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Temin, Kathy - 1992.7

Kathy Temin

White Problem 1992
synthetic fur, mixed media on masonite board 
11 panels, each: 63 x 63 cm (irreg.)
Purchased 1992

White Problem, by Kathy Temin, is a wall relief comprising eleven panels, each identical in scale and wrapped in white synthetic fur. Combining the languages of minimalism and sentimentality, it brings together a range of concerns that Temin has continued to explore into the present. Intentionally handmade and imperfect, the furry panels are evenly spaced along the gallery wall, their irregular white bulges and protrusions extending out into space and dangling down towards the floor. There is something distinctly anthropomorphic about the work, with its trunk-like extensions and rounded, abdominal distortions, that situates it between artistic and animal–human realms. The use of synthetic fur emphasises this connection, creating an artificial yet strangely compelling sense of recognition between object and viewer.

Reflecting on her practice, Temin has spoken of her desire to bring minimalism and a more intuitive, emotional language into dialogue. Interested from the outset in soft-toy imagery and a do-it-yourself approach, she is equally deeply committed to the history of minimalism, with its use of seriality, repetition and monochrome. The work of American sculptress Eva Hesse (1936–70) remains particularly significant for Temin in its bridging of minimalism’s formal language and a more tactile, sensual, bodily aesthetic. She says of Hesse, ‘she made it possible [for me] to think about how to be a female artist, making large-scale, formalist work’.[1]

Temin first came to Hesse’s practice as an undergraduate student in Melbourne in the 1980s, through art historian Lucy Lippard’s monograph on the artist. She subsequently travelled abroad, seeing Hesse’s suspended latex assemblages first hand. Committed to her material aesthetic, Temin was also drawn to Hesse’s biography as a child Holocaust survivor – a parallel to her own family experience. Temin’s father was a tailor from Hungary who had survived the concentration camps, and she recalls his shirt manufacturing business in Sydney when she was young, with its focus on cutting fabric, tailoring and making things. This past suggests that a range of unconscious connections have since found their way into Temin’s art.

White Problem is a pivotal work for Temin in its exploration of the monochrome (the colour white) and its use of seriality and repetition of form. Also significant is the notion of the bas-relief, or wall sculpture, and the classical reliefs of Greece and Rome, with their interplay of positive and negative forms coming out from the wall. The white of ancient marble is another reference point. Interestingly, the white synthetic fur used in White Problem is no longer manufactured today, according to Temin. Changes in technology have rendered it obsolete, and the fur has discoloured in her work; its appearance has changed over time to something less pristine, humbler.

The ‘problem’ alluded to in the work’s title is also not straightforward; it encompasses multiple possibilities. Working between painting and sculpture, or two and three dimensions, Temin’s practice itself problematises the neat categories that art has been historically subject to. ‘As a young artist trying to find my way, and a language of my own’, she recalls, ‘White Problem was a real turning point; things seemed to come together’. Reflecting her desire to work ‘between positions’,[2] it threads together the art historical and the emotional with enduring wit and grace.

Rachel Kent is the chief curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.

[1] Kathy Temin, interview with the author, October 2018.

[2] ibid.