Jon Eiseman Other Realities at Flinders Lane Gallery, 137 Flinders Lane Melbourne, Australia. 15th July – 2nd August 2014
This exhibition of recent sculptural work by Jon Eiseman and related photographic collaborations with Anne Conron, frequently employs the image of a solitary man, suitcase in hand, set upon a journey through strangely dreamlike surrounds. Here the representation of a journey becomes a powerful metaphor for larger questions that occupy the human condition; namely, the idea of existential meaning and a relentless personal search to find it. Eiseman quietly alludes to such profound and difficult to define notions through a set of symbols that he has steadily developed over a career in sculpture that spans two decades.
The most prominent recurrent feature within Eiseman’s work is his balding male protagonist, who cuts a decidedly unassuming figure in his ubiquitous business suit and tie. Here one could argue that the suit becomes a marker for a type of familiar, middle class conformity – a homogonised version of male identity that is completely socially acceptable, yet often a little repressed. Yet the conventionality of the business suit is the perfect device to offset the imaginative and magical scenarios that the man who wears it participates in. A regular person experiencing highly irregular things, the ordinariness of Eiseman’s suited male character allows us to more fully empathise with his otherworldly pursuits, and relate to his surreal journey.
The fusion of realism with fantasy is particularly apparent in Eiseman’s sculptures. In one piece the suited man leans from a boat with a hearing instrument to better understand a group of talking fish, while in Sanctuary he wears a bird mask and an overcoat from which branches grow and birds shelter. This confluence of recognizable elements into improbable scenes is aligned to magic realism, a genre found within visual art, literature and film. Here magical happenings take place within the context of plausible reality in order to convey a deeper awareness of life’s undercurrents. The uncanny quality of Eiseman’s sculptures take on a distinctly more hallucinogenic and dislocated edge in his photographic collaborations with artist Anne Conron. These works feature people wearing animal masks enacting inexplicable scenes that often have a ritualistic overtone, set within nocturnal landscapes. The use of projection, artificial lighting and shadow-play reflects a theatrical and performative sensibility that is the product of these two creative visions combined. Yet while aesthetically divergent from the sculptures, a common symbolic language unites the work in both mediums.
The man wearing a bird mask is an example of such recurrent iconography. It obliquely refers to animal spirit guides and the shamanistic practices of various indigenous ethnic cultures. More broadly it reflects a type of earthbound spirituality tied to the natural world that flows throughout the entire exhibition. Animals and trees frequently surround and direct the progress of Eiseman’s figures. They actively seek answers from nature, or in the case of the bird mask, physically inhabit it. Thus rather than a mute backdrop, nature becomes animated as a repository of innate wisdom and spiritual understanding which Eiseman’s everyman seeks to access. Underpinning all of Eiseman’s work is the tacit understanding that ordinary outward appearances can conceal an inner life of remarkable individual richness. Perhaps it is this that makes these modest works so compelling. Marguerite Brown MAArtCur All images ©Jon Eiseman 2014