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

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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

Tintin Wulia at Art Stage Singapore

Tintin Wulia, Untold Movements Act 1 – Neitherland, Whitherland, Hitherland, 2015, installation view; 32-channel sound installation, dimensions variable; image courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

Tintin Wulia, Untold Movements Act 1 – Neitherland, Whitherland, Hitherland, 2015, installation view; 32-channel sound installation, dimensions variable; image courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

It’s not what we come to expect from an art fair, the darkened recesses of Tintin Wulia’s Untold Movements – Act 1: Neitherland, Whitherland, Hitherland (2015), which features in the curated Southeast Asia Forum’s ‘Net Present Value: Art, Capital, Futures’, showing as part of the current 2017 edition of Art Stage Singapore (until 15 January).

Voices cry out in the cavernous space – plangent, philosophical – expressing doubt and uncertainty, and slipping from the singular to the universal, their location and identity unknown. ‘There is no single way to describe my part of the world,’ says one. ‘There must be a way out of this,’ says another. Within the context of an art fair, where both artworks and the nationality of artists are traded and fixed, such fluidity is a refreshing (and essential) counterpoint.

‘When I was born, god didn’t play dice,’ says the artist on her YouTube video, How Tintin became The Most International Artist in the Universe (see www.tintinwulia.com). ‘He saw all the possibilities and created parallel universes.’ Born in Denpasar and more recently based in Brisbane, Wulia’s interdisciplinary work (which will represent Indonesia at this year’s Venice Biennale) speaks of the shadow land of globalisation, of souls lost in displacement and hovering between states and national borders.

Untold Movements was commissioned by Sydney’s 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art in 2015 (with assistance from The Keir Foundation) and comprises a 32-channel sound installation employing some 15 narrative voices among which audiences must wander, snatching at fragments of personal histories – hinting at the artist’s own experience of being deported from Germany on suspicions of illegal entry, but also inspired by Wulia’s encounters with other stories of displacement, including a Melbourne taxi driver dreaming of life in the Middle East and the Indonesian writer Sobron Aidit (1934 – 2007), exiled in China during the political tumult of 1965.

Just when audiences gain intimacy with these disparate voices and stories, their narratives are further fragmented by the sound of fireworks (or are they gun shots?) which erupt and echo through the darkness, dispelling the possibility of any single truth – only multiplicity has meaning. It’s a sobering thought for audiences as they step out into the unblinking light of the fair.

Michael Fitzgerald, Editor

‘Artist and Empire’ at the National Gallery Singapore

Artist and Empire: (En)countering Colonial Legacies, exhibition install view featuring the work of Lee Wen (left) and George Francis Joseph; image courtesy the National Gallery Singapore

Artist and Empire: (En)countering Colonial Legacies, exhibition install view featuring the work of Lee Wen (left) and George Francis Joseph; image courtesy the National Gallery Singapore

A year after opening, the National Gallery Singapore is setting the benchmark for Southeast Asian art museums. The current ‘Artist and Empire: (En)countering Colonial Legacies’ is an ambitious collaboration with Tate Britain, reconfiguring the important exhibition first presented in London in late 2015. It’s rich, subtle and surprising, demonstrating the persistence of British imperial vision, but also the gradual emergence of cultural independence in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, the focus of this iteration.

Two sections mirror the rise – and fall – of Empire. ‘Countering the Empire’ shows mainly works by British artists, or made for British patrons: images of domination like Thomas James Barker’s astonishing 1863 painting of Queen Victoria bestowing a Bible on a grateful colonial. Yet this history is not unmarked by defeat: Saburo Miyamoto’s official 1942 painting showing the British surrender to the Japanese makes a rare appearance; more ominously, Lady Elizabeth Butler’s 1879 painting of a lone survivor of the First Afghan War in the 1840s points to today. Unlike in London, contemporary works speak back to the imperial pomp. Opening the show, the nineteenth-century sculpture of Raffles, Singapore’s colonial founder, is a fine example of détournement: a large photomural shows Lee Wen's 2000 performance, which elevated ordinary citizens to Raffles’s exalted height by means of specially constructed scaffolding; photographic works by Australian Indigenous Michael Cook gesture to this nation’s still-ambiguous relationship with British authority.

The second section, ‘Encountering Artistic Legacies’, shows regional artists establishing distinctive visions of their homelands: among many fascinating artworks, portraits by New Zealander Charles Frederick Goldie and Singapore’s Cheong Soo Pieng, batik paintings by Chuah Thean Teng, and works by early twentieth-century Burmese artists sketch unfolding local imageries.

‘Artist and Empire’ is not without naysayers: many works in this ravishing show are troubling, ambiguous reminders of an imperial history many would prefer to forget. Yet it’s necessary: dealing with the past, in order to go forward. ‘Artist and Empire’ runs until 26 March 2017 – definitely worth visiting.

Julie Ewington, Singapore

 

‘Primavera 2016’ at the MCA

Primavera 2016: Young Australian Artists, exhibition install view, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, 2016, featuring: Mira Oosterweghel, Precarious Life, 2016; Steven Cybulka, Divisions, 2016; and Ruth McConchie, salines, sirius, obelisk, 2016; image courtesy and © the artists; photo: Christopher Snee

Primavera 2016: Young Australian Artists, exhibition install view, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, 2016, featuring: Mira Oosterweghel, Precarious Life, 2016; Steven Cybulka, Divisions, 2016; and Ruth McConchie, salines, sirius, obelisk, 2016; image courtesy and © the artists; photo: Christopher Snee

‘Primavera’ is the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia’s annual exhibition of Australian artists aged 35 and under. Rather than focus on the artist’s hand, the 2016 iteration (which ran from 29 September until 4 December 2016) focused on the viewer’s body, with curator Emily Cormack exploring recent theories of embodied cognition, proposing that the creation of knowledge begins in the body rather than the brain.

The exhibition was curated in several sections exploring aspects of the body’s ‘porosity’: the respiratory, sensory, skeletal, muscular, nervous, endocrine and limbic systems. A small copper button near the exhibition’s entrance signalled Emily Parsons-Lord’s work The Confounded Leaving (2016), which released air akin to that of 250 million years ago during the earth’s greatest extinction period. Viewers heading the other way at the exhibition’s entrance were seduced by vinyl tape on the floor and a glowing blue light towards a dead end – the hue in Biljana Jancic’s A Beach (Beneath) (2016) being emitted from an empty projector. Past Parsons-Lord’s work the walls were punctuated by Danae Valenza’s Your Motion Says (2016), a series of neon squiggles reminiscent of shorthand, their lights and accompanying sounds swelling and receding with viewer proximity.

The exhibition’s bones were formed by Steven Cybulka’s structural intervention Divisions (2016), around which the other works spiralled within the gallery. These included Adelle Mills’s four-channel video work Axiom of Maria (2016) in which four performers interpreted a series of gestures, Pia van Gelder’s Recumbent Circuit (2016) which invited the audience to apply hands and feet to copper pads in order to activate the conductive properties of their bodies, and Ruth McConchie’s salines, sirius, obelisk (2016), a headset taking viewers on a virtual journey through the exhibition’s walls to its real and imagined surrounds. Suspended above it all was the rope ladder of Mira Oosterweghel’s Precarious Life (2016), over which a performer would occasionally move, bringing a sense of literally heightened risk to the double-height gallery space.

For an exhibition placing our fleshy selves at its core, ‘Primavera 2016’ was slick, minimal and inorganic. The artists employed synthetic and manufactured materials in new and experimental technologies, evoking a futuristic world of artificial air and light, virtual reality and holograms, and constructed environments and interfaces. While the exhibition opened up the possibility of the viewer leaving the space with a heightened sense of the body’s engagement with its context, the challenge for ‘Primavera’ was for audiences to engage with these often subtle works, displayed within the context of contemporary visual art, in a way which effectively explored the intent of the works and the show. Nonetheless, the exhibition was an intriguing curatorial vignette which explored the possibilities of the body as interface for the creation of knowledge.

Chloé Wolifson, Sydney