Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)
16 Mar 2007 to 20 May 2007
Stephen Birch’s sculptures and installations employ everyday forms while simultaneously unsettling our sense of the comfortable or familiar. Playing with scale and context and using a range of materials that draw attention to the production process, Birch’s works draw us into eerie yet humorous parallel worlds, where linear readings become frustrated and the borders between reality and illusion are blurred.
Born in Melbourne in 1961, Birch exhibited widely throughout Australia and New Zealand from the 1980s until his death in 2009. This exhibition was the only major Museum survey of his practice. Several motifs recurred throughout his work over time, most notably the tree, with its mythological, folkloric and art-historical resonances, encouraging a range of associations. Birch provided many of his tree forms with human characteristics, suggesting an interior life within these inanimate objects, often reinforced by his use of small video loops that manifest a fugitive component of memory or loss.
In the 2000s, Birch began to investigate the human form, ranging from heads cast from artist colleagues to the figure of Spiderman. The artist distorted the figure, so that it slipped out of direct representation or portraiture and entered a psychological realm, tapping into repressed fears, desires or anxieties. In the process, Birch explored aspects of contemporary life, drawing on popular culture and the mass media as well as art and literature. The figures of Untitled and Dave, for example, confronted us with characters from our collective imaginary which are superhuman yet ordinary, as invented as they are real.
Stephen Birch: looking out my back door featured selected sculptures and installations from the previous decade of the artist’s practice. As part of the exhibition, Birch’s large outdoor sculpture of a knotted tree was installed on the front lawn of the MCA.