Border anxiety: The 12th Gwangju Biennale

Chen Wei,  New City/History of Enchantment – Tunnel , 2010–18, mixed-media installation: neon lights, inkjet prints, light box, LED display module, prints, dimensions variable; image courtesy the artist and ShanghART Gallery, Beijing, Singapore and Shanghai

Chen Wei, New City/History of Enchantment – Tunnel, 2010–18, mixed-media installation: neon lights, inkjet prints, light box, LED display module, prints, dimensions variable; image courtesy the artist and ShanghART Gallery, Beijing, Singapore and Shanghai

With around 236 biennales held around the world, there are few perennial exhibitions that carry the same global resonance and clout as South Korea’s Gwangju Biennale. For its recent twelfth edition (which ran from 7 September until 11 November 2018), the biennale abandoned the traditional single artistic director model and, instead, wove together the contributions of 11 local and international curators across seven exhibitions and four site-specific commissions and 153 artists.

This edition’s theme, ‘Imagined Borders’, drew on political scientist Benedict Anderson’s 1983 book Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, and also alluded to the inaugural 1995 Gwangju Biennale ‘Beyond the Borders’. With South Korea’s own recent political turmoil surrounding former president Park Geun-hye’s arrest, Anderson’s ideas of how communities form and interact with systems of capitalism, the media and opposing communities – along with an appreciation of the biennale’s own 23-year history – served as an intriguing open proposition.

Within the Biennale Exhibition Hall, the curators each empowered a selection of artists who imparted nuance to global news and national narratives. Curator Clara Kim’s ‘Imagined Nations/Modern Utopias’ conjured a cohesive exposition of nation-building through the optics of modernist architecture in her striking exhibition. A highlight was Tanya Goel’s Carbon (frequencies on x-y axis) (2017), in which the artist reconfigured building remnants from her native New Delhi into a mud-map that portrays the city’s rapid urbanisation.

Gridthiya Gaweewong’s exhibition of 50-plus screens explored notions of migration and geopolitics focusing on Southeast Asia. Drawing on veterans including Agnieszka Kalinowska, Dinh Q. Lê and Ho Tzu Nyen, she presented a successive string of short films that collapsed fact into fiction to create haunting enquiries into the multiple registers in which borders operate.

David Teh’s Gwangju Biennale history archive/anti-archive project ‘Returns’ memorably collaged together a series of performances and artist interventions, including those by Australians Brian Fuata, Agatha Gothe-Snape and Tom Nicholson, into a ‘walk-in magazine’ that posed questions about biennales, contemporary art and the history of Gwangju itself.

As with many biennales, the curators of the Asia Cultural Center venue were occasionally guilty of overreaching in their determination to shoehorn ideas, geographies and aesthetics into the biennale’s thematic. Good artists operate on multiple registers and this does not necessarily lend itself to a specific curatorial framework. Nevertheless, glorious moments could be found. For instance, Chen Wei’s New City/History of Enchantment – Tunnel (2010–18) offered a large tableau of neon-lit evening streetscapes of the burgeoning Chinese nightclub culture, drawing commentary on accepted social practices and changing realities for China’s youth.

Despite these occasional moments of disparate exhibition-making, ‘Imagined Borders’ was rich with determined globalism. Each exhibition served as a paragraph in a larger polemic that spoke to the porous borders of democracy and what this means – and more importantly – what this can mean in our increasingly Balkanised age. In the current context of vertiginous political, social, economic and artistic change, the opportunity to explore this proposition was alone worth the visit.

Micheal Do, Gwangju

Syncretic thinking: ‘Manifesta 12’ in Palermo

Patricia Kaersenhout,  The Soul of Salt , 2016, installation view, Palazzo Forcella De Seta, Palermo, June 2018; photo: En Young Ahn

Patricia Kaersenhout, The Soul of Salt, 2016, installation view, Palazzo Forcella De Seta, Palermo, June 2018; photo: En Young Ahn

Under the title of ‘The Planetary Garden: Cultivating Coexistence’, the most recent iteration of the European nomadic biennial, ‘Manifesta 12’ attempted to cultivate a model for the harmonising of diverse identities with different cultural and historical roots – as if going against the tide of the current polarising politics in Europe, the United States and elsewhere. To this end, a curatorial team of four ‘creative mediators’ (a journalist and filmmaker, two architects and a curator) linked a metaphor of the planetary garden with the Sicilian cultural syncretism inherent in the history of Palermo. In addition, the biennial also tried to address many current issues, ranging from migration by sea, climate change and rapidly increasing economic inequalities to Artificial Intelligence technologies.

A highlight of ‘Manifesta 12’, which ran from 16 June until 4 November, was Patricia Kaersenhout’s The Soul of Salt (2016), housed in the Moorish Palazzo Forcella De Seta with its mosaic-covered walls and colourful inlaid marble floors. Referencing a legend among Caribbean slaves that eating salt prevented them from becoming lighter and flying back to Africa, the installation of a mountain of salt by this Dutch artist with Surinamese heritage sought to show the connection between the past slave trade across the ocean and the current refugee crisis. Visitors could take a bag of salt home to dissolve in water, thereby symbolically diffusing the pain of the past. For this reviewer, however, the taste of the Sicilian salt was reminiscent of the migration of Sicilians, who worked naked in the hazardous sulphur-salt mines, to Australia and elsewhere.

The best part of ‘Manifesta 12’ was an exploration of Palermo, especially its fascinating and richly multilayered architectural history, encountered in the process of locating the main exhibits and collateral programs, spread out across the entire city, taking in a variety of venues: Arab-Norman churches, the crumbling yet magnificent Renaissance palazzi, neoclassical theatres, fascist-era buildings and the modernist concrete social housing estates.

The complexity of the multicultural influences in the Sicilian capital today was summarised in Marinella Senatore’s Palermo Procession (2018). The festive performance of over 300 volunteers from all walks of life paraded through the historical city centre, adding a growing number of audience members and onlookers as it went along. It evidenced the nomadic biennial’s meaningful engagement with its host city and its inhabitants.

En Young Ahn, Palermo

Interior outlook: Gerry Wedd in conversation with Liz Nowell

Interior outlook: Gerry Wedd in conversation with Liz Nowell

As part of ACE Open’s annual South Australian Artist Commission, ‘celebrated potter, fringe dweller, savant gardener and pretty-good-surfer’ Gerry Wedd recently created SONGS FOR A ROOM, an immersive room of over 1200 handmade and painted tiles. Project curator and ACE Open CEO Liz Nowell sat down and spoke with Wedd about finding space for his ceramic objects to resonate with time, history and song.

Liz Nowell (L.N.) In many ways SONGS FOR A ROOM is the quintessential Gerry Wedd experience: a culmination of 40 years of artistic practice that brings together pop culture, art history, politics, domestic objects and delft tile painting. What was it about creating a room that interested you?

Gerry Wedd (G.W.) The idea of a building being a conglomeration of ideas. The more I started to think about it, the more the work became a kind of shelter to house all my interests and thoughts. Around the time I was developing the project, a friend said to me, ‘you’ve just got to make this as Gerry Wedd as you can’, which challenged me because I have always tried not to make my work too indulgent; for it not to be too self-reflective. But despite my initial resistance, I took on my friend’s advice and realised that if I made the room as personal as possible – rather than attempting to speak universally – those small intimate moments would resonate more with people.

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Lulled locality: Surveying ‘Contour 556’

Richard Tipping,  Artwork (End Artwork / Artwork Ahead) , 2004, installation view, ‘Contour 556’, Canberra, 2018; reflective tape and metal, 120 x 150cm, edition of 4; courtesy the artist; photo: Jordan Evans-Tse

Richard Tipping, Artwork (End Artwork / Artwork Ahead), 2004, installation view, ‘Contour 556’, Canberra, 2018; reflective tape and metal, 120 x 150cm, edition of 4; courtesy the artist; photo: Jordan Evans-Tse

For visitors to this sweeping city, Canberra appears almost otherworldly in its artificiality, or at least like nowhere else on the planet. For many natives, though, its sacred cosmic structure and fascist-style architecture are so familiar and indwelling that they’re nearly non-existent, purely imaginary, like a screen or backdrop which prevails only in the atmosphere between A to B. This means there are many blindspots, no-places and topographies to be disclosed, spotlighted, activated and reflected. There is much to be made of this place. And that’s the challenge presented to the artists and anybody else who lives here – on the lands of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, the ‘neutral ground’ of the nation’s capital.

Certainly, that’s the value of the ‘Contour 556’ project and the opportunity provided by local arts patrons and landscape architects Neil Hobbs and Karina Harris, who have fostered and curated this free public festival since 2016. Now matured and properly supported in its second iteration, Canberra’s public art biennial takes place in and around the symbolically designed landscape of Lake (Walter) Burley Griffin, a grandiose man-made water feature that dictates how we traverse and make a living here. Despite its colonial history being about as deep (pretty shallow) and muddy as its waters, the lake’s surface lends its name to the event and provides the architectural frame for the artists’ interventions. Importantly, it embodies the festival’s goal of embedding a different memory of place for its inhabitants, a shift in perspective, or, perhaps, a psychological (re)orientation.

Until 28 October, around 50 Canberran locals, together with national and international artists Tony Albert, Karla Dickens, Alex Gawronski, Glen Hayward, Jae Kang, Sanné Mestrom and Richard Tipping, among others, are seeking to engage audiences through site-specific installation, performance, storytelling, poetry and an augmented reality app, with more traditional formal sculpture to be found not in its usual place. In doing so, ‘Contour 556’ aims to interrogate the power of such aberrations to affect how we see and remember space more deeply, totally and really, and, further, how we perceive ourselves within this particularly lulled locality.

Whether the artworks manage to achieve such a transformation, beyond the momentarily spectacular or novel (passive) spatial engagements of their instalment will take further time as the exhibition is fully absorbed into our memory. In the meantime, what it does confirm is that the ‘cultural or physical character of Canberra’ can’t be found on any map, as in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick – true places never are.

Visit for the full program of events.

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

Ineffable distillations: The 2018 NATSIAAs

Ineffable distillations: The 2018 NATSIAAs

If someone asked me to describe this year’s Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) in a line, my response would be simple: no. The fundamental diversity and redoubtable skill of the 67 finalists’ works demanded such bluntness. Indeed, even the smaller pool of prize winners – Gunybi Ganambarr (Telstra Art Award), Napuwarri Marawili (Telstra Bark Painting Award), Peter Mungkuri (Telstra General Painting Award), Kathy Inkamala (Telstra Works on Paper Award), Wukun Wanambi (Telstra Wandjuk Marika Memorial 3D Award), Matthew Dhamuliya Gurruwiwi (Telstra Emerging Artist Award), and Patrina Liyadurrkitj Mununggurr (Telstra Multimedia Award) – could not be captured in a line. But, of course, this question was not posed to me by a hypothetical stranger – or some ‘someone’– but by myself. In fact, every time I review a show I ask it, and every time it helps me makes sense of what I’m looking at. Not this time. This time the works that hung, stood, and sat in the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory would not bend to authorial conceit or accommodate easy distillation. They demanded more from us.

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Notes from the darkroom

Notes from the darkroom

While editing Photofile magazine in 2013, I vividly remember a Skype interview with the London artist John Stezaker, whose signature film-still collages were soon to appear at the 19th Biennale of Sydney. ‘I think of my collages as violations,’ he said, ‘and there is a violence, especially in my earlier ones.’ Active since the 1970s, and most recently with the moving image, Stezaker’s oeuvre (currently showcased in a City Gallery Wellington touring exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Photography in Melbourne until 11 November) has been moving towards ‘a kind of act of reparation,’ he said, ‘bringing together, of healing in a way, so healing the divisions between male and female.’

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Is expanded painting a dirty word?

Painting Amongst Other Things , exhibition installation view, Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra, 2018, with (foreground): Ti Parks,  Banner , 1969, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; photo: David Paterson, Dorian Photographics

Painting Amongst Other Things, exhibition installation view, Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra, 2018, with (foreground): Ti Parks, Banner, 1969, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; photo: David Paterson, Dorian Photographics

‘Painting Amongst Other Things’ (PAOT) is a series of three exhibitions about painting. Actually no, scratch that statement. To communicate with precision I should note that ‘PAOT’ is a three-part exhibition which renegotiates the relationship between painting and other things. Reflecting on the last remaining display, at Canberra’s Drill Hall Gallery and curated by Tony Oates (until 7 October), I can surmise that the works of art presented here challenge the conventions of the traditional painted surface commonly known to us as painting. In the controlled linkages between objects, the audience is offered a straightforward dialogue: what is a ‘canvas’, what is a ‘support’ and, for that matter, does a painter even have to paint with paint? The answers formulated here by Oates confidently suggest that a painting can be sculptural and therefore a sculpture can be painterly.

Similarly seen at the additional ‘PAOT’ venues of ANCA Gallery (curated by Oscar Capezio) and ANU School of Art & Design Gallery (curated by Peter Alwast, Raquel Ormella and Su Yilmaz), there was a symbiotic relationship established between these two modes of material thought. This is undoubtedly because both painting and sculpture possess an innate capacity to investigate the challenges of form and realness. Noted in the exhibition catalogue, the works presented in ‘PAOT’ strive to ‘reappraise the boundaries of painting through their journey and intervention into the real world’ (see

If there is a criticism to be placed on ‘PAOT’, it lies in this conceptual freedom. The real world is vast, and diversity of thought is prolific. So I wonder: why can’t the other things encompass photography and new media, and do these modes of creative production still preclude connotations of embodiment? These questions are not aimed to antagonise the curators’ selection but to question the inherent threshold of painting. ‘PAOT’ is a complex exercise that welcomes questions and seeks to reassess the history of traditional painting through expanded fields. These expanded fields are, however, material, and this avenue of exploration is not infinite.

So I propose a fitting subtitle for ‘PAOT’ that is: I’m a painter’s painter so let’s talk about painting (and there is no shame in that).

Anja Loughhead, Canberra

Connecting threads: ‘So Fine’ at the National Portrait Gallery

Connecting threads: ‘So Fine’ at the National Portrait Gallery

With a blockbuster media strategy and an opening speech by SBS journalist Jenny Brockie citing Linda Nochlin’s 1971 essay ‘Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’, the exhibition ‘So Fine’ launched itself as a firm feminist statement about quality contemporary art made by women. It was conceived and nourished as a chance to explore, reinterpret and re-examine historical portraiture through a female lens. Nicola Dickson, one of the ten invited artists, says that she has never been so supported, emotionally and materially, by a curatorial process. National Portrait Gallery (NPG) curators Sarah Engledow and Christine Clark selected a culturally diverse group of practitioners, many of whom use processes traditionally concerned with women’s work such as china painting, tapestry, basketry, sewing, paper-cutting and drawing. These processes and more are used as paths into storytelling, the connective tissue of this robust exhibition.

Some of the stories are the artists’ own: Bigambul woman Leah King-Smith works digitally with her father’s photographs and her sister’s family history research to share with us her mother, Pearl King, as an ‘animated spirit being’. She works with different filters and lenses, fully cognisant of these double meanings and dubs her process ‘photography dreaming’.[i] She speaks of her work in textile terms: weaving fabric, threading interconnection. Senior Gija artist Shirley Purdie paints her family stories, some passed down to her and others from her own memories. They are all stories about women, and women’s traditional knowledge about food, dance, animals and country. Valerie Kirk dives into her own story of migration from Scotland to Australia, exploring the physical and psychological shifts as she continues to move between the two countries, weaving her shadowed selves into her handwoven tapestries. She weaves other objects into her meditation: Ayrshire needlework-painted slate roof ‘peggies’ and the actual needlework presented on fine muslin and cotton lawn christening gowns, the latter arranged cunningly by the curators like female colonial garb next to Purdie’s paintings of post-invasion camp life.

Article by Caren Florance, from Art Monthly’s September 2018 issue 310

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Born in Brisbane: Three decades of ‘the churchie’

Caroline Gasteen,  Plantin’ Seeds , 2018, oil on board, 38 x 30cm; image courtesy the artist

Caroline Gasteen, Plantin’ Seeds, 2018, oil on board, 38 x 30cm; image courtesy the artist

The Churchie National Emerging Art Prize has been regarded as a benchmark rite of passage for Australian artists and their audiences alike since its establishment in 1987. For those not familiar with ‘the churchie’ (granted the name could be perceived as confusing), it is derived from the Brisbane private school of the same name which was instrumental in founding the prize. Over the decades, ‘the churchie’ has come to define some of Australia’s most engaging and diverse emerging visual art practices, at the same time providing monetary and gallery support, and judge-based feedback in the process.

What makes ‘the churchie’ distinctive is its Queensland base, and the important role it has played in supporting Queensland practices and placing them in a larger national dialogue – and, likewise, building familiarity and context for interstate artists, sometimes visiting Brisbane for the first time through the exhibition. The channels of exchange orchestrated through such prizes are sometimes more important than the actual outcomes themselves.

The 2018 iteration of ‘the churchie’ is currently being exhibited at the QUT Art Museum in Brisbane, and includes the work of 35 finalists selected from some 1000 applicants by a panel of Queensland-based experts. In September Brisbane artist Caroline Gasteen was chosen by Carriageworks Director Lisa Havilah as winner of the AU$15,000 prize for her suite of modernist paintings. Jimmy Nuttall received the Special Commendation Award for his dual-channel video Mutual Love and Support (2017), which follows a queer cast engaging with a conversation centring on community and intimacy, while Marikit Santiago and Nick Santoro each received a Commendation Prize. ‘The Churchie’ exhibition continues until 4 November.

Tess Maunder, Brisbane

Aria from Europe: The ‘MAXXI Bulgari Prize 2018’

Diego Marcon,  Ludwig , 2018, still; video, CGI animation, colour, sound, loop; image courtesy the artist and Ermes-Ermes, Vienna

Diego Marcon, Ludwig, 2018, still; video, CGI animation, colour, sound, loop; image courtesy the artist and Ermes-Ermes, Vienna

With its audacious curves and signature periscope viewing window – designed in 2000 by Zaha Hadid as ‘a laboratory for the future and memory of the contemporary’ – Rome’s National Museum of 21st Century Arts (MAXXI) is living up to its brief. An ongoing city-based exhibition series exploring Europe’s relationship to the Middle East has looked at Tehran, Istanbul and, most recently, Beirut, with the Balkans coming up next year. And as I wander through the upstairs temporary space with MAXXI Curator Giulia Ferracci, I become immersed in a sensaround snapshot of contemporary Europe: a vague spicy fragrance (from Africa or the Middle East?) filters through the air-conditioning as, in a video onscreen by Milan-based duo Invernomuto, a bloodied zombie lurches forward. Violently plastered on his forehead appears to be an election pamphlet.

In the next room, photos by New York-based Talia Chetrit of Lolita-like young women pose, daring us to be provoked, at the same time resonating with the over-stimulated fashion billboards that saturate the city streets outside. All the while a plangent voice sings out from another room like a siren’s call. It is a young boy rendered in CGI animation by Milanese artist Diego Marcon, his face lit by the light of a match, and rocked in a boat during a storm. ‘Oh Lord am I exhausted,’ he sings in Italian. ‘I feel so low and blue / I’d like to kick the bucket / then it would all be through / And yet …’

Buffeted by Trump and the winds of climate change, Europe is in a strange place right now. And with its own unlikely allegiance of populist political parties jockeying for power – the Five Star Party and the League – Italy is feeling this strangeness quite acutely. Indeed, an excellent barometer is MAXXI’s regular prize for emerging Italian art which, in its ninth edition this year (until 4 November), has teamed up with the Roman luxury brand Bulgari to present the three shortlisted artworks described before.

Michael Fitzgerald, Rome

For the full article, see Art Monthly’s September issue out now.

The dynamic terrain of the contemporary desert 

The dynamic terrain of the contemporary desert 

The first generation of great desert artists created sublime visual testimonies to the indivisibility of country, family and Tjukurrpa, and produced an art movement that swept the world. With the passing of these artists there was an expectation that the Western Desert painting movement would lose its authority and authenticity. Instead, in the dynamic terrain of the contemporary desert, a handful of first contact painters continue to synthesise the numinous energy of country and culture into astonishing works of art, while a new generation experiments with form and medium, and takes out major prizes in some of the richest art awards in Australia. Vincent Namatjira, grandson of Albert, has twice had a self-portrait hung in the Archibald, with his highly commended 2018 Studio self-portraitrevealing an artist in supreme control of his medium and his artistic intention. The 2018 Wynne Prize was won by Yukultji Napangati with a shimmering traditional painting, and the Sulman by Kaylene Whiskey with one of her wry takes on popular culture, Indigenous style. Anangu artist Peter Mungkuri won the 2017 inaugural Hadley’s Art Prize. This year a third of the Hadley and Wynne finalists have been Indigenous. 

Remote art centres have become astute and proactive in managing the reception of the work they produce. This is especially apparent in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands, where the APY Art Centre Collective, a group of ten art centres and organisations that include the Tjanpi Desert Weavers and Iwantja Arts (home of Vincent Namatjira, Peter Mungkuri and Kaylene Whiskey), has this year opened a gallery in Sydney.

Predominantly driven by non-Indigenous women (and there’s a story yet to be written), art centres are crucial in the harnessing and nurturing of individual creativity, and in the strategic selection of works for major awards and exhibitions. Across the desert, a band of smart, energetic, tireless women do the work behind the scenes that keeps the desert art movement on its upward and outward trajectory.

Article by Kim Mahood, from Art Monthly's August 2018 issue 309

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Existence is resistance: The 2018 Liverpool Biennial

Aslan Gaisumov,  People of No Consequence , 2016, installation view, ‘Beautiful world, where are you?’, Victoria Gallery and Museum, Liverpool, 2018; photo: Thierry Bal

Aslan Gaisumov, People of No Consequence, 2016, installation view, ‘Beautiful world, where are you?’, Victoria Gallery and Museum, Liverpool, 2018; photo: Thierry Bal

Slowly 119 elderly survivors of Stalin’s 1944 deportation of the Chechen and Ingush nations gather in a rural club near Grozny, the capital city of the Chechen Republic in Russia. They sit down and silently face the camera. The end of the room is full of nothing but survivors. They stare at you. You stare back. It is enough. Aslan Gaisumov’s eight-minute, 34-second film People of No Consequence (2016) ends. Then it repeats indefinitely.

Staged in Liverpool’s Victoria Museum and Gallery, the work is a curatorial gut punch. Harrowing in its simplicity, People of No Consequence epitomises the prevailing curatorial agenda of the 2018 Liverpool Biennial, ‘Beautiful world, where are you?’. Curated by Kitty Scott and Sally Tallant across various venues (until 28 October), this biennial is a forthrightly political platform. It rearranges and often undermines hegemonic cultural projects by presenting work that transmogrifies serious suffering and subjugation into fundamentally uplifting cultural moves.

The biennial began with the performative activation of African-American artist Kevin Beasley’s sculptural installation Your face is / is not enough (2016) at Tate Liverpool. Wearing flamboyantly decorated NATO-issue gasmasks and using modified megaphones, a choir of 12 performed a haunting reverie before installing the garb in the exhibition space. Looming behind the performers was Dale Harding’s Ngaya boonda yinda nayi yoolgoogoo / I carry you in my heart (2016), a massive wall painting that draws on the artist’s Bidjara, Ghungalu and Garingbal heritage. It recalls Australia’s rich and long history of ochre-based rock painting to disrupt and partially reappropriate the proverbial white cube of an intensely privileged Tate gallery space.

Long story short: this is a biennial which is outspoken in its agenda to re-world the art world, featuring as it does 44 artists from 22 different countries. With relatively few exceptions, their work reaches beyond the predictable, simplistic and divisive binarisation of social issues, sensitively courting complexity to induce the sort of alternate dynamic, non-prejudicial and fundamentally wearable relationships to pluralism that our society so desperately needs right now. In giving hope, the 10th Liverpool Biennial is a tacit reminder that our beautiful world never really went anywhere – everything has not been lost over the horizon – we’ve simply been looking the wrong way.

Janis Lejins, Liverpool


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:

Phone: +612 6125 3988

With support from Molonglo Group

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

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