarily requiring a gallery space, with minimal interference and in tune with nature.’

Her childhood in Switzerland of course also had its influence:
‘Processes that I apply within my works have roots dating back to my childhood. Due to a physical disability, my maternal grandfather earned a living as a basket weaver. Even back then, this was considered a dying profession and a skill he was keen to pass on. As a result, as children we spent some of our holidays weaving baskets. 
My approach to material and craftsmanship has links to the fibre art movement that has emerged during the early 1950’s, particularly in America under the influence of the artist Ed Rossbach. One of his pupils was Gyoengy Laky, an artist whose work is composed of orchard debris, park trimmings and prunings, a renewable, freely available resource. Her work is as much about changing attitudes of people within a consumer society as fostering a relationship between people and nature.’

                                                        Cluster One - 2012

In an essay on Heller’s work, Ken Scarlett, senior authority on Australian sculpture, writes:
‘I distinctly remember being very impressed when I first saw her work in an outdoor exhibition at Mt Macedon in 1998 … A time of healing, it consisted of a simple cairn of burnt branches and twigs, cut at one end and stacked to form a slightly irregular cone. Nearby was another heap of burnt and blackened logs of wood. A reminder of the recent bush fires, it was both a simple memorial and a thought provoking sculptural arrangement. Using local materials, the newcomer from Europe had made a telling statement about this Australian environment.’

Scarlett also refers to a later work, Flying Blind, 2000, which consisted of:
‘five towering cylinders of woven willow branches, 2.4 meters high … Unexpectedly narrow at the base, the forms appeared to spiral upwards, imbuing the works with a sense of vitality and movement. While realising that they were made by hand, they had also a feeling of organic growth as they emerged, plant-like from the soil.’

(Scarlett observes that with) ‘Poles Apart, shown as part of the McClelland Survey and Award in 2003, she (Heller) switched from willow to wire to weave six gigantic flower-like forms set on high steel poles. These forms of nature now emerge from the lawn outside the Icon Museum of Art (Deakin University) making a great contrast to the urban environment, giving people something else to experience.’

Brigit Heller’s practice is both vigorous and subtle. Her work is always responsive to an underlying curiosity, sensitivity and intelligence, the armature of her innate appreciation of primal environmental forces, and as such it forms a body of sensibilities of which we should all take note – before it is too late.

Recipient of art prizes including Lorne Sculpture prizes in 2009 (Regional Artists Prize) and 2011 (Mars Gallery Prize), and the The Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award, Popular Choice Award of 2001, Heller’s work has been commissioned and is held in the collection of various authorities, including the Cities of Bendigo and Ballarat, Deakin University, Parks and Wildlife Tasmania, and Parks Victoria.

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