For the 19th Biennale of Sydney, Melbourne-based artist and experimental musician Nathan Gray created a series of fragmentary videos that together explore the sounds of Cockatoo Island: the squeak of a rusty door; the rattle of a sign in the wind; the echo of a voice in a cavernous space. Species of Spaces (2013–14) marries small observations, encounters and improvised actions to create a musical symphony of the island’s acoustic, encountered in an old air-raid shelter on the island.
Gray utilised available objects on the island, testing their material and aural qualities. The island became a kinetic playground. His actions are economical but astute, activating potentials which lie otherwise dormant or overlooked. Joining these observations together to create a larger, musical work results in a sensory score of the island that documents the relationship between the human body and the spaces and objects that surround us.
Gray approaches his practice through different paths including composition, performance, multi-sensory installations and participatory events. Drawing from a range of influences, from improvised music to nature, geology and physics, Gray creates artworks that explore the significance of the process of creation and the materials used. The artist works with sculpture, painting, illustration and collage, often incorporating performance, music and sound, to create installations in which the opposing forces of nature and technology coexist in harmony.
Deeply engaged with process-based practice, Gray exercises trial and error in the production of his work, learning new techniques through the course of creation. ‘Attack Decay Sustain Release’, an exhibition at Craft Victoria in 2009, saw Gray present sculptures and paintings accompanied by a sound installation. Vibrant colours, floating lines, and sculptures created from Styrofoam gave the space the appearance of being gradually encroached upon by a series of strange plants and forms. The sound installation – noises created on a synthesiser – echoed the artificiality of the man-made environment.
For ‘ACTS’, a solo exhibition presented in 2012 at Utopian Slumps in Melbourne, Gray scripted short performances that revolved around a collection of objects. Performers made sculptures by using or arranging a series of objects. In The New National Anthem II (2012), for example, performers were asked to connect a series of pipes to a trumpet and play the national anthem. Gray recorded the performances and presented the minimally edited videos on three screens, overlapping the synchronisation to create an overall composition. His interest lay in examining the role of the performer and maker, and in capturing performances that produced sculpture as well as sculpture that encouraged performance.
Gray’s work has been the subject of several recent solo shows, including ‘ACTS’, Utopian Slumps, Melbourne (2012); ‘Score for Dance’, Open Archive, Melbourne (2012); and ‘In the year 2525’, Utopian Slumps, Melbourne (2011). He has participated in numerous group exhibitions, including ‘Regimes of Value’, Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne (2013); TarraWarra Biennale, Victoria (2012); ‘The Social Life of Things’, Monash Faculty Gallery, Melbourne (2012); ‘Australian Centre for Contemporary Art Regional Tour’, Horsham Regional Gallery (2011); and ‘Gertrude Studio Artists’, Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne (2010).