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Birdbrain - Dislocation is a Place

Stuart Bridson
Stuart Bridson
Sylvia Sinel
Sylvia Sinel
Carole Driver
Carole Driver
Shaun Tan
Shaun Tan
Floortalk crowd
Carol Driver - floortalk
Stuart Bridson - floortalk
Sylvia Sinel - floortalk
Graphics - Alan Deare, image - Shaun Tan
Birdbrain - Dislocation is a Place. An exhibition featuring Stuart Bridson, Carole Driver, Sylvia Sinel and Shaun Tan. Curated by Sybille Schlumbom


Birdbrain - Dislocation is a Place

‘Birdbrain’ roams the space of dislocation, exploring the possibilities to find belonging in transit. Birdbrain is a negative term, associated with a short attention span, lack of focus and general simple mindedness, all characteristics easily presumed in those whose speech, looks and way of thinking differs from the familiar.

But birds have the ability to create, to use tools, to communicate - often so different that we lack the paradigm to measure their intelligence, or the consideration to accept it.

This exhibition brings together four artists that traverse with ease between cultural, geographical and emotional territories:

Stuart Bridson (NZ)

Stuart resides in Raglan in a house filled with his sculptures and paintings, surrounded by objects, textures and structures that are easily identified as the source of inspiration for his art. His work, be it sculpture or painting, is literally build up from multiple layers- steel, wood, enamel, oil paint, pencil.

All these straight forward materials, often found or salvaged, are building up to a textural surface that is exciting to explore in its own right. This layering gains meaning through the clear symbols used- the domestic pattern of a mid-century wallpaper design, the use of recycled,   utilitarian material as canvas. Other layers are less obvious. The sketch that is recognisable as a design for a sculpture or project, a recycled idea, taken out of context, utilised as texture and symbol. Symbol for what? Slightly disorientated, the viewer is left to struggle for reference points. Everything looks familiar, but nothing really is.

Demanding works, in a quiet way.

Simplified but still recognisable the imagery and objects muse on environmental issues, consumerism and our preciousness with the inanimate rather than the living organism; human versus nature.

The pieces remain almost intangible. Take your eyes of it for a minute and it seems to have moved, like a weeping angel, leaving you at a loss again.

Carole Driver (UK, Canada, AUS)

Carol is a global nomad whose journey has taken her from the UK to Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Her inquisitive mind captures universal principals and reduces them to the very specific, closer and closer, until she has subtracted and abstracted the very essence of the object in question. Most of her art works are a response to ‘place’, in a physical and metaphysical sense, exploring an ever-changing environment. These changes are sensitively perceived and documented.

The ‘First Form’ drawings, created with oil and acrylic on canvas, are a documentation of the smallest forms found in plants from various places. Simple, serene and peaceful, the pieces seem to float on the wall. These drawings are developed as part of an ongoing larger project, ‘Phytomorphs’, which also includes three dimensional interpretations of the sketches these symbols are based on.

Presented in the form of a periodic system, the sets turns into a universal language relating to a particular place and time. Present in the gallery are the Australian East Coast, Coal Loader Bush Food Garden in Sydney and the Australian Central Desert.

Change is inevitable, and with the origin of the symbols fading, Carole’s ‘First forms’ become a visual ark, documenting the time and space in which they have been created.

Sylvia Sinel (Sweden)

Swedish born Sylvia settled in Hamilton a few years back where she discovered the use of ceramics for her arts practice. She has a true birdbrain with a clear sense of direction while alighting upon a wide range of media on the way. Her small sculptures, mainly made from ceramic, often contain a mixed media element.

‘Inside - Outside’ consists of beautifully thrown cylinders. Combined with pure materials, wool and wood, the piece playfully and understated explores the idea of fundamental strangeness in a traditional presentation. The containing box is made of swamp kauri – painted white, another statement for those in the know, about the treasure hidden underneath the surface. This work highlights Sylvia’s way of thinking exquisitely - her ability to walk the line between the weird, the strange, the wonderful artist and the disciplined, minimalist, Nordic craftswoman.

Her work always contains sleek, serene lines, something to hold on to next to the bizarre and at times uneasy areas that surprises the eye in even in the smallest work. It is this combination of form and materials that creates the mixed emotions particularly familiar to those used to treading on foreign ground.  

Shaun Tan (AUS)

Shaun, Australian with Chinese/British heritage, touches the meaning of ‘belonging’ and ‘dislocation’ in most of his works. His works in a huge range of media and scale, from paintings in oil, acrylic and collage to murals, animations and 3d works. Layering plays an important role in the execution of his work; colours build up and shine through unexpectedly, collage, line drawings and textures all work together to create a rapport with the viewer.

Shauns projects refuse to be described in words.  He is an artist fully versed in the art of visual narrative, at its best in his work ‘The Arrival’, a graphic novel sans words or recognisable letters.

With simple but extraordinary visuals he develops an elaborate story about universal immigrants with their troublesome lack of belonging, but never forgetting the focus on the beautiful and marvellous, describing experiences of intimate connections, without words, in this dislocated reality.

Used symbols and images are common, but they don’t come on familiar terms; we can clearly identify the meaning, but they don’t follow a known pattern, like the suburban street ending in a cliff or the marine mammal beached on the front lawn. Shaun strips away all layers of familiar context, leaving us in deep empathy with the lost heroes of his stories and startled by the obvious absurdity of ‘normal’.  


The works of these artists reflects a sense of dislocation, but without obvious discomfort- rather with curiosity- using it as a tool that makes a journey possible in any direction.

Curiosity and compassion are the artist’s tools: the curiosity to question intercultural differences and environmental issues; compassion leads to a personal examination in any subject of inquiry.

This seamless roaming between worlds captures the Zeitgeist in these migratory times, where boundaries and borders become increasingly undistinguished and permeable.

German born and New Zealand based curator/artist Sybille Schlumbom a.k.a. billadonna has spent most of her life flying rather than nesting. Her work as a professional creative draws from the excitement to be lost in translation, visuals becoming the natural choice of communication.

Technical Information: 

It is always a pleasure to work with the best:

Thanks to Stuart Bridson and Stephen Salt for installing this exhibition to high professional standards, Alan Deare, areadesign, for poster, catalogue and vinyl design andWaikato University staff for ongoing support.

Special thanks to Sylvia, Carole, Stuart and Shaun, not only for making their work available for the exhibition but also supporting the development of the show by being uncomplicated, cooperative and supportive through the whole process.

Written by

Sybille Schlumbom a.k.a. billadonna

3 Jun 2016

Interests I always wanted to be an alien life form designer.But that is another story and will be told in another time at another place.