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 2016 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

 

 

A curated vision for the 2017 NATSIAAs

Anwar Young, Unrupa Rhonda Dick and Frank Young, Kulata Tjuta – Wati kulunypa tjukurpa (Many spears – Young fella story), 2017, digital print, wood, kangaroo tendon, kiti (natural glue); print 148 x 176cm; spears 280 x 2 x 2cm approx. (37 pieces); image courtesy the artists and the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin

Anwar Young, Unrupa Rhonda Dick and Frank Young, Kulata Tjuta – Wati kulunypa tjukurpa (Many spears – Young fella story), 2017, digital print, wood, kangaroo tendon, kiti (natural glue); print 148 x 176cm; spears 280 x 2 x 2cm approx. (37 pieces); image courtesy the artists and the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin

This year’s ‘Telstras’ feel different. Over its 34 years the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) have been known for their sometimes surprising winners – remember the life-size Toyota ute woven from native grass in 2005? – and occasional controversy: in 2008 a group of artists boycotted in protest against the participation of a dealer. But follow the curving ramp up past the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory’s (MAGNT) prized exhibit Sweetheart, the five-metre stuffed saltwater crocodile, to the upper galleries that host the 2017 NATSIAAs, and a change is discernible in the air.

Instead of paintings hung cheek by jowl and vying for attention in the harsh glare of competition, works occupy their own discrete spaces. Dark-painted walls disappear and objects are pooled in light, each emerging to display their own unique materiality: natural ochre, stringybark, stoneware, spinifex, feather. In this way, the 34th NATSIAAs is first and foremost an exhibition, a prize second.

The product of a new and ongoing three-member selection panel, comprising MAGNT’s Curator of Aboriginal Art Luke Scholes, which has whittled down over 300 entries to the 65 on display until 26 November, the exhibition is national, nuanced, and cohesive despite a range of practice through the sheer quality of works. With this year’s other panellists being Hetti Perkins and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia’s Clothilde Bullen, it is very much an exhibition considered curatorially rather than drawn by numbers – and more than the sum of its considerable parts.

Pity, then, this year’s judges – curator Emily McDaniel, Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art Director Chris Saines and artist Regina Wilson – in having to single out the various (albeit very well-deserving) category winners: Robert Fielding (Telstra Work on Paper Award); Shirley Macnamara (Wandjuk Marika Memorial 3D Award); Betty Muffler (Telstra Emerging Artist Award); Matjangka Nyukana Norris (Telstra General Painting Award); and Nyapanyapa Yunupingu (Telstra Bark Painting Award).

However, in deeming the multimedia work Kulata Tjuta – Wati kulunypa tjukurpa (Many spears – Young fella story) by Anwar Young, Unrupa Rhonda Dick and Frank Young to be this year’s overall winner, the judges not only noted ‘a solemn and dignified call to action’, but privileged the exhibition’s collaborative curated vision. A creative response to the injustices of juvenile detention, this installation from the APY Lands is conceptually powerful, poetic as well as political, and a perfect work of art.

Michael Fitzgerald, Darwin

 

On the stage of his canvas: Robert Boynes’s ‘Modern Times’ at the Drill Hall Gallery

Robert Boynes: Modern Times, exhibition install view, ANU Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra, July 2017; photo: Rob Little, RLDI

Robert Boynes: Modern Times, exhibition install view, ANU Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra, July 2017; photo: Rob Little, RLDI

In his paintings, Robert Boynes delves underneath the surface of the city, dissolving narratives, blurring edges, creating incandescent figures from the excised fragments captured in the frame of his camera. He conjures the metropolis as a complex set of spaces and structures where individuals work and live together, inhabiting streets and offices, negotiating interwoven infrastructures of transport and communication which operate diagonally, horizontally, vertically and virtually. The complex hive-like nature of the city brings individuals together and also separates them.

Currently surveyed at the ANU Drill Hall Gallery in Canberra (until 13 August), Boynes’s paintings deliver his insight into the insistent aloneness of any individual, either standing on a platform literally alone – The Delay (2003) – or in a crowd crossing a street, ostensibly part of a group – Lazer (2009). There is a kind of blindness that overwhelms the individual as they become embedded in the machine of the city. And an aspect of the city machine which pervades more and more is surveillance. Many of Boynes’s titles refer to such technology – Infrared Scan (2003), CCTV1 and CCTV2 (both 2008). In an attempt to counter its effects, individuals retreat inside their own heads where surveillance cannot reach.

Boynes has photographed people on the move for many years. Walking in the city with his camera, standing in a station, or outside a museum, the space of the city becomes Boynes’s stage set and the actors are performing (the actions of their everyday lives) on his stage. He looks, and composes and captures slivers of time that fall between moments in a continuum of city life and human interaction.

There are layers and layers of processing applied to get from the first photographic moment to the finished painting; through screening, hosing, scraping, layering and application of colour, the unknown subjects have their vitality transformed and become the vivid carriers of meaning on the stage of his canvas.

In Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise (1985), the postmodern condition is manifested as information overload, as the protagonist moves through a world increasingly submerged in media stimuli. Many of the figures in Boynes’s paintings appear to move through the world in a similar state of submersion. Theirs is a low-grade anxiety triggered by the powerlessness inherent in being complicit in a system based on production and consumption and which has become a leviathan, bearing all before it – whether privileged or not. These individuals are immersed in the city, in the white noise of the streets.

Patsy Payne, Canberra

 

Looking through Barangaroo: Sabine Hornig’s ‘Through Site Link’ project

Sabine Hornig, Shadows, computer rendering; image courtesy Sabine Hornig, Berlin, and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York; © Sabine Hornig and VG-Bild Kunst, Bonn 2017

Sabine Hornig, Shadows, computer rendering; image courtesy Sabine Hornig, Berlin, and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York; © Sabine Hornig and VG-Bild Kunst, Bonn 2017

The scale and pace of the Barangaroo development in Sydney’s CBD – in particular the three colossal International Towers hovering on the western Harbour foreshore – have mystified and disorientated many Sydneysiders in recent years. A sense of transparency and pause for reflection will now come courtesy of the Berlin-based artist and photographer Sabine Hornig.

The German artist’s vision for a diaphanous 170-metre glass walkway connecting the three towers overlaid with images of native flora and fauna was chosen by developer Lendlease’s Art Advisory Panel – including Chair Simon Mordant and Curatorial Advisor Barbara Flynn – from around 20 international entries; Shadows is set to be unveiled by the end of 2018.

For New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2003, Hornig installed four glass panels imprinted with near-lifesize abandoned Berlin shopfronts, in which audiences saw themselves inhabiting a different temporal reality. For Barangaroo South, the artist hopes to take Sydneysiders back to nature – ‘to take stock of reality that has been there always before,’ Hornig has said.

 

Michael Fitzgerald, Sydney

Dazzling duet: ‘Two Wings to Fly, Not One’ at Pakistan’s National Art Gallery

Two Wings to Fly, Not One, exhibition install view, National Art Gallery of Pakistan, Islamabad, 2017; photo: Atif Saeed and Kamran Saleem

Two Wings to Fly, Not One, exhibition install view, National Art Gallery of Pakistan, Islamabad, 2017; photo: Atif Saeed and Kamran Saleem

Borrowed from a Jalaluddin Rumi verse, the recent exhibition ‘Two Wings to Fly, Not One’ (which closed 31 May) paired two of Pakistan’s most important artists in the largest contemporary art exhibition ever shown at the National Art Gallery of Pakistan in Islamabad. The practices of Aisha Khalid and Imran Qureshi have evolved remarkably close together, and yet their approaches remain noticeably different: Khalid executes precise patterning to hide and reveal forms, while Qureshi’s expressive works take a looser style, moving between delicate lines and swathes of evocative colour. Over 50 works carefully balanced the different trajectories of their careers and some of the surprising shifts in their practices, while conveying how their works continue to converse with each other so intimately when side-by-side.  

A rich selection of miniature paintings were dotted throughout the four gallery spaces, showing the great compositional and rigorous technical skill that have come to inform larger-scale works. However the exhibition was dominated by examples of both artists continuing to experiment and test the principles of the genre. Video works poetically drew on their creative processes, with Qureshi’s Rise and Fall (2014) revealing slow motion splashes of red ink that build to his layered works, and a second video showing the graceful movement of a piece of gold leaf floating in the breeze; while Khalid’s first ever performance formed the subject of her new video installation, documenting her gold needles rhythmically piercing through cloth in concert with a group of Sufi musicians.

The grand spaces of the 1989 modernist brick building provided multiple stages for the towering scale for which both artists are now known. Qureshi’s largest paintings to date were given centre stage, with striking bursts of burnished gold gradually fading into vivid reds and blues, while the centrepiece of the adjacent gallery featured Khalid’s immense pair of gold and silver pin tapestries draped either side of a column, cleverly referencing the ongoing conflicts in Kashmir in a medium that plays with the regional artform. In an adjacent courtyard Qureshi dramatically transformed a concrete amphitheatre with a scattering of painted flowers and splashes of red, similarly making a subtle reference to conflict and violence under the backdrop of the government buildings of Islamabad.

Khalid and Qureshi were among a generation of artists that had a major impact on contemporary art in Pakistan while studying miniature painting at the National College of Arts in Lahore in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They remain mentors and prolific artists in the Pakistani art community, and while their careers have taken them on different paths, they have come together to share their extraordinary parallel journeys in a duet that captures the essence of Rumi’s words.

 

Tarun Nagesh, Islamabad

 

What lies beneath: ‘Mutable histories’ at the Museum of Brisbane

Robert Andrew: Our mutable histories, exhibition install view, Museum of Brisbane, 2017; image courtesy the Museum of Brisbane

Robert Andrew: Our mutable histories, exhibition install view, Museum of Brisbane, 2017; image courtesy the Museum of Brisbane

Robert Andrew has been making art only since 2009, but, once experienced, his kinetic sculptures, with sound and moving parts and aesthetics that change while we watch, are not easily forgotten. ‘Our mutable histories’, his solo exhibition for the Museum of Brisbane (until 16 July), continues an exploration of history, the artist’s Indigenous ancestry and the broader Australian narrative, expressed through machines that continuously recreate the works, evolving over the period of the exhibition. It is a process based on erasure, a washing or scraping away of surface, to reveal a previously concealed history or process that lies beneath.

Andrew’s grandmother was a Yawuru woman from the Rubibi area (near Broome) in Western Australia. The repercussions of government policy on Aboriginal people at the time, and resulting family disjuncture, compel Andrew’s source material. In joining his powerful emotional responses to this material, with machines and the juxtaposition of tactile natural materials, Andrew creates a unique third space within the work, where not only cultures but the duality of his own experience is palpable – ‘a way of understanding both sides and how they are controlled,’ he said in an interview.

Data Stratification (2017), one of three installation works in the exhibition, is his most ambitious yet. It is a moving machine which translates Yawuru words, seen on a screen, into changing patterns that are expressed with moving sticks, rocks and pearl shell, suspended with string. These materials were collected locally and from his aunt’s backyard in Broome. The loss of language, its devastating impacts, are expressed in the grinding sound and inexorable rhythm of the machine. As Andrew said: ‘Taking a language away removes a lot from a culture, so much more than communication.’

One of the other two works, Ground Up (2017), is also machine-driven. It un-prints a wall-sized landscape, eroding a surface to reveal natural oxides and textiles which become visible below, and changes with each passing day, slowly revealing, across five panels, the Yawuru word for country, ground, earth, sand, time and space. The physical presence and technical complexity of these works make lucid Andrew’s own sensation of being in-between.

 

Louise Martin-Chew, Brisbane

Wave action: Scott Gardiner’s ‘Night Swimming’ at Palmer Art Projects

Gardiner_image.jpg

Scott Gardiner: Night Swimming, exhibition install view, Palmer Art Projects, Sydney, 2017; image courtesy the artist and Palmer Art Projects, Sydney

 

I am told that Scott Gardiner is a keen surfer. His use of photographic images of waves as the base layer of his pictures does not immediately indicate this, but it does show his obsession with the ocean. In exhibitions and projects in both his country of birth, New Zealand, or here in Australia, where he is now based, the ocean imagery is asked to share the picture surface with a range of hard-edge abstractions. Pattern, geometry, a very strong personal use of colour and a delight with the surface play of acrylic mediums sit comfortably at odds with the photorealist underpainting, but more strongly with the lyricism suggested by the wave/ocean imagery. It has been a happy marriage.

But at Sydney’s Palmer Art Projects in his latest show, ‘Night Swimming’ (now in its final days, closing 20 May), something else is starting to happen. This is a show of changes, a transition show; the larger paintings continue with his use of a base layer of ocean/wave forms, and although there is a collaged aspect to them, they still constitute a field painted in sparse monochrome. The overpainting of strong coloured forms keeps the edges hard, but they are no longer straight; they squiggle and move, sliding in and out of the wave forms. Something is creeping into his painting.

A group of smaller paintings sees the relationship between the ocean underpainting and the forms that activate the surface shift significantly. Freed from the constraints of masking tape, the forms appear to be made with the hand alone. In the last of these, Waver 1, the photo-based wave imagery is gone, lost, subsumed, and the lyric intent represented in the past by the moving ocean now exists in the act of painting. Becoming a painter is the state of being a painter. You are never there, only ever heading towards it. Scott Gardiner in these new works continues his inventive, intuitive approach to making paintings; he continues on to ‘becoming a painter’, being a painter.

 

Tony Mighell, Sydney

Kandos convergence: ‘Cementa 17’

Skye Saxon, The Snowflake Shaman’s Winter Wonderland, 2017, installation and performance view, ‘Cementa 17’, Kandos, April 2017; photo: Alex Wisser

Skye Saxon, The Snowflake Shaman’s Winter Wonderland, 2017, installation and performance view, ‘Cementa 17’, Kandos, April 2017; photo: Alex Wisser

This year's Cementa (6–9 April), which included several days of events, site-specific and experimental works by early-career and established artists, was somewhat of a turning point for the grassroots regional festival in the New South Wales town of Kandos. Even Artbank, the Australian Government’s art rental scheme, brought their ‘Roadshow’ initiative to town, scoping out artists from the region to enter its collection for corporate loan. Other new partnerships in the 2017 iteration included an assisted residency program allowing artists with a disability to travel to Kandos and develop specific works for the festival: visitors lined up to have their crowns translated into artworks in the local hairdresser by Thom Roberts, and Skye Saxon created a stress-relieving tepee structure in the pine forest.

While exhibitions formed punctuation points across Kandos, Cementa is a true festival in the sense that it is organised around events designed to bring people together. Visitors from the nearby Blue Mountains and Sydney mingled with residents (both longstanding and those newer to the area). As in any community, engagement with the festival by locals varied from enthusiastic participant to bemused onlooker – but in a town with a population of around 1000, the convergence is quite pronounced. Frontyard’s solicitation of conversational snippets for its ‘Bush Telegraph’ project drew all manner of submissions – decorous and otherwise – while the local teenaged girls were out in force to see the Dauntless Movement Crew in action as part of Powerhouse Youth Theatre’s Pagoda Parkour.

The Kandos School of Cultural Adaptation, born out of Ian Milliss’s vision for the town presented at the original ‘Cementa 13’, continued its progress from ambition to reality via projects including ‘The Hemp Initiative’ and the launch of the Futurelands 2 publication. The closing of Kandos's cement works in 2012, expected to be the death knell of the town, could be the birth of a new era yet.

 

Chloé Wolifson, Kandos

Winning weight: ‘Versus Rodin: bodies across space and time’

Versus Rodin: bodies across space and time, exhibition install view, Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA), Adelaide, 2017; image courtesy AGSA, Adelaide; photo: Saul Steed

Versus Rodin: bodies across space and time, exhibition install view, Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA), Adelaide, 2017; image courtesy AGSA, Adelaide; photo: Saul Steed

‘Versus Rodin’ is a welcome counterpoint to the current overworked vogue for immersive installations which set out to either subdue or seduce the passive intellect by sensory overload – as, for instance, in the aural and visual bombardment of Del Kathryn Barton’s ‘Red’, also at the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA). The exhibition invites a more detached contemplative stance from the viewer through aesthetic engagement with ‘duels and duets’ between Rodin and contemporary art in terms of representation of the human body. It is a rare, invigorating pleasure to meander through a show that has been conceived as a highly structured and aesthetically coherent figurative landscape. Bronze sculptures by Rodin dominate the exhibition, interspersed with an impressive 200 sculptures, paintings, drawings, prints and photographs by noted international and Australian artists, including some who have not previously been seen in Australia.

‘Versus Rodin’ (until 2 July) is the first major curatorial project by AGSA’s inaugural Curator of Contemporary Art Leigh Robb. She has picked up and run with a key tenet of AGSA exhibitions under Director Nick Mitzevich: namely that the contemporary is seen in dialogue with the past across time and across cultures. With considerable curatorial finesse and rigour, Robb has succeeded in reconceptualising AGSA’s substantial collection of Rodin sculptures, revealing their contemporaneity through influences on such diverse artists as Antony Gormley and Ugo Rondinone, while at the same time establishing their key role as exemplars of a burgeoning Parisian modernism.

Rondinone’s cast wax nude (2010), Louise Bourgeois’s series of lithographs, and a major painting, Boy with a Cat (2015) by British artist Cecily Brown, are all memorable. It is good, too, to revisit AGSA’s great Frank Auerbach painting, Head of Helen Gillespie III (1965), with its heavily impasto paintwork looking rejuvenated since I last saw it in storage a few years ago. Adelaide artist Julia Robinson’s exquisitely weird sculptures imbued with darkly ambivalent sexuality unequivocally justify her place in this company of peers.

But if it’s a contest, as the title ‘Versus Rodin’ implies, then Rodin wins hands down. Through sheer power and presence, his sculptures from the late nineteenth century vanquish the field of twenty-first century figuration. This is not simply a question of scale, though many of the Rodin sculptures exude a towering physicality. Two of his intimate erotic sculptures of women, Flying figure (1890–91) and Iris, study with head (1891), are equally riveting.

 

Margot Osborne, Adelaide

Sneak peek of our April issue: Garage chic in Manila

Maria Jeona Zoleta, Forced Farts … until Hell Freezes Over is a Freak Show, 2017, installation view, 5th Art Fair Philippines, Manila, February 2017; image courtesy Art Fair Philippines 

Maria Jeona Zoleta, Forced Farts … until Hell Freezes Over is a Freak Show, 2017, installation view, 5th Art Fair Philippines, Manila, February 2017; image courtesy Art Fair Philippines 

With major Australian institutions showcasing Filipino artists this year (Rodel Tapaya’s solo show recently opened at the National Gallery of Australia, while the ‘Bayanihan Philippines Art Project’ will take place at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and a number of state-wide galleries from mid-year), it’s fitting that Australians include Art Fair Philippines (AFP) in their Asia-Pacific itinerary. The Manila-based event has expanded its reach since the inaugural 2013 edition, and while professionally run is a more grassroots affair than its neighbouring Hong Kong and Singaporean behemoths.

Like many muggy Asian cities, Manila has a fondness for shopping malls, which function as air-conditioned urban thoroughfares as much as retail destinations. It was refreshing, then, to discover that the fair takes place not in the mall-like labyrinth of false white walls and vast ceilings of a convention centre, but in a multistorey indoor carpark – a playful, edgy setting well suited to the prevailing mood of positivity and curiosity. This year’s iteration (staged 16–19 February) saw 46 galleries participating, with a dozen of those based outside the Philippines, predominantly in Asia. AFP was a celebration of Filipino art, both emerging and established, and of formally recognised National Artists, who are an ongoing source of pride for Filipinos. While work varied from the traditional to the experimental, there was a notable prevalence of collage, assemblage and playful materiality.

Attendance of AFP increased from 22,000 in 2016 to a remarkable 40,000 this year. Some were drawn to the scheduled talks, held in a marquee in an elegant rooftop cafe area (who says carparks can’t be chic), with artists, authors and curators from around the globe. Audiences were curious and forthright with their questions, with a keenness to invite international visitors to understand and consider Filipino art within its broader international and regional context.

 

Chloé Wolifson, Manila

Artistic aftershocks: Guirguis New Art Prize 2017

Yhonnie Scarce, The More Bones the Better, 2016, installation view; image courtesy the artist and Post Office Gallery, Federation University Australia

Yhonnie Scarce, The More Bones the Better, 2016, installation view; image courtesy the artist and Post Office Gallery, Federation University Australia

A work that hauntingly illuminates ‘the shocking and little discussed histories of Aboriginal exploitation and abuse in the name of science in Australia’ has received this year’s acquisitive AU$20,000 Guirguis New Art Prize (GNAP) at the Art Gallery of Ballarat.

Yhonnie Scarce’s installation work The More Bones the Better (2016) comprises both blown and shattered glass elements, reflecting ‘in the same way those lived and documented experiences continue to haunt the collective unconscious of this country,’ said Simon Maidment, Senior Curator, Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Born in Woomera, South Australia, of the Kokatha and Nukunu peoples, Melbourne-based Scarce has sensitively explored the intervention of science on Indigenous cultures through the medium of glass, with her work soon to be featured in May’s 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial, ‘Defying Empire’, at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

 Scarce was one of 14 finalists in the exhibition and prize ‘GNAP17’, chosen by curators at major Australian public galleries, and displayed across two sites, Federation University Australia’s Post Office Gallery and the Art Gallery of Ballarat, until 14 May 2017. 

Empire strikes back: ‘Australia’s Impressionists’ at the National Gallery, London

Australia’s Impressionists, exhibition installation view, Sunley Room, National Gallery, London, 2017; image courtesy and © The National Gallery, London

Australia’s Impressionists, exhibition installation view, Sunley Room, National Gallery, London, 2017; image courtesy and © The National Gallery, London

In the centre of London are two shows of Australian art within half a kilometre of each other. At the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) is ‘Helen Johnson: Warm Ties’ (until 16 April), an installation of six large canvases, while at the National Gallery is the survey, ‘Australia’s Impressionists’ (until 26 March). Both exhibitions examine Australia’s fraught relationship with the British Empire and jarringly reflect it back onto its place of origin. In one large Johnson painting, a man masturbates as the lyrics to the national anthem are whispered in his ear. By contrast, the National Gallery’s three-room flourish of fetishistic colonial nostalgia seems another needless stroke of the colonising male ego.

Solely comprised of paintings by Charles Conder, Tom Roberts, John Peter Russell and Arthur Streeton, ‘Australia’s Impressionists’ illustrates how tropes of European modernity are unilaterally retrofitted onto Australian landscapes and cultures. Nonetheless, once our cultural cringe is suspended, the work inflicts a savage beauty. The first room sets muggy Roberts paintings of London against works made in the sharp light of Melbourne. In the second room, the azure blue and reverberating hues of Streeton’s monumental Fire’s on (1891) dominate. The work’s cavernous punctum – a dead worker being hauled from an unfinished tunnel – is a metonym for the exhibition’s core obsession: hyper-masculine colonial labour pitted against an unforgiving landscape. The final room capitulates on Australia and focuses exclusively on Russell’s work in Europe. Bookending the show with the art-historical security of Europe reads as a futile attempt to naturalise the virulent Australian strain of impressionism within the hegemony of the larger ‘ism’.

Didactic wall texts throughout assert that plein-air painting galvanised national identity in pre-federation Australia – ‘it went hand in hand with a sense among the non-indigenous population of a nation coming of age’. The oversimplified statements are often bereft of any serious critical consideration beyond European purview. Near the end of a text in the second room, 50,000 years of Aboriginal culture is distilled into a politically correct epithet – this is unfortunately the exhibition’s self-reflexive zenith.

At the cold heart of a bygone empire the English persist with their retreat into obscurity with ‘Australia’s Impressionists’. The exhibition promulgates an excessively confined view of Australian identity. The walk to the modest Helen Johnson installation at the ICA provides both a breath of fresh air and a much-needed reality check. In 2017, Australians need to interrogate whether an old, unilaterally white, and exclusively male view of Australian culture should be rehashed – unmediated – in one of the world’s most visited museums.

 

Janis Lejins, London

Painterly pleasures: Tom Loveday’s ‘Erotic Painting’

Tom Loveday, Erotic Edge in Embryo #1–13, 2017, detail; acrylic on canvas, 25 x 25cm (each); image courtesy the artist

Tom Loveday, Erotic Edge in Embryo #1–13, 2017, detail; acrylic on canvas, 25 x 25cm (each); image courtesy the artist

Can painting itself be erotic? Tom Loveday poses this question in ‘Erotic Painting’, on show in East Sydney at the Conny Dietzschold Gallery (until 15 March). The question might seem unnecessary given the current carnival of Mardi Gras – not to mention the Art Gallery of New South Wales’s recent celebration of the nude in western art. Loveday’s investigation, however, occurs within the parameters of hard-edge abstraction.

Loveday is an artist who investigates correspondences between painting and philosophy. For him, the materiality of painting identifies a constitutive region of intensities. This understanding informs his working processes, which entail a kind of morphing of colour and form. Earlier subjects included the theme of bipolarity; now it is eroticism, or more specifically, the Freudian libido with its intertwined primal drives of Eros and Thanatos.

The choice of Freud brings paradox to an exhibition notable for its elegant dynamism. Arp-life biomorphism combined with a controlled colour palette will no doubt appeal to the collector’s eye, invoking the promise of bourgeois sublimation. On the other hand, Loveday is cognisant of Deleuze and Guattari’s anti-Oedipal subject. Eroticism signals a return to modernity’s conceptions of subjectivity, while displaying a critical energy suggestive of the post-humanist’s rejection of systematising ideology.

At any rate, ‘Erotic Painting’ wears the paradox lightly. The two acrylic-on-canvas sets document a generative sequence of symmetrical and asymmetrical forms that stem from an elementary pattern, the U-shape. When superimposed, the pattern multiplies. It is significant that despite transparent mutation, the history recorded here is not one of integration. It is, rather, a contact zone where forms meet and rub against one another. The artist’s instinctive minimalism serves him well in delineating this interplay, as does his use of flat colours. Within the parameters of formalist investigation, Loveday dissolves notions of inside and outside, instead charting an archipelago of sensations inseparable from its material properties.

 

James Paull, Sydney

The 3rd Kochi-Muziris Biennale: ‘Forming in the pupil of an eye’

Praneet Soi, Astatic Garden, 2016, installation view, Pepper House, Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016; image courtesy the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Kochi

Praneet Soi, Astatic Garden, 2016, installation view, Pepper House, Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016; image courtesy the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Kochi

From unassuming beginnings, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale now marks the largest contemporary art exhibition in South Asia, a region booming with biennale-style events (four others were opened concurrently). Now far-reaching in scope and ambitious in scale, the Biennale has made an indelible mark on the Indian port city, and retains some of the distinct characteristics of its conception. And continuing a trend of Mumbai-based male artists hailing from the south-western side of India, Sudarshan Shetty was selected to curate the third edition (which opened in December and runs until 29 March 2017).

 Shetty’s approach reflected an artist’s resolve in communicating the fable-derived theme ‘Forming in the pupil of an eye’, and was determined in reaching beyond conventional practices. His interest in language, and specifically poetry was given a privileged place, gestured by the announcement of the first participant, Chilean poet Raúl Zurita. Language and text dominated the exhibition in both ephemeral and documented forms, along with numerous works incorporating sound, music and spoken word. Some captivating sculptural encounters came from Shetty’s Indian peers using the weathered spaces of the former shipping-company buildings. However, many of the largest works took the form of architectural interventions, involving collaborations between artists, architects, performers and communities.

 The emotive theme revealed some of the tenets of Shetty’s own artistic interests, and while this added a unique texture, it rendered the experience esoteric and self-reflective at times, limiting what such a wide-ranging exhibition might otherwise attempt. Within the geographical grasp for example, some surprising gaps became discernible. A contingent of Latin American and Eastern European artists appeared alongside a large swathe of emerging and established Indian artists from all across the country, yet Southeast Asian artists were notably absent. From Australia and New Zealand, Khaled Sabsabi and Alex Seton connected poignantly with some of the narratives and practices the exhibition surveyed, while Lisa Reihana’s powerful 1997 video provided a compelling entry into the subject of Indigenous representation, yet this remained unexplored elsewhere.

 In only five years Kochi-Muziris Biennale has shown the incredible possibility that new approaches to biennales in this part of the world can create. The rich local history, engagement with community and the allure of memory-imbued old buildings with vistas to the harbour will always give it a unique charm, and it is certain to remain an influential event in the region. However, with a growing number of exhibitions and a diverse range of curatorial expertise developing, it is now one in a dynamic and exciting field in South Asia.

 

Tarun Nagesh, Kochi

'The Static of Nature' by Tane Andrews

Tane Andrews, The Static of Nature, 2017; image courtesy the artist

Tane Andrews, The Static of Nature, 2017; image courtesy the artist

An idea starts out as something unavoidable and then it’s slowly pulled into focus through research and development and trial and error. It was here within my studio in Sydney and the surrounding environment that I was inspired by a continual force in nature, where even tiny and minute changes could shift things in a new direction. In the end the work was reduced to its most basic of elements, which was a single pearl, on a ceramic plate, being rocked back and forth.

The Static of Nature is being shown as part of the 2017 edition of ‘Sculpture at Bathers’, at Kidogo Arthouse and the surrounding Bathers Beach Art Precinct in Fremantle, Western Australia, 25 February – 12 March 2017. See  https://vimeo.com/199753015