Dark star: Stieg Persson’s ‘Polyphonic’ at the Potter

  Stieg Persson: Polyphonic , exhibition installation view, Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, 2018; image courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne; photo: Christian Capurro

Stieg Persson: Polyphonic, exhibition installation view, Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, 2018; image courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne; photo: Christian Capurro

Stieg Persson’s recent retrospective at the University of Melbourne’s Ian Potter Museum of Art (27 March – 1 July) was a display of his chameleon-like approach to the medium of painting. In a career that has spanned three decades, Persson has produced paintings across various styles, both abstract and figurative, and has referenced a most disparate group of thematics, including human illness (Painting 1990, The king sends his own physician, 1990) right through to Swedish death metal (‘The Gothenburg Crosses’ series, 1996–97).

In addition to showcasing the artist’s talent for quickly switching subject matter and style, ‘Polyphonic’ also offered an overview of Persson’s technical prowess. Across two floors of galleries, the exhibition demonstrated his capacity to manipulate paint as a tool of light, texture and shape. An untitled series of skeletons from 1997, for instance, arranged along the stairwell leading up to the Potter’s first floor, demonstrated Persson’s command of darkness and light in an obvious allusion to Dutch vanitas. Meanwhile, the artist’s oft-practised irony was most obviously at work in a series from 2014–15 that appeared to reference objects of popular taste. These included Heirloom Carrots (2015), a work adorned with text typical of a cafe menu board. This particular series also incorporated the graffiti-like markings that might be understood to have evolved out of Persson’s earlier experiments with the paint stroke: an exercise at work in Ruskin (2008) from the series ‘Old Europe’, in which Persson consciously played with the possibilities of line as shape.

Ultimately, ‘Polyphonic’ demonstrated that, at the core of Persson’s work, is a refusal to conform to categorisation. The common thread among these works, however, was that each and every one of them was in some way rooted in Persson’s postmodern painterly origins, while nonetheless integrating a strong awareness of their contemporary moment of creation.

Amelia Winata, Melbourne

 

‘COMMISSIONED’: Coming soon to the Nishi Gallery, Canberra

 Vernon Ah Kee,  Gaze , 2012, from ‘Unwritten’ series; lithograph on Arches paper, 76 x 56cm, edition of 30; printer John Loane, Viridian Press, Melbourne

Vernon Ah Kee, Gaze, 2012, from ‘Unwritten’ series; lithograph on Arches paper, 76 x 56cm, edition of 30; printer John Loane, Viridian Press, Melbourne

In 1990 Art Monthly’s founding editor Peter Townsend initiated a series of limited-edition prints offered for sale to readers and subscribers and comprising some of Australia’s finest and most innovative artists from Rosalie Gascoigne to Vernon Ah Kee. Twenty-eight years later, and to help support Art Monthly’s future endeavours, a special collection of these prints and commissioned covers will be curated, exhibited and auctioned at Canberra’s Nishi Gallery – all in the best spirit of independent art publishing.

Ticketed auction event: 27 July 2018, 6-9pm

To purchase tickets online:
artmonthly.org.au/art-monthly-fundraising-auction/

Phone: +612 6125 3988

With support from Molonglo Group

Public exhibition: 28 – 29 July 2018, 10am-6pm

NISHI GALLERY
17 Kendall Lane New Acton, Canberra ACT 2601

 

Delirious descent: Angela Tiatia’s ‘The Fall’

 Angela Tiatia,  The Fall , 2017, still; HD video 16:9, 4mins 58secs duration; commissioned by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 2017; image courtesy the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney

Angela Tiatia, The Fall, 2017, still; HD video 16:9, 4mins 58secs duration; commissioned by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 2017; image courtesy the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney

Call it a case of cross-fertilisation. It was an artist residency exchange last year between the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and the National Museum of Singapore that saw Sydney-based Angela Tiatia travel to the Southeast Asian island city-state (and which brought Singaporean artist Debbie Ding to Canberra), from which germinated The Fall (2017), the five-minute video which won Tiatia this month’s AU$35,000 Ravenswood Australian Women’s Art Prize.

Tiatia’s winning work imaginatively responds to the oral accounts of the 1942 Fall of Singapore – revelling in both its chaos and quiet – as darkness descended on the island and surreal scenes unfolded. Looting mixed with gorging and prayer, with imprisoned soldiers even swallowing hibiscus flowers for their virility and young girls ageing their hair with flour – all of which Tiatia captures within a hypnotic single take (shot with a cast and crew of 50 at Sydney’s Carriageworks).

Partly inspired by Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1490), The Fall was praised by Ravenswood’s judges for embodying ‘the richness and theatricality of a nineteenth-century tableau vivant’. But its contemporary resonances are just as clear in these warmongering times. As the artist has said: ‘We live in such a time right now where we can see the fall of our society in our near future.’

Angela Tiatia’s winning work will be screened at Buxton Contemporary as part of ‘TIME’, the video sector curated by Hannah Mathews and Rachel Ciesla, for the Melbourne Art Fair on 31 July 2018.

 

A multifarious offering: Two decades of collecting Canberra

  Celebration: 20 years of collecting visual art at CMAG , exhibition installation view featuring the work of (from left): Masahiro Asaka, Neil Roberts, David Jensz and Kensuke Todo; image courtesy CMAG, Canberra; photo: Rob Little, RLDI

Celebration: 20 years of collecting visual art at CMAG, exhibition installation view featuring the work of (from left): Masahiro Asaka, Neil Roberts, David Jensz and Kensuke Todo; image courtesy CMAG, Canberra; photo: Rob Little, RLDI

Deborah Clark (editor of Art Monthly 2002–07) put together this exquisite survey of some 200 works as her last project before leaving the role as Senior Curator. On view until 17 June, ‘Celebration: 20 years of collecting visual art at CMAG’ represents not only the Canberra region but the broader activities of its artist community.

In her catalogue essay, Clark writes that the Canberra Museum and Art Gallery has a fundamental emphasis on collecting and supporting contemporary practitioners from the region, but has recently broadened the focus to collect historical works that relate to the area. Consequently the earliest work on show, and placed at the entry of the main gallery, is Joseph Lycett’s 1824 print View of Lake George. This is the only temporal pinning of this multifarious offering.

The Canberra School of Art (now ANU School of Art & Design) and its Bauhaus-style workshop system has contributed in no small way, with staff and alumni not only represented as individuals, but as collectives and organisations that formed to allow graduates to stay in the region, to build careers without having to move to larger cities. The Canberra Glassworks is one such example, and Studio One another. Both have built Canberra an international reputation as a city of glass and of print. There are many prints in the exhibition by national Indigenous artists such as Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Rover Thomas and Judy Watson, and they were made at Studio One with the help of master printers like Basil Hall.
 
The hang is thoughtful and clever, with rich colourways, nuanced balancing of forms, and clusters of conceptual themes. There are delightful synchronicities (Marie Hagerty’s Monarch II, 2008, next to Michael Le Grand’s Eclipse, 2010) and knowledgeable pairings, such as the ‘Carcass’ works by both Sidney Nolan (1953) and Alison Alder (2009). Outside in Gallery 4, sculpture by Masahiro Asaka, David Jensz, Kim Mahood, Neil Roberts and Kensuke Todo is all black-and-white, allowing their strong forms to commune without being overwhelming.

The mix satisfyingly addresses Canberra’s curious combination of rural, urban, intellectual and grassroots qualities, showcasing a small but splendid collection.

Caren Florance is currently Critic-in-Residence at ANCA, Canberra, in a special project partnership with Art Monthly Australasia.

 

Gestures of the possible?: Kimsooja’s ‘Zone of Nowhere’ at PICA

 Kimsooja,  To Breathe – Zone of Nowhere  and  Bottari,  2018; installation detail view, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA), 2018; site-specific installation; image courtesy PICA, Perth; photo: Alessandro Bianchetti

Kimsooja, To Breathe – Zone of Nowhere and Bottari, 2018; installation detail view, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA), 2018; site-specific installation; image courtesy PICA, Perth; photo: Alessandro Bianchetti

In the shadow of fluttering flags, there is a prevailing stillness about Kimsooja’s first Australian solo exhibition ‘Zone of Nowhere’, at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) and on until 29 April.

Thirty flags hang above the viewer in the main gallery, but unlike the flags we are familiar with, each is a transparency of itself combined with two others. This is the installation version of a video made for the 2012 London Olympics where, ordering the countries in alphabetical order, each flag coexists with the next. Extending her focus that pivots around cultural practices and symbolism of textiles – particularly the Korean bottari, fabric used to gather belongings into bundles for travel – Kimsooja’s utopian flags are precisely positioned in order to set the tone for the show.

In the current state of political, social and moral oversaturation, this exhibition is a moment of calm, a pairing back, a reducing of information, politics and social mores to their ontological basics. Why can’t these simple acts (the flags), rather than seeming like a utopian drag, and certainly not always aesthetically appealing, be the gestures of the possible?

Both floors of the gallery are sparsely but strategically dotted with such gestures. Bottari Truck – Migrateurs (2007) and Mumbai: A Laundry Field (2007) directly reference dire social circumstances, while Mandala: Zone of Zero (2004–10) and Bottari – Alfa Beach (Nigeria) (2001) reference religious coexistence and historical slavery respectively. And yet there is a warmth that we feel in their presence, a fortification of the utopia which, for Kimsooja, is still possible. There is no judgement, only a continuous opportunity for the good: the laundry field in the caste quarter in Mumbai can end at the stroke of a government pen; the mandala accentuates rhythmic commonalities, the potentialities of the ‘zero’, not the dogmatic differences; and empathy, she reminds us with an upside-down video view of the African beach from which slaves were shipped, can go a long way.

Opening as part of the 2018 Perth Festival, this is the first fully conceived and produced exhibition by PICA’s incoming Senior Curator Eugenio Viola. No stranger to Perth herself, Kimsooja – Korean-born, New York-based – has exhibited her work in 1997 and 2001 at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, as well as nationally, but this show feels like a different moment for PICA and a measured moment of focus for those familiar with the artist’s work.

The prevailing stillness of this exhibition is like the beginning of a shift in our collective consciousness that can happen at any moment and on the international scale; and with this, the curator and the artist remind us that exhibitions can be quiet utopian launch pads anywhere in the world.

Dunja Rmandic is an Associate Curator Projects at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth.

 

Jurassic park: ‘Sculpture at Scenic World 2018’

 Rochelle Quantock,  Choking Hazard , 2018, installation view, ‘Sculpture at Scenic World 2018’, Katoomba; image courtesy Scenic World

Rochelle Quantock, Choking Hazard, 2018, installation view, ‘Sculpture at Scenic World 2018’, Katoomba; image courtesy Scenic World

Perhaps more than any medium, sculpture has the chameleon ability to look as comfortable in the brightly lit white spaces of inner-city galleries as it does in the outdoors. But it is not until you descend into the Jurassic-era rainforest in the Blue Mountains that you begin to appreciate the impact natural light and soundscapes can have on how art is perceived and enjoyed.

Now in its seventh year, ‘Sculpture at Scenic World’ (until 13 May) has developed into a showcase for predominantly New South Wales artists to respond to the landscape with site-specific works – complete with the added constraints that come with ensuring no ecological footprint is left by any of the art.

Not surprisingly, this year a number of installations address our relationship with the environment, but in vastly different ways. Simon Reece’s Neutron Waste is a series of metallic-looking ceramic vesicles that bubble up from the forest floor; while Gary Deirmendjian’s UNDIGESTIBLE is deeply unsettling in its simplicity – household waste and hard rubbish scattered everywhere, some of it cling-wrapped to trees like cancerous forms.

Barbara Hamilton’s Casuarina Dreaming II sees a flock of enigmatic glossy black-cockatoos created using discarded umbrellas, shredded to form feathers and simultaneously referencing the fragility of their ecosystem and diminishing protection for the birds. As with Hamilton’s work, Mitchell Thomas and Bronwen Williams’s Quaver uses sound which both enhances and distinguishes the forest noise, while Paul Greedy’s kinetic sculpture Pulse provides a moment of aural magic.

Along the walk, works such as Rochelle Quantock’s Choking Hazard, comprising thousands of primary-coloured plastic blocks stacked like Lego up a tree trunk, or Nick Warfield’s statuesque rendition of an enormous owl made from parts of car bumper bars, announce their presence clearly.

Others, such as David Jensz’s hypnotising and fantastically well-executed Ripple, or Mark and Hannah Surtees’s Geronimo! (which took out the major award), a LED light threaded through rope to make a forest swing, meld with the landscape.

But what ties all works more clearly than theme or intent is the ever-changing light that filters through the forest canopy. In the morning, it acts like hundreds of coincidental spotlights, highlighting colours and forms in ways that make some works feel completely different when viewed after the sun has dipped behind the looming sandstone cliffs in the fading afternoon light.

Claire Stewart, Katoomba  

 

Forging ahead: 2018’s Art Basel Hong Kong

 Joyce Ho,  Balancing Act , 2018, installation view, TKG+ booth, Art Basel Hong Kong, March 2018; photo: Chloé Wolifson

Joyce Ho, Balancing Act, 2018, installation view, TKG+ booth, Art Basel Hong Kong, March 2018; photo: Chloé Wolifson

It’s not just me who feels intimidated by the prospect of visiting an art fair the scale of Art Basel Hong Kong. Once the opening press conference is over and the media which have been chomping at the bit to enter Asia’s annual edition of the global behemoth are finally let loose on the halls of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, it quickly becomes clear that taking it all in is a near-insurmountable task. Facing the job of viewing the booths of 248 galleries from 32 countries spread across two halls (until 31 March), we stand hesitantly in front of the huge floor plan placed mockingly inside the nearest entrance and compare plans of attack, while simultaneously acknowledging that our strategies are destined to fall victim to any number of distractions – running into a friend or acquaintance, becoming sidetracked by a gallerist, or running off to one of the countless events taking place around the halls. Best to just forge ahead, and so I do.

The 250 booths are divided into various categories, reflecting (or perhaps disguising) the hierarchically structured nature of the art world. ‘Galleries’ is the dominant and self-explanatory one and now includes curated highlights under the banner of ‘Kabinett’. Chinese gallery Beijing Commune showed an array of dynamic, amusing sculptures from Liang Shuo’s ongoing ‘Fit’ series in which everyday found objects, from share bikes to showerheads, are ‘fit’ into one another without glue or nails to evolve a final form. At the other end of the aesthetic spectrum was Mexican gallery kurimanzutto’s pared-back presentation of work by Gabriel Orozco, with the artist employing repetitive graphic motifs in two- and three-dimensional form.

‘Insights’ and ‘Discoveries’ tend to yield quality and surprise, showcasing projects by Asian and Asia-Pacific artists, and solo projects by emerging artists respectively. This year they included an impressive survey of Colin McCahon paintings at Auckland’s Gow Langsford Gallery, a considered new body of work by Gala Porras-Kim at Los Angeles space Commonwealth and Council, which proposed new forms for anonymous fragments, and Philipp Timischl at Galerie Emanuel Layr (Vienna/Rome), whose presentation examined gender identity through physical and conceptual layers.

It might be the lure of a glamorous global art event that draws us into an occasion like Art Basel Hong Kong but, as always, it is the work of the artists themselves that allows us to find our way through it, and see the world in a different way as a result.

Chloé Wolifson, Hong Kong

 

Disrupting dichotomies: Uji Handoko Eko Saputro at the ‘NGV Triennial’

 Uji Handoko Eko Saputro (a.k.a. Hahan),  Young speculative wanderers , 2014–15, installation view, ‘NGV Triennial’, NGV International, Melbourne, 2017; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, purchased through NGV Supporters of Contemporary Art, 2016; photo: Tom Ross

Uji Handoko Eko Saputro (a.k.a. Hahan), Young speculative wanderers, 2014–15, installation view, ‘NGV Triennial’, NGV International, Melbourne, 2017; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, purchased through NGV Supporters of Contemporary Art, 2016; photo: Tom Ross

The worlds of art fairs and triennials don’t often blur, each preferring to assert their individual autonomy not unlike church and state. Indonesian artist Uji Handoko Eko Saputro (a.k.a. Hahan), however, revels in disrupting such dichotomies. At Art Central Hong Kong in March 2017, the artist’s Speculative Entertainment No. 1 deliciously disorientated fair-goers with a huge mural painting literally carved up like pieces of cake into 10-centimetre portions – and ‘served’ up by a costumed cast of assistants replete with loud speakers.

For the ‘NGV Triennial’ (where he is one of over 100 participating artists, at the NGV International until 15 April), Hahan is presenting that performative work’s sculptural precursor, Young speculative wanderers (2014–15). At first glance, with its nine superhero-style polyester-resin figures holding aloft three paintings within a darkened disco-like setting, it seems perfectly Instagram-friendly fodder. But spending time with the installation, and with the artist himself, the work opens up to inhabit a more interesting and speculative twilight zone. This isn’t a typical work of the grab-and-plonk variety, but one borne of a particular cultural context and made more meaningful because of its sensitivity to site.

Hahan is one of the most notable avatars of the thriving Yogyakarta art scene, which in the past few decades has unleashed a remarkably generous and fertile spirit of collaboration across international networks. In 2005, for instance, Hahan helped form the band Punkasila with Melbourne artist Danius Kesminas and, in many ways, Young speculative wanderers documents this personal and collective journey.

Framed by the celebratory floral garlands of Javanese culture, the trio of Indo-pop paintings witnesses a generative spirit in full flux, from an individual gesture at first to a market-driven international discourse in its ascendant phase. In the final frame, Roy Grounds’s NGV building appears as a shrine-like nirvana to be climbed, with both affection and irony – ‘a celebration of the rise of a new breed of Indonesian visual artists,’ Hahan says.

This isn’t the journey of an individual artistic ego forged in western-style isolation. Instead, the nine sculpted figures represent Hahan’s sundry collaborators and enablers – curators, collectors, fellow artists. ‘If you are an artist in Indonesia, you have to acknowledge that you are supported by so many different layers of informal and official infrastructures,’ he says.

And contextualising the installation, grounding it in a particular locality, are the floors and walls of traditional azulejo tiling (a legacy of European colonialism in Indonesia) – in this case patterned by the place-marking symbol of Google Maps. So in this era of increased artistic mobility are we here or there? In Melbourne or Yogyakarta? Or in a new non-place of our own collective devising, with artist and audience as one? This is but an intriguing stepping-off point in Hahan’s work which – like the ‘NGV Triennial’ itself – offers welcome room for speculation.

Michael Fitzgerald, Melbourne

 

Through the looking glass: Pipilotti Rist at the MCA

 Pipilotti Rist,  Das Zimmer (The Room) , 1994/2017, installation view, ‘Pipilotti Rist: Sip my Ocean’, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, 2017; image courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Luhring Augustine; © the artist; photo: Daniel Boud

Pipilotti Rist, Das Zimmer (The Room), 1994/2017, installation view, ‘Pipilotti Rist: Sip my Ocean’, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, 2017; image courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Luhring Augustine; © the artist; photo: Daniel Boud

Most have felt the inadequacy of trying to describe a dream following the experience of dreaming itself. Video artist Pipilotti Rist masterfully explores these sensations of existence that lie beneath the linguistic surface. In the exhibition ‘Sip my Ocean’ (at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art Australia until 18 February), curator Natasha Bullock has ‘choreographed’ Rist’s works to evoke the sensation of moving between experiences that appear discrete yet connected by subconscious threads. Moving through shifting scales, materials and viewing angles of Rist’s screens, viewers’ bodies become like Alice drinking her various potions – one minute immersed as protagonists in total worlds, the next looming over tiny dioramas. This effect is taken to extremes in the gallery-sized, apartment-like installation Your Room Opposite the Opera (2017), in which furniture, decorative and domestic objects used as screens become vessels of evocation.

Rist disrupts the hyper-familiar viewing mode where images are contained within a clearly delineated screen sitting on a wall or in our hands. While the once-ubiquitous presence of the boxy TV in the domestic lounge room is an important keystone in Rist’s practice, and is the focus of her oversized sofa work Das Zimmer (The Room) (1994/2017), the exhibition showcases an evolution from monitor to environment that took place gradually in the artist’s work since the 1990s, paralleling technological development. The fluidity of light within the medium is treated as akin to painting, with image edges that are literally blurred or non-geometric.

In the two-channel 1997 work Ever is Over All (recently and famously referenced by Beyoncé), the young female protagonist skips along in a Disney-esque powder-blue chiffon dress and red-sequinned shoes, smashing car windows with an iron poker flower to the smiling affirmation of a passing cop. On the second screen, poker flowers wave in the breeze in situ. A folk rendition of the Chris Isaak song ‘Wicked Game’, overlaid with a voice of what sounds like a child screaming the lines ‘I don’t want to fall in love’, simultaneously soothes and jars. Employing this deft mix of poetry and humour, Rist hits us over the head with the poker flower with one hand, while caressing us with it with the other.

Chloé Wolifson, Sydney

 

Luca Guadagnino’s 'Call Me by Your Name': The power of improvisation

Call_image.jpg

‘Somewhere in Northern Italy …’ Adapted from André Aciman’s 2007 novel, Luca Guadagnino’s artful, gorgeously shot Call Me by Your Name is about love, memory and the power of improvisation.

With the film, James Ivory’s screenplay, Timothée Chalamet’s central performance and, not least of all, Sufjan Stevens’s haunting song all up for Oscars, be among the first 5 people to email artmonthly.admin@anu.edu.au and receive double passes to see this acclaimed feature during its current Australian release.

Image courtesy Sony Pictures Classics     

Léonor Serraille’s free-wheeling feature debut

  Laetitia Dosch in Léonor Serraille’s  Montparnasse Bienvenüe (Jeune Femme) , 2017; image courtesy   Alliance Française French Film Festival

Laetitia Dosch in Léonor Serraille’s Montparnasse Bienvenüe (Jeune Femme), 2017; image courtesy Alliance Française French Film Festival

Winner of the Camerá d’Or for best first feature at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, Léonor Serraille’s Montparnasse Bienvenüe (Jeune Femme) has been described by Sight & Sound magazine as ‘free-wheeling’ and ‘perfectly-formed’ with an electro soundtrack by Julie Roué – a perfect film, in fact, as the world looks to focus more on emerging female directorial talent.

Be among the first to see Serraille’s acclaimed debut as part of this year’s Alliance Française French Film Festival which tours Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Perth, Hobart, Adelaide, Parramatta and Casula) from late February until April. The first 10 people to email artmonthly.admin@anu.edu.au will each receive free double passes to see a film at the festival (excluding opening/closing nights, special events, public holidays and Saturdays after 5pm). For festival city dates, please see:

https://www.affrenchfilmfestival.org

Taking the pulse: ‘Art Stage Singapore 2018’

 Thidarat Chantachua,  Restart , 2018, installation view, SAC Gallery booth at the 8th Art Stage Singapore, January 2018; photo: Anne-Marie Jean

Thidarat Chantachua, Restart, 2018, installation view, SAC Gallery booth at the 8th Art Stage Singapore, January 2018; photo: Anne-Marie Jean

The atmosphere at the 8th Art Stage Singapore is friendly, collegial and excited. There is the impression of mature, engaging, playful and diverse practice through the almost exclusively Southeast Asian galleries represented. In his opening remarks, Art Stage founder Lorenzo Rudolf continued his dedication to strengthening market activity, focusing on the importance of private collectors, industry and government in nurturing the visual arts, as well as highlighting Thailand as the current regional leader with the opening of several new private museums on the horizon.

Augmenting this year’s individual gallery presentations are a trio of invited exhibitions, including a selection from the Tiroche DeLeon Collection’s often humorous and quietly political contemporary Southeast Asian artworks. Acquired over the past six years, the collection includes powerful pieces such as Rodel Tapaya’s Cane of Kabunian, Numbered But Cannot Be Counted (2010) and Donna Ong’s ornamental In Xanadu Did Kubla Khan (2011). Also new to Art Stage are dedicated design and fashion galleries. ‘The Artling Collectible Design Showcase’, for instance, platforms functional and unique pieces by established and emerging Southeast Asian designers.

Crucial to the success of the fair (once again at Marina Bay Sands as part of Singapore Art Week, until 28 January) are the multiple performance spaces and discrete sculptural installations. During vernissage, Singapore-based artist Isabelle Desjeux delivered a lecture asking: ‘What if humans were part of the plants’ grand plan to rule the planet?’ People queued to experience childhood nostalgia in Taiwanese–Malaysian interdisciplinary artist Poesy Liang’s Poesy Empathy – Hidden Messages (2014–18), while crowds clustered around The Money Tree Project presented by Bangkok-based Whitespace Gallery, replacing handpainted ‘Nong Baht’ notes with Singapore dollars on a traditional Thai money tree.

Creating a distinct and poignant impression in this context is Chinese–Thai artist Thidarat Chantachua’s installation Restart (2018). Reflecting on the fragmented lives of refugees, the Muslim artist’s fabric tent printed with text taken from newspapers (such as, ‘In many cases we learn that one ticket from the authority affects the demolition of many buildings belonging to families’) opens to reveal a black interior embroidered with geometric patterns to depict star constellations – symbolising one possible route home.  

Anne-Marie Jean, Singapore

 

Like electricity: Todd Fuller and 'Billy’s Swan'

 Todd Fuller,  Billy’s Swan , 2017, video still; chalk and charcoal animation and video, 5:37 mins duration; image courtesy the artist and May Space, Sydney

Todd Fuller, Billy’s Swan, 2017, video still; chalk and charcoal animation and video, 5:37 mins duration; image courtesy the artist and May Space, Sydney

When I think about trauma, my thoughts inevitably drift towards musicals. The emotional, physical, spiritual and sexual abuses I’ve experienced – especially in my youth – somehow shaped who I am today as a queer man who sees the world through music. The genre of the musical thrives from making sunshine of shit. Bad things happen, but transforming them into song and dance makes us feel like everything will be alright in the end.

The film Billy Elliot (2000) was destined for an afterlife as a musical. A young white boy going through the identity crisis of puberty trades his boxing gloves for ballet slippers amid a familial and community backdrop of grief and impoverishment. But when he dances, he transcends his physical or psychic constraints. In a poignant scene where Billy auditions for the Royal Ballet School, he is asked what he ‘feels’ when he dances, to which he responds: ‘… like a bird, like electricity.’

The queerness of Billy Elliot finds fuller form in the musical than the film. With music by Elton John and choreography by Peter Darling, Billy Elliot the Musical made its stage debut in 2005 on the West End in London. Australian visual artist Todd Fuller saw the musical in Sydney in 2007 at the age of 19. A decade later, amid debates about marriage equality in Australia, Fuller’s animation video Billy’s Swan (2017) revisits the musical to weave a personal narrative within the political framework of human rights for LGBTIQA individuals.

In Billy’s Swan (first show as part of the exhibition ‘Out of Line’ at Sydney’s May Space in November last year), Fuller performs to camera an appropriation of Darling’s choreography from the musical. It is rare for Fuller to appear in his videos as a live performer given the focus is generally on whimsical narratives that unfold through drawn animation. Fuller’s appearance bookends the work with chalk and charcoal animation ‘performing’ the bulk of the dance. For Fuller, the live action grounds the work in a sense of reality, with the animation ostensibly offering a space of imagination, fantasy, or ‘electricity’, to quote young Billy.
 
Similarly, young Todd is being quoted by ‘old’ Todd in Billy’s Swan. On the cusp of turning 30 at the time of its making, Fuller reflects on his teenage life in Branxton, in the Hunter Region of New South Wales where he grew up. From 14 until 17, Fuller studied dance in secret and ‘it was not particularly pretty when this became schoolyard knowledge,’ he recalls. Dance films consumed as a teenager became the locus of his desire to escape the torments of closeted queer youth, much like Darling’s choreography represents Billy’s small-town aspiration to leave home for the glitz of the big city.

As Fuller’s body gives way to charcoal and chalk on screen, the animation evolves through a process of trace and erasure. The drawings come to life through a repeated process of being rubbed out and rearticulated, with the trace of the erased image lingering like a ghost. Derived from ‘dead’ wood, charcoal is a potent material for mark making and unmaking. Made prior to the outcome of the Australian Government’s imposed postal plebiscite about marriage equality, Billy’s Swan reflects on what it could have meant if the LGBTIQA community was ‘rubbed out’ with a majority NO vote. Given that wasn’t the case, it does not even bear thinking about. And yet, in offering dance as a space where queer futures are powered by the electricity of our own making and re-making, Todd Fuller shows us how a position of vulnerability can combat a heteronormative culture fooled into thinking we are weak and without limitless strength.

http://mayspace.com.au/enlarge_works.php?workID=41701&artistID=208

Daniel Mudie Cunningham, Sydney

 

Into infinity: Yayoi Kusama in Brisbane

 Yayoi Kusama,  The Spirits of the Pumpkins Descended into the Heavens , 2017, installation view, ‘Yayoi Kusama: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow’, Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), Brisbane, 2017; mirror box 200 x 200 x 200cm (approx.); room 300 x 600 x 600cm (approx.); photo: Natasha Harth, QAGOMA

Yayoi Kusama, The Spirits of the Pumpkins Descended into the Heavens, 2017, installation view, ‘Yayoi Kusama: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow’, Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), Brisbane, 2017; mirror box 200 x 200 x 200cm (approx.); room 300 x 600 x 600cm (approx.); photo: Natasha Harth, QAGOMA

The Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) is where to find Yayoi Kusama’s most comprehensive survey yet seen in this region. ‘Life is the Heart of a Rainbow’ (until 11 February 2018) is a wideranging look at the artist’s iconic motifs, engagement with the human body and her expressions of infinity. Co-curated by Russell Storer and Adele Tan from the National Gallery Singapore (NGS) along with QAGOMA’s Reuben Keehan, the show was held at the NGS before coming to its partner venue in Brisbane.

One of the exhibition’s most important tasks is to refocus the public’s attention on the artist’s origins. Kusama’s practice began just before the Second World War while she was a child. Her exposure to wartime propaganda and nationalist sentiment made an impact on the young non-conformist artist. It prompted her to pursue the comparatively endless possibilities of the avant-garde.

On display in the first stage of the exhibition are early works such as Flower (1952), made as she began her interest in surrealism. Using the movement’s method of obsessive subconscious production, the ink and pastel work is a dotted surface that holds the abstracted shape of a flower. Although Kusama destroyed a great deal of her art before moving to the United States in 1957, this early surviving piece provides a strong link to her iconic polka-dot motif that she continues to the present day.

In the second room of the exhibition, viewers gaze at her painted Sex Obsession (1992), a writhing mess of yellow-and-black polka-dotted threads, as well as a flashing, glowing pink Women’s Castle (1994). But Kusama’s interest in the human body goes beyond abstraction; by the 1960s she was staging events known as ‘body festivals’ and ‘naked happenings’ around New York, even inside the Museum of Modern Art, in which naked models would act as Kusama’s human canvases.

Her audiences’ bodies are important too: the large net paintings, such as Infinity Nets (2000), with their subtle patterns, demand viewers come close and be engulfed in an almost physical way. When peering inside a 2017 work modelled from the 1966 installation Kusama’s Peep Show, it is the viewer’s body that takes centrestage as their inquisitive face is reflected back at them and into infinity. ‘Life is the Heart of a Rainbow’ features this, and other works, that display the ability of Kusama’s practice to not only cover multiple creative themes but also to stretch across decades at the same time.   

Emily Wakeling, Brisbane

 

Angelica Mesiti’s calling at the NGA

 Angelica Mesiti,  The calling , 2013–14, still; 3-channel HD video installation; colour, sound, 35:36 mins duration; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2017; image courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne

Angelica Mesiti, The calling, 2013–14, still; 3-channel HD video installation; colour, sound, 35:36 mins duration; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2017; image courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne

Angelica Mesiti’s work displays a fascination with the way in which we perceive the world around us. Across five video works currently on display at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in Canberra, the Australian artist uses cinematic means to probe human interaction in its many forms. Mesiti’s videos call attention to people in time and space, and how languages in all their forms can traverse distance and connect people. The exhibition forms part of the NGA’s renewed engagement with the moving image as an important form of contemporary artistic expression, and runs until April 2018.

In The calling (2013–14), which has been acquired by the NGA, we watch as Mesiti follows three different communities around the world where whistling is a primary mode of communication. While the premise is documentary in nature, the format, which includes a lack of distinctive narrative and a focus on visual details, crosses from documentary into art. The work is three-channel and this allows for both a back and forth between the three screens, as well as a richer audience experience. Viewers linger in the space, and the bodies of those who look on are fully encompassed by the scale of the screens.

In Rapture (silent anthem) (2009), the camera pans slowly across the enraptured faces of teenagers at a concert. The work brings to mind devotional imagery; except for here the chosen god is the rock band playing onstage. Mesiti slows the image down, and chooses not to accompany it with sound. In doing so she affords space for the viewers’ own contemplation.    

Mesiti’s choice of video as a medium allows for the recognition of both silent and sound-based forms of communication. The works are highly refined, crisp in their imagery and quality of sound. They are rich, and reveal more of themselves through time and rewatching.

Esther Carlin, Canberra

 

Reading Gerhard Richter at QAGOMA

  Gerhard Richter: The Life of Images , exhibition installation view, Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), Brisbane, 2017, with  Reader (804)  and  Reader (799-1) , both 1994; photo: Natasha Harth, QAGOMA

Gerhard Richter: The Life of Images, exhibition installation view, Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), Brisbane, 2017, with Reader (804) and Reader (799-1), both 1994; photo: Natasha Harth, QAGOMA

It is humbling coming before an artist whose greatness can be clearly measured and articulated through an incisive selection of works perfectly punctuated across a suite of slowly unfolding spaces. Such was my experience of encountering ‘The Life of Images’, the survey of German artist Gerhard Richter which recently opened at the Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane. The oeuvre of this 85-year-old painter seems to contain and question many of the most important issues in contemporary art and, indeed, of postwar history – how can we perceive and absorb a world of collective experience framed by trauma?

It was a question that resonated with me as I travelled the full length of Richter’s Atlas overview (1962– ), the backbone of the show, which presented a selection from the artist’s extraordinary image archive in Munich – in this case over 400 panels of original source materials. I won’t even begin to describe what I saw, but encourage readers to make their own pilgrimage and draw their own meanings.

Beyond the archive, a pair of paintings seemed to perfectly convey Richter’s particular (though universal) strain of genius. With his two versions of Reader (both 1994), the artist has taken a photograph of his wife and, through the process of painting, blurred the image, and blurred it again. This translation of something intimate and personal into its opposite, a painting which enacts the very public art of looking, is the intellectual frisson running through all of Richter’s work: a simple but undeniable search for meaning. It encourages us to see with our eyes and feel with our brains.

Michael Fitzgerald, Brisbane

 

Jumaadi’s some kind of record

 Jumaadi,  Some kind of record , 2016, acrylic on 24 card index dividers, 119 x 99cm; image courtesy the artist, Watters Gallery, Sydney, and Jan Manton Art, Brisbane

Jumaadi, Some kind of record, 2016, acrylic on 24 card index dividers, 119 x 99cm; image courtesy the artist, Watters Gallery, Sydney, and Jan Manton Art, Brisbane

In her text that accompanied the artist pages in our March 2016 issue, Sonia Legge wrote about the transformative material threading through the work of Indonesian–Australian artist Jumaadi. Working between Sydney and Java, but also on field trips into the Australian countryside earlier this decade, he began producing his now-distinctive composite paintings made up of smaller works, portraying poetic vignettes often reduced to a simple horizon line. ‘[L]ight, whether dawn or dusk, like rain and clouds, is a symbol of love and life’s promise in Jumaadi’s visual world,’ Legge wrote.

This methodology and ethos has found its apotheosis in the multi-panel painting Some kind of record (2016), which late last month was awarded the acquisitive AU$50,000 Mosman Art Prize (the prize’s seventieth anniversary exhibition is currently on view at the Mosman Art Gallery in Sydney until 29 October). Delicately inscribed across the 24 masonite panels, sourced on a residency in Cowra in 2013, is the artist’s diaristic vision, documenting a worldview that is at once meteorological and metaphysical.

Jumaadi was in Cowra to research the stories of 1200 Indonesian political prisoners transported to the New South Wales town in 1943 by the Dutch. He came to learn that some had been fighters for Indonesian independence, continuing their struggle in Melbourne in the late 1940s; some had responded to the Australian landscape with fragments of poetry, among the earliest such Indonesian accounts Jumaadi had encountered.

Viewed collectively, it is a moving testament to not only this particular window of Indonesian–Australian experience, but also something more universal. In these threads of light and lines of poetry, searching and proclaiming but also scribbled-out and filled with self-doubt, a multitude of souls and stories are poignantly seeking a wider narrative – to find freedom and escape from the imprisonment of the grid.

Michael Fitzgerald, Sydney

 

Curating the Filipino: The ‘Bayanihan Philippine Art Project’

  Balik Bayan , exhibition installation detail, Blacktown Arts Centre, 2017, with (from left): Ala Paredes, ‘Power Pose’ series, 2017, articulated paper puppets; Alwin Reamillo,  Bayanihan Hopping Spirit House,  2015–17, mixed media, courtesy Urban Theatre Projects; Marikit Santiago, installation of paintings and sculptures, 2017; Melissa Ramos,  Distant Memories , 2017, 3-channel video transferred from super-8 film, 6 mins 41 secs duration; image courtesy Blacktown Arts Centre; photo: Sharon Hickey

Balik Bayan, exhibition installation detail, Blacktown Arts Centre, 2017, with (from left): Ala Paredes, ‘Power Pose’ series, 2017, articulated paper puppets; Alwin Reamillo, Bayanihan Hopping Spirit House, 2015–17, mixed media, courtesy Urban Theatre Projects; Marikit Santiago, installation of paintings and sculptures, 2017; Melissa Ramos, Distant Memories, 2017, 3-channel video transferred from super-8 film, 6 mins 41 secs duration; image courtesy Blacktown Arts Centre; photo: Sharon Hickey

The largest survey of Filipino art yet held in Australia gives voice to emerging and established Filipino and Filipino–Australian artists. Centred around Sydney and titled the ‘Bayanihan Philippine Art Project’, it marks the seventieth anniversary of diplomatic ties between the Philippines and Australia. The program reinvigorates the Tagalog concept of Bayanihan, the traditional practice for communal work, through mixed media, painting, moving image and performance-based practices.

The Blacktown Arts Centre’s ‘Balik Bayan’ show (until 2 November) is curated around community and dialogue where Manila-born Alwin Reamillo’s collaborative Bayanihan Hopping Spirit House is a reference to the Filipino tradition of moving a, mostly, bamboo house from place to place, as a communal practice. Commissioned in 2015, it has been travelling between participating galleries – creating space for conversation.

Bringing together 10 contemporary artists, ‘Passion and procession’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (until 7 January 2018) draws on symbols rooted in the Philippines’s religious, colonial and animistic identity. Works such as Crusade (2015), Norberto Roldan’s candle-draped installation with fluorescent lights positioned like crucifixes, weigh heavily on the gallery’s prominent white walls.

The vast body of work brought together for ‘Bayanihan’ delicately weaves the personal, political and purposefully humorous narratives defining the sociopolitical reality of present-day Philippines. More than 7000 extrajudicial killings in the state-led ‘war on drugs’ have taken place since President Rodrigo Duterte took office last year. More recently, martial law was declared in Mindanao, the large southernmost island, in response to escalating violence.

The current state of affairs provided a new perspective on J. D. Reforma’s single-channel video Confidently Beautiful, with a heart (2017), a critique on American influence in the Philippines shown at the Mosman Art Gallery (which closed 10 September). Similarly, Marikit Santiago’s tape-wrapped sculptures at Blacktown deliberately take on President Duterte’s authoritarian leanings.

Notably absent, however, is a critical voice exploring Filipino–Australian relations. Consider the controversies surrounding the presence of Australian mining companies and Australian military in the Philippines. Under what conditions is Australia operating in the Philippines? While lacking in this respect, the ‘Bayanihan Philippine Art Project’ sets the tone for a stronger long-overdue Filipino voice in Australian art circles.

Jake Atienza, Sydney

 

David Hockney: An even bigger picture

 David Hockney,  4 Blue Stools , 2014, photographic drawing printed on paper, mounted on Dibond, edition of 25, 107.9 x 176cm; from the collection of John and Helen Hockney; © David Hockney; photo: Richard Schmidt

David Hockney, 4 Blue Stools, 2014, photographic drawing printed on paper, mounted on Dibond, edition of 25, 107.9 x 176cm; from the collection of John and Helen Hockney; © David Hockney; photo: Richard Schmidt

‘I think mediums can turn you on,’ David Hockney once said. Indeed, over the past 12 months or so, Australian audiences have been privy to the full extent of the octogenarian English artist’s multimedia stimulation. Where the National Gallery of Victoria’s summer blockbuster show ‘Current’ focused on Hockney’s recent iPad drawings (there were over 600 of them), the National Gallery of Australia’s upcoming ‘A different point of view’ (opening 10 November) showcases the British pop artist’s bravura turn in printmaking, a key tenet of his practice since 1954.

In the meantime, Hockney’s technical accomplishments are further delineated with ‘Words and Pictures’, a British Council Collection exhibition recently seen at Tweed Regional Gallery and opening this week at the Blue Mountains City Art Gallery to mark that institution’s fifth birthday. As the title suggests, the transposition of a narrative into art is the underlying theme of the four Hockney suites of prints featured here from 1961 to 1977, and inspired by the works of William Hogarth (‘A Rake’s Progress’), the Brothers Grimm and poets C. P. Cavafy and Wallace Stevens.

Further highlighting the artist’s devilish dexterity, a collection of more recent works, including photographs and iPad drawings, have been provided by the artist’s brother, John, a resident of Australia for over 50 years, along with a screening of the 2009 documentary A Bigger Picture (the Blue Mountains exhibition runs until 3 December). Seen together with the NGA show in Canberra, a heightened view of Hockney is assured.

Michael Fitzgerald, Sydney

 

A meeting of heroes: Selections from the Townsend Collection of Chinese woodcuts at the NGA

 Shi Lu,  A meeting of heroes , 1938–49, woodcut, printed in black ink, from one block; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Peter Townsend Collection, purchased with the assistance of the Australia-China Council 1985

Shi Lu, A meeting of heroes, 1938–49, woodcut, printed in black ink, from one block;
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Peter Townsend Collection, purchased with the assistance of the Australia-China Council 1985

To commemorate Art Monthly Australasia’s thirtieth anniversary this year, 32 Chinese woodcuts are on display at the National Gallery of Australia from the collection of over 250 presented in 1985 by the magazine’s founder Peter Townsend. In addition to the circumstances of their collection, which Claire Roberts has recently and amply covered (see August’s 300th edition), they afford a vital glimpse into modern Chinese history.

Those selected cover a period of 14 years, from 1935 to 1949 – a tumultuous time, as their subjects show. The first three introduce two key figures in the founding of the woodcut movement: writer Lu Xun (1881–1936), represented in a portrait by Ma Da (1940), who inspired many artists and remained a tireless patron until his death; and Li Hua, founder of the Modern Woodcut Society in 1934 and figurehead following Lu’s death.

Li’s works exemplify a central theme: the horrors of war. The 1940s in China was a decade of unrelenting conflict, marked by the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–45) and hostilities between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Guomindang or Nationalist Party (GMD). Two generations (1940–45) is a romanticised portrait of the military as allies of the rural population, prompted by Li’s role as an official GMD war artist. The bitterness of life exposes the true face of war: a blind, starving beggar, huddled in desperate attempt to seek shelter. Similar themes are taken up by Gu Yuan, Huang Xinbo and, in a gruesome image of soldiers drinking their enemies’ blood, Liang Yongtai.

A second theme is the CCP coopting of woodcuts. In A meeting of heroes (1939–49), Shi Lu depicts Mao Zedong as a friend to the people, discussing politics with model workers. The display concludes with two works in colour (of only seven polychrome prints) that typify their use as propaganda. Jiang Feng and Wo Zha take up Mao’s call to learn from folk art in their adaptations of traditional nianhua or ‘New Year prints’, celebrating communist values of literacy, hygiene and labour. Alongside monochrome evocations of death and suffering, such colourful images of happiness and prosperity demonstrate the range and artistic vitality of Chinese woodcuts during the 1930s and 1940s.

Alex Burchmore, Canberra