Pipe Dreams

National Exhibition Register

  • Eccentric Boiler Tank & Flow Wheels
    Erica Gray Eccentric Boiler Tank & Flow Wheels , 2012
    Soft sculpture, wall mount, polyester stuffing & PVC coated fabric.
    230 x 195 x 35 cm
    Image Credit
    Courtesy of the artist

About the exhibition

Ceci nést pas une pipe

Rene Magritte, 1928-29

Encircling the domestic and commercial buildings in which we live, work and shop is a myriad of colourful pipes which provide us our modern conveniences. For the most part, these pipes dwell in the periphery - we are too busy keeping ‘our eyes peeled’ for car parking spots, or foraging under the sink for detergents and sprays, anything but noticing the ubiquitous pipe.

Growing up on the Gold Coast with a father who worked as a plumber and three brothers that would eventually follow him into the trade, Erica does, in fact, notice these pipes. A combination of both the reflective materials and interesting forms influenced Erica’s creative practice, resulting in the exhibition of soft sculpture and paintings.

A pipedream is a tremendous hope that is impossible to achieve. The nonsensical squishy pipe creations that Erica produces could never (and don’t wish to) perform the basic role of a pipe; instead these forms invite us to contemplate the unseen intertwining grids that circulate our lives. Constructed with PVC fabric, polyester stuffing and plywood, Gray inverts the logic and function of a pipe, instead engaging us with notions of scale, materiality, architecture and the body. She toys with ideas of physical presence and representation in a manner akin to the work of Belgian artist Rene Magritte.

Erica Gray has perfected her craft over two decades in the fashion industry. First working on various surf label contracts, among them the surf-wear brand Pipedreams. She then worked across a range of projects that involved sewing, costuming and accessory-makingIn contrast to this, Erica revels in the freedom that her artistic practice offers her;

I take special care to make my stitches shown on my artwork, in all their random and uneven way. Nothing makes me happier than seeing those stitches bunched up and on display where once it would have been unsightly.

Instead of cloaking the human form in material, Erica wrangles with, and ultimately controls, the sculptures into submission.

For me fashion was a form of sculpture, I just never had to worry about the core, as the person I was fitting held up the form. Now with each sculpture I thrill at the challenge of making the form whole.

The artist uses the symbol of pipes and the term ‘pipe dream’ to organically explore and explain the contradictions and challenges that we face in life;

Pipe Dreams represents the attitudes of go get-em, take a risk, jump into new challenges, do that what takes your breath away or makes your pulse race and in the end if you don’t quite make it- sit back and have a laugh or better yet - try again!

It is this sense of humour and unabashed optimism that pulsates through the works on display. Supplementing the vibrant sculptures are paintings that explore the concept of pipe grids and complement the soft sculptures, which anthropomorphise into beings filled with personality.

Erica’s practice shares resonance with the spirit of Surrealism. As pipes, these sculptures are non-functional and impractical. Yet as pieces of art they allow the viewer to be transported to another world in which shiny red PVC fabric could well be the material of choice for plumbers, who might install squishy bulging pipes along the interior walls of homes and buildings.

During the 1960s and 1970s soft sculpture developed as an art form to challenge the more formal properties of traditional sculpture. There was a fundamental shift in thinking about materiality and space, which followed on from the ready-made sculptures and modern constructions of the Surrealists in the early twentieth century. Instead of using solid materials such as stone, bronze or wood, artists used inexpensive readily-available resources and industrial materials. Erica uses unconventional materials to challenge the nature of sculpture, and in doing so completely upends the materiality of the object, leaving it open to physical possibilities envisioned through the imagination of the viewer.

Materially, Erica’s shiny and puffy red pipes share a resonance with functional pipes. Polyvinyl chloride, more commonly known as PVC is one of the most common materials used in contemporary plumbing and waste management. Erica chooses to work with a derivative of PVC. After her years in the fashion trade, she understands the limitations of material - the way it falls, and its tendency to creep into crinkled folds. In using a material derivative of functional pipes, Erica imbues her work with elements of authenticity.

These pipes seem to crawl upon the wall like creatures out of a bizarre movie. These forms have no eyes or face to distinguish them as alive, yet seem to be. The shiny red will make you want to see your reflection as you move your face closer to its fleshy surface. Enticingly plump - they will you to reach out and “squeeze them”. 

In Pipe Dreams, Erica Gray literally turns the gallery walls inside out to consider that which lurks within. By rendering these pipes in a shiny red plastic fabric, cramming them with polyester stuffing, completing them with crazy-edged stitching, and displaying them on a white wall in a Gallery, Erica transforms something purely functional into something purely aesthetic. We do not need to understand the mechanics of water pipes – only stand before these sculptures and wonder.

Previously displayed at
Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery (Until 3 April 2016)
Noosa Regional Gallery 2014 
Gold Coast City Gallery


Artists and Curator

Pip Minney, Gold Coast City Gallery

Erica Gray

Available Dates and
Exhibition Details

Available dates
01/09/2018 onwards
Exhibition size
Under 50 sq or running metres
Originating state
$2,000 (exc. freight)
Web Site
Other materials
PDF Catalogue
Primary contact
Erica Gray
07 55045 125