Sydney-based Jamie North has had a stellar couple of years, and by all accounts things are only going to get better. 2014 saw him undertake a major residency in Detroit. He began 2015 by exhibiting in Istanbul. He then executed an important sculptural commission at the National Gallery of Victoria. This project left people gasping with wonder at the radical way he wove together ideas and materials. Rarely has an artwork been so site specific yet so universal in its themes.
Born in Newcastle in 1971, his early training was in photography. To appreciate how far he has moved from that two-dimensional medium, consider the list of materials used in Portal 11 (2014) currently available in the stockroom of his representing gallery Sarah Cottier: cement, marble waste, steel slag, coal ash, plastic fibre, tree fern slab, various Australian native plants and Spanish moss. So what does he do with this strange wizard’s brew of stuff?
His work in Melbourne was curated into the cave-like foyer of the NGV International. Titled Rock Melt, it took its name from a Karl Marx quote: “All that is solid melts into air.” It took the form of six huge columns fashioned from industrial waste and recycled concrete. Seeded within these decaying ruins, that looked primeval but were utterly contemporary, were examples of plant life found in the outdoor wall cracks of the museum itself – specifically a type of creeping vine known as Pandorea pandorana. As the weeks passed, the vines sprouted, grew and threatened to take over the whole gallery.
As I write, North’s participation in the 2016 Biennale of Sydney has just been announced. I hope it is sooner rather than later that we hear he will be representing Australia in a future Venice Biennale. His concrete columns, perhaps infiltrated by plant life from the surrounding Giardini, would look superb inside the new pavilion and really anchor it to a sense of place.
IMAGES COURTESY: THE ARTIST AND SARAH COTTIER GALLERY, SYDNEY