Peta Houghton

Memory Motel

July 28 - August 11 2012

The quite extraordinary Memory Motel exhibition of paintings, drawings and installation pieces continues Peta Houghton's "ongoing autobiographical project." A follow-up to her enormously successful The Baggage Room series, Memory Motel again suggests the accoutrements of long journeying punctuated by fleeting moments of respite and recollection. This new body of work however, is also a very personal meditation on the transience of the physical body, the mind and memory. "Through old family images and memories, or more specifically, memories of memories, I am endeavouring to investigate the representation of the body as a site of instability," offers Peta.

In the exhibition space an actual motel sign alternately flickers ‘Vacancy' and ‘No Vacancy'. The gallery floor is littered with vintage suitcases, some spilling their contents while others remain mute and non-divulging. A most curious front door with a peephole invites voyeuristic approach... through the distorting, fish-eye lens the viewer watches Peta's stop-motion, anime-like film of her betwixt-aged girl "as she drifts through whitish, non-landscapes." Handmade snow domes encase figurines portrayed as cramped and frustrated by their confines. Amidst a whirl of glittering particles they are serenaded with the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star that emanates from little windup music boxes inside the wooden bases.

Intimately grouped on simulated wallpaper hang a number of family portraits. These are photographs of Peta, her mother and grandmother, taken when they were all approximately the same age. Elsewhere, a journal of conversations with the artist's dementia-suffering "nan" lies open. "Some of the entries in this diary have been really hysterically funny and others not so," says Peta. "These notes were my starting points for each of the works. Embedded within the paintings are also the poems and little songs that were sung to me as a child." The dark-haired, smudgy-eyed protagonist in the works might be any one of the female family members, and sometimes a composite of all three. "Many persons in one space. They have no beginning so there is no end," Peta muses. "Being family and growing up so close we share certain traits, thoughts, ideals but at the same time there is always that elusive search for Self regardless of one's age or epoch."

The identity of the partially clad young woman is thus kept hidden. She is both provocative and vulnerable in her sheer hose or the half-petticoat that might be likened in intent to the black tutu of previous series. Peta describes how this awkward girl/woman imagery reflects the state of uncertainty and restlessness that accompanies not only the onset of adolescence, but each stage of a woman's life. "The figure is perhaps the young girl dressing up, or maybe the older woman recalling times past? She embodies those internal moments when identity is tentatively discovered or is trying to be held onto as one's knowledge and an experience gradually fades and ultimately disappears. The snow domes capture these non-moments in a glorified swirl of glitter. For me they symbolise the ephemeral nature of ‘memories of memories' and the attempt to anchor them."

Vacillating between fragility and resolute expressiveness, the quality of Peta's line and brushwork evokes the fluctuating emotions concurrent with change and impermanence. "I draw, draw, draw, draw, then paint and almost always it never turns out like the image in my head," she discloses. "I have a ‘thing' for blue at the moment, cobalt blue in particular. It wasn't planned, just one of those weird, intuitive things that I've run with." Interestingly, blue is universally known as the prime healing colour, signifying infinite, wide-open spaces. Peta Houghton's future does appear boundless given her remarkable creative drive towards integration, reconciliation and self-realisation. She has two young daughters of her own and will be undertaking a Fine Art Honours degree at QCA next year with a Doctorate to follow.


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