TEXT review

Just Glad Wrap

review by Caroline van de Pol


Francesca Rendle-Short
Just Glad Wrap
The Five Obstructions
Margaret Lawrence Gallery


In Just Glad Wrap, as part of The Five Obstructions art exhibition at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Victoria College of the Arts, writer Francesca Rendle-Short opens her notebook and splashes it over a stark white wall unwrapping her writing in a way we might unwrap a precious book or overflowing salad sandwich. There’s much to pick through and savour.

While I felt a kind of unease peering at her writing sprawled over a gallery wall, I also admired the courage of this artist-writer who, in her own words, explores what it means to ‘write with the body’.

In making the work, Rendle-Short stepped into it, became the work with her writing body – muscle, graphite, rain. In turn, she invites the viewer, as she puts it, to fall back into the work with her and to write the work for themselves as reading. It becomes a multiplex experience, inviting transgression and disobedience. Before this, Rendle-Short had never writtenonwalls quite like this.

This idea of ‘never’, of ‘obstruction’, is what informed the exhibition and the ‘instruction’ from curator, Martina Copley to all five artists Copley invited to work with her. In her invitation Copley said: 'The five hindrances/five easy steps (working title) is about the obstructions to making and viewing art, and the freedoms, constraints and refusals implicit in the exhibition process. There is no curatorial brief.' Copley did, however, ask the writers to give her five things that characterise their practices – or five things they ‘would never do’. She then chose one ‘freedom’ that the artists had to work from: for Francesca it was ‘steal an idea’. She stole books from her father’s bookcase, books still wrapped in Glad Wrap: a 1917 Holy Bible with Scoffield References and an 1870 Samuel Bagster Daily Light.

In Just Glad Wrap Rendle-Short explores the possibility of writing her father (a man who was the patron and founding chair of the ‘apologetics ministry’ Creation Science Foundation) in a way that matters. And in thinking about something Hélène Cixous once wrote – ‘I ask of writing what I ask of desire’ – Rendle-Short explains that she considered possibilities of creating a ‘a non-acquisitional space’ where neither one nor the other makes demands or argues back.  She asks: 'Can this writingonwalls become transformative and reach for what Inga Clendinnen might name as "incandescence"? Is it possible to make a portrait of her father, or "other", as a portrait of desire and possibility?'

For the viewer, Just Glad Wrap feelslike you are unwrapping family secrets as Rendle-Short combines memories with installations to reveal something of her father – and grandmother, including a precious 1917 bible ‘protected’ by glad wrap and inscribed: 'To Mrs Rendle Short with Love and Appreciation from the Members of the Shaftesbury Bible Study Class, February 1924'.

Some of the writing on the wall leaves the viewer feeling as if they have secretly opened the artist’s emails (a graphic youtube image and link) or stolen the writer’s notebook (never not cry… never ever say everything).  But rather than any sense of guilt there’s a kind of gratitude that something so personal can be made so public, that the private art of writing can be shared in an art gallery rather than the more traditional writer’s festivals, shared alongside the work of other artists who are not writers.

Looking at the words, all looped and rounded, falling off the end, rubbed out and written over, you might also feel pain. Like me, your hand might ache as you imagine yourself doing the writing, and your head might hurt from the flurry of ideas shooting across the wall as the words move from the wall inside you, active words of the body (squeeze, push, smooth, knees, fingers).

love my father’s knees
squeeze folds between fingers
push skin up and down

It’s all very physical and emotional. Like an outpouring of memory and stories, both painful and important to the writer, the artwork meanders through a life remembered and illustrated for the audience.

glad = giving joy
glad = bright beautiful
from the Latin – glabrous = smooth

Having read some of the exciting and eclectic writing of Rendle-Short, who stretches the possibilities of words and writing in new and unconventional art forms, we can now look forward to more writing, more poetry and more art from her.


Caroline van de Pol is a lecturer in Media and Communication at RMIT University. She is a journalist and editor and has worked at the Herald Sun and as a freelance writer for The Sunday Age. Caroline has published two non-fiction books and is currently completing her PhD at the University of Wollongong in creative writing.


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Vol 15 No 2 October 2011
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Kevin Brophy