When in doubt: give.
That’s what Björk says, and I’m inclined to agree with her. Unlike suspicion or cynicism – degenerative pastimes – the state of doubt can induce the peculiarly wonderful side effect of generosity. The thirsty field of the emerging arts – itself an act of determined agnosticism – is almost entirely irrigated by the generosity of doubt-filled artists. And David Capra, in a manner of speaking, is a significant benefactor.
Over the past three years, he has consistently produced a series of works called “gemstone manifestations”: roughly crafted, multicoloured pieces of plasticine that closely resemble our national gemstone, the opal. These are often set within Baroque brooch or pendant settings, and appear regularly and apparently randomly within the evolving context of his exhibitive works: most memorably amidst the trays of tea and biscuits at the artist talk for his exhibition, Shundaba at Depot II Gallery in Sydney.
Their conceptual origins lie in reported instances of spontaneous manifestations of gemstones and gold dust from the sky, as documented by members of the Charismatic Movement in Christian churches. Thanks to the divine medium of the Internet, many of these occurrences have been documented in various, albeit unverifiable, sources e.g. personal blogs, YouTube videos, and Christian chat forums. Art has long been associated with the language of faith, both in practice and depiction, so I find this greyness strangely appropriate.
Incidentally, Capra’s favourite film, The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939), opens upon Dorothy’s grey and sepia-toned homestead in Kansas. Before being whisked away to Technicolor wonderland, she encounters the eccentric Professor Marvel who professes to “never do anything without consulting my crystal first”. Contrary to the occultist imagery that the word conjures, divination is somewhat intrinsic to everyday life. Our temperate climate means that most Australians will simply never experience the spontaneous manifestations of tornadoes or gemstones that our distant American neighbours must daily endure. But artists, even Australian ones, are not immune to doubt – even less so to drought.
Perhaps that’s why I find David Capra’s gemstones so appealing. Making art cheaply with what is most available – in this case, plasticine – is not a new idea. Nor is the predictable aesthetic trajectory to which so many artists seemingly aspire, dictating that as careers shine, so too must one’s materials. In their soft and unfired state, unpolished save for a few of the artist’s fingerprints, these works represents the antithesis of the way that value is conventionally constructed in art. Capra himself has described them as ugly – like a tax-free opal, I might add.
At the end of the film, in a scene entitled “Heroic Rewards”, the oracular wizard informs each of the protagonists, more sagely than divinely, that they always possessed the ability to overcome their self-doubt, and that all that was needed to remind them of this was their faith (and some red shoes). Of course, in the nature of narrative storytelling, this revelation comes after their long and arduous journey to the Emerald City.
Maybe one day Dorothy will also yearn for a pair of opal, diamond, sapphire and emerald shoes, to go with her ruby ones – in which case I might suggest that she needn’t travel any further than Parramatta.