Faye Toogood uses light – or the lack of – as a springboard for new work at the NGV Triennial
Having spent decades successfully working across the fields of publishing, fashion, art and furniture design, Faye Toogood is pondering whether she would still describe herself as an outsider. “At the start [of my career], I felt isolated, and I wasn’t accepted as a designer,” she says. “I think it suited me to sit on the outside, so that I didn’t have to adhere to any rules or be judged against any others. But these days, we’re all constantly comparing ourselves to others, to the point where it’s a disabling overload. So now, when I describe myself as an outsider, I see it more as having to remove myself in order to create work.”
Toogood’s latest commission comes at a time when creativity itself has had to be done in isolation. In a year when fairs and exhibitions have been cancelled, replaced with virtual offerings or empty calendars, the designer brought all her creative endeavours together for the 2020 Triennial at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne, which opened in December. Toogood was asked by curator Simone LeAmon to respond to the theme of illumination, and was given the gallery’s entire 17th-century art collection to work with.
The NGV project feels particularly emotional, because I finally feel as though I’ve brought myself into the room
Calling upon her degree in art history – “I already had quite a passion for Rembrandt and domestic paintings from that era” – she spent months scouring the collection for concepts and themes. Eventually she put forward a project that spoke about the absence of light across this period of art history, which would see each of the gallery’s three 17th-century rooms transformed into three immersive tableaus, Daylight, Candlelight and Moonlight. In Daylight, the room is lit with daylight bulbs and filled with floral still life paintings, glassware and crystal pieces from Toogood’s own Water collection (2016). One of two six-metre-long tapestries, specially created for the commission, are located in this room: the piece is made up of elements from each of the paintings, along with her own painting, recreated in stitch by master weavers in Belgium. Moonlight sees celestial drawings and etchings paired with the gallery’s selection of silverware, Toogood’s Moon pieces (2016) and a table and lamp from her most recent collection Assemblage 6 (2020). The second of the two tapestries is again presented as a collage of the works surrounding it.
For Candlelight, Toogood was drawn to a late Rembrandt portrait that appeared “sketchy and almost abstract” and thus decided to fill the room with portraits that looked to have been completed in low-level light. She has also made a series of family busts, marking the first time she has worked in a purely sculptural way: “despite my work being described as sculptural, it’s always had a function,” she says. After the pandemic scuppered Toogood’s plans for all the works to be made in precious metals, she had to rethink her approach.“I was faced with the choice of not making them at all, or making them myself, so I hired a big space and for the first time in a long time I fully embraced making, using any materials I could get hold of – car paint, plaster, chicken wire, paper.”
Toogood says of the show that “it is the most total work I have produced to date.” And as for the outsider complex? “The NGV project feels particularly emotional, because I finally feel as though I’ve brought myself into the room.”