Portrait of the artist inside her solo exhibition Louise Paramor: Palace of the Republic at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

Louise Paramor is interested in how objects occupy space. That may sound obvious given that she works primarily as a sculptor, but her fascination with the dynamic between the viewer, an object and its environment extends beyond the realm of what’s immediately apparent.

“I work intuitively,” Paramor tells GRAZIA. “I’m conscious of why I start to think a [certain] way. Because I have stumbled into the public art sphere, I see much more potential and possibility in things that I thought at first were just existing for their own sake.”

Sydney-born, Paramor grew up in Perth but has lived in Melbourne for some thirty years. Two recurring veins in her practice are the subjects of Palace of the Republic, a major solo career show exhibiting now at the National Gallery of Victoria. The title of the exhibition – and Paramor’s new series – refers to the now demolished seat of the German Democratic Republic, Palast der Rebublik, a gilded socialist building which was situated opposite the Baroque-era Berlin City Palace. It also sees the artist return to a technique that was developed while living in the same city in the late 90s, at first as part of a yearlong artists fellowship at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien and then as a resident.

Before she developed the striking honeycomb paper technique on show again for the first time since the turn of the century, Paramor had been preoccupied with enlarging decorative elements in materials like aluminium foil as a way of interrogating collapsible forms. A three-year period of experimentation lead her to the ornate honeycomb technique, which allowed the artist more freedom to design her shapes from scratch rather than through blowing-up existing decorative objects. In Palace of the Republic, Paramor has revisited the technique after almost two decades and across two distinct bodies of work exhibited in separate galleries: one comprised of eight large-scale honeycomb pieces specifically commissioned by the NGV; the other, a collection of 100 pre-existing plastic sculptures, provides both an antecedent and a pragmatic antithesis to that grandeur.

The forms of those honeycomb structure, however, are different and have been changed to reflect Paramor’s current preoccupations. The first honeycomb series, titled Lustgarten or ‘pleasure garden’, was named for a place in Berlin with which it shared similar topiarist forms. The honeycomb forms of Palace of the Republic, on the other hand, take their cues from the plastic assemblages that Paramor has created in previous years and enlarged to a scale beyond their starting point. These new shapes, rendered in vivid colours, are more modernist in their geometry. Of the seven standing (and one hanging piece) structures, three are borrowed from her Boomtown (2016) series of assemblages, with others are derived from her Supermodel (2014) series.

Installation view of the National Gallery of Victoria’s Louise Paramor: Palace of the Republic on display at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

“It was nice to use existing forms that I had already resolved in my head,” says Paramor. “I stuck to the colours [of the original assemblage piece] as much as I could, changing it a bit only to differentiate the colour [to avoid repetition].”

The maquettes have been scaled up enormously in accordance with the demands of the space and in relation to one another. The process of construction of each honeycomb piece is a laborious one, and it has taken the artist an entire year to complete the finished collection by hand. Paramor says that the physically demanding nature of the work necessitates that she pace herself, as she works unassisted. She has developed a technique using lines of glue that alternate between leafs of paper unspooled from fifty metre rolls. Jigsaws are used to cut each layer, which is then pulled 360 degrees around a central steel pole axis to form the voluminous final shape, some measuring three metres in height.

“There’s a bit of engineering involved,” Paramor says, laughing. “They’re quite complicated. If I were able to muster it again, I would probably get an assistant!”

Every time she completes a honeycomb piece, Paramor says she learns another problem, the medium constantly surprising her with its intricacies. Asked if she can see herself continuing on with the resurrection of the honeycomb form and Paramor demurs. “If there’s handsome payment sure – but I’m not going to do it just as an activity!”

Paramor began developing her plastic assemblages in 2007 with a series called Industrial Jam Session. Of the 78 pieces created, six ended up being used as part of a public commission – an aspect of her practice that has grown to become increasingly important. A second gallery at the NGV show surveys the development of these works over a 10 year period and across five distinct scales. The smallest are around 30cm in height; some are described by the artist as “domestically scaled” for their incorporation of objects that the body uses or holds; and at the opposite end of the spectrum, one work has been scaled up to three metres.

Paramor’s assemblages works have resulted in the commissioning of larger, more permanent public sculptures. In those works, there’s a sense of play and humour, as well as an aspect of familiarity no matter how alien the composition. The Supermodel series saw her assemblage works take on the quality of characters, with each piece given a name – Sugar, Uma and Barbra, for example – that played on the models themselves. As such, each takes on a quality of strange anthropomorphism, and were arranged on long platforms intended to invoke a runway. Three works from that series formed part of a smaller public commission in Adelaide. The works of another series, Stupa City (2011), could be likened to architectural models in a very loose sense. Each invoked the spirit of a utilitarian building – a bank, a cinema, an opera house, a hotel. One of the maquettes, Hotel Panorama, became the subject of one of Paramor’s largest public commissions, Panorama Station (2012), a monumental permanent public sculpture commissioned by Southern Way for the Peninsula Link Freeway in Melbourne.

Appraising them for their formal elements, however, means that Paramor often becomes divorced from their origins and thus the kind of thrill to be found in identifying an element in an alien new context. “Sometimes you can distinguish the different parts and that always interests people,” Paramor says of the repurposed found objects that she keeps in an archive of boxes categorized by scale. “I guess because I’m so close to it, I’m always looking for objects in interesting shapes and colours to play around with. The objects dictate to me how they should be arrange so I lose sight of the origins of these parts, but people, when they see them, they get a kick out of noticing elements that remind them of things that they might have once had, or used, or currently use now.”

Louise Paramor: Palace of the Republic is on display at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne until March 12, 2018. Entry is free. Further information is available here.