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Valerie Sparks

valerie@valeriesparks.com.au

valeriesparks.com.au

LE VOL

LE VOL

When Sparks speaks about her practice she often refers to the idea beginning with a journey through the landscape, one that merges a physical journey with a psychological one. Her compositions are often a series of landscapes that run parallel to her personal narrative.
 
Sparks composes her work in a manner akin to a painter, layering different elements on top of the other to create an impossibly perfect landscape – a fantastical world that exists in Sparks' mind-scape. Through this technique she combines multiple landscapes and populates the scene with animals taken from museum collections. It is a scene that cannot exist in nature and is without a key focal point which imbues her work with a sense of dislocated place. 
The ‘Le Vol’ series plays with this otherworldly concept. Sparks draws inspiration from many sources in particular French scenic wallpapers from the late 18th and early 19th century, as well as tromp l'oeils, panoramic pavilions, contemporary light installations and stereoscopic photography. These are steeped in the tradition of illusion and immersion. By layering photographs of different landscapes and taxidermied birds one on top of the other, she removes a single point of focus, disorientating the viewer and encouraging them to question the veracity of what they are seeing. These composite images shift the viewer’s perception to 'open up new ways of seeing'.
 
The ‘Le Vol’ series was inspired by Desfosse's 'Le Bresil', a 19th century wallpaper now housed at Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. Sparks was intrigued by the representation of a jungle scene with birds from all over the world dotted across the exoticised French, cool blue landscape. Included among the specimens was an Australian lyrebird. These early wallpapers depicting the 'exotic other' was the documentation of the conquered and the colonized. It reflected a thirst within European society to be seen as fashionable and well travelled, which was a luxury few could afford. However, many of these wallpapers no longer exist as they were often replaced as soon as the latest fashion changed, and their ephemeral nature meant they were easily damaged and difficult to conserve.
Sparks has said that she 'created 'Le Vol' to be on first impression a lush, light filled landscape at the edge of a luminous body of water. It is intentionally aiming for the beautiful in a traditional romantic way. At the same time there is an alternative reading that can be made, through the underlying presence of death and ecological loss in a landscape that includes over 120 dead birds. Not subversive so much as disturbing and macabre.' (Sparks 2014)
Sparks incorporated specimens dating back hundreds of years into this contemporary reimagining of a hybrid scenic wallpaper. To create 'Le Vol', Sparks photographed over 100 specimens from Australia, the Pacific, Africa, Europe and South America during residencies at the Vienna and La Rochelle Natural History Museums. This includes specimens collected on Cook’s second and third voyages to the southern hemisphere, Matthew Flinders trips to Australia, the first fleet to Australia, as well as many from Brazil and other South and Central American locations. 
Two separate installation spaces accompanied 'Le Vol' in its first iteration which included 'Flock' and 'Little Bird History'. 'Flock' was a mirrored box containing 3D scanned and printed Arctic Terns from the Melbourne Museum collection. 'Little Bird Big History' was series of portraits of the individual birds included in 'Le Vol'. The presentation of the birds in line with a traditional portrait which Sparks has commented provides, 'significance to the individual specimens, each with their own story of place of origin and movement through various collections. The unnatural migrations they undergo often run parallel to better known histories of colonialism and exploration'.
 
‘Le Vol’ translates as flight, flying, theft, robbery and burglary. This title draws attention to the theft of life of these birds, strangely reanimated in their current resurrection, and also highlights the problematic nature of early collecting practices. Many of these specimens were brought together during colonial expansion. Colonisers thought of these birds as curiosities and took them back to their homelands to display as the exotic other, in the same manner as they did the people, flora, fauna and landscape. These specimens were available to artists who incorporated aspects of the Southern Hemisphere into strange compositions, transplanting foreign animals into an alien landscape.
 
Sparks speaks of these as an early representation of globalisation, with these collecting practices creating a 'strange traffic in birds, an unnatural migration.' In particular she highlights the biological diversity that results from migration and cross pollination. The sharing of these specimens and the way they are used generates new meanings and provides opportunities for scientific discovery. This belief and perpetual desire for discovering the new, to open up new possibilities for innovation through creativity, is felt throughout Sparks's practice, perhaps even more in her latest experimental 3D light works.  

Valerie SPARKS

Le Vol 1  2014        

140.0 X 220.0 cm

pigment ink-jet print

courtesy of the artist

LE VOL

The quest for immersion 

The importance of immersion on Sparks's practice cannot be understated. She is constantly on the precipice of discovery, forging new meanings and new realities; a fantastical world where everything is in our world but not, landscapes of an impossible reality. 
‘Le Vol’ was one of Sparks's earliest forays into large-scale immersive panoramic landscapes, with large scale wallpapers and installations to follow, in a quest to create immersive experiences that push the limits of photography. Sparks constructs a narrative and a reality that incorporates contemporary landscapes and historical collections. She brings these into conversation with each other to create a new other-worldly composition. It is a landscape that is part real and part imagined that references the past, present and future. 
 
An interesting aspect is how these works change context, meaning and application when installed in a domestic setting as opposed to a gallery. ‘Le Vol’ is the subject of the installation in MGA's curvy gallery space as well as a domestic setting the wraps around a kitchen and dinner setting in an apartment in Melbourne which is to be featured in the November/December 2018 edition of Vogue Living. When viewed in these different contexts, the works take on new meanings and associations.
 
Both transform the space with a flawless, continuous and sensuous landscape. These immersive installations alters the environment in a unique way, disorienting the viewer by physically changing the environment. Sparks has not only created a new reality within the work, but asks the viewer to become an active participant and step into a virtual landscape. In playing with reality Sparks asks us to experience the world differently by creating an almost vertigo inducing experience. The viewer cannot experience both the detail and the composition at the same time. Each element is taken from a different photograph, with the background edited out and layers these different elements to create no single focal point. In doing so the viewer becomes a participant. They have to dissect the work and question how it is constructed; interrogating how this landscape can exist in reality.
By creating an immersive experience with a landscape that is recognisable but which cannot exist, composed of multiple places and different species of birds, in a stunningly beautiful image, we are transported into a new reality. By shifting the viewer's perception they are forced to think about the world differently – to experience the world a new. It is a form of visual slippage, disguising subversive ideas and the interrogation of globalisation, dislocation and colonisation amidst a stunningly hyper-real and beautiful scene. Sparks is asking us to question how this landscape can exist, and wants us to discover the deceit of a landscape that is constructed. It a world that flickers between fantasy and reality. 

'Le Vol 1 & 2' from the series Le Vol (2014) by artist Valerie Sparks being installed at MGA for the exhibition Allusion & Illusion: the fantastical world of Valerie Sparks, 29 September - 18 November 2018

DETAILS

DETAILS

DETAILS

Sparks creates her compositions by painstakingly removing the background from each photograph before layering the images, on the border of 'montage and compositing'. 

Valerie SPARKS

Le Vol 1 (detail) 2014        

140.0 X 220.0 cm

pigment ink-jet print

courtesy of the artist

Valerie SPARKS

Le Vol 1 (detail) 2014        

140.0 X 220.0 cm

pigment ink-jet print

courtesy of the artist

LOCATIONS

 
Sparks's compositions utilise photographs that she has taken in various locations. These are layered together to create an impossible landscape, one that is of this world and not. 
Sparks has documented where these landscapes are located; 'The water is a combination of Green Pools in Western Australia and the inlet at Noosa Heads in Queensland. The clouds are Port Phillip Bay, the background mountains are the Stirling Ranges, the bank of trees in the mid-ground of the inlet are Cape Tribulation. The rocks on the left are Snake Bay and the right Stokes Bay  Kangaroo Island. The grey silver palm is from Oak Beach in Queensland, the eucalypt from Surrey Hills ... in Melbourne. The boabs are from King’s Park in Perth, the frangipani Bawley Point New South Wales, and so on.'
 
She continued that she has an 'ongoing practice of continually scanning the environment and photographic plants, ocean view, skies and landforms to create a large database for future use. The resulting work is for me, a personal visual diary of locations I spend time in'. She catalogues these in a database that 'is structured according to specific category trees such as year of asset creation, photo shoot location, type of image content, type of digital asset, stage of production to mention a few. The use of the database in my practice allows me to re-visit and locate images from a vast collection...in a time based narrative.' (Sparks 2014)

BIRDS

 
Sparks incorporated specimens dating back hundreds of years into this contemporary reimagining of a hybrid scenic wallpaper. To create Le Vol, Sparks photographed over 100 specimens from Australia, the Pacific, Africa, Europe and South America during residencies at the Vienna and La Rochelle Natural History Museums. This includes specimens collected on Cook’s second and third voyages to the southern hemisphere, Matthew Flinders trips to Australia, the first fleet to Australia, as well as many from Brazil and other South and Central American locations. 
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