This week, the National Archives of Australia (NAA) launched its leg of the Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize, for which it is an exclusive partner with the South Australian Museum in Adelaide. The biennial prize and exhibition - named in honour of zoologist and first curator of the SA Museum, Frederick George Waterhouse - will only be seen in Adelaide and Canberra. A total of 81 works were accepted into the prize this year and the NAA presents 25 winning and highly commended works.
The Waterhouse Art Prize is intriguing for its unique cross-occupation of museum, art, science and material culture territories. Artists are asked to present the natural world as they see it, and the prize is powerful in representing the visual arts as a valid voice in institutional discourse around conservation, biology, evolution and climate change.
The prize has made a very successful comeback from a two-year hiatus, having received feedback from artists participating in earlier rounds of the competition. The prize has been opened up to include all forms of media except for photography. The Waterhouse can be applauded for its willingness to transform itself and recognise that contemporary artists are increasingly cross-disciplinary and no longer bound by traditional mediums and categories. Prizes for emerging art and 'scientists’ choice' were also rolled out. The result is a hugely diverse number of works on display at the NAA, including painting, sculpture, glass, ceramics, found material, paper work, digital work and more.
Four artists from the Canberra region are featured in the line-up, with Dan Power receiving the prize in the emerging category for his ink work on a bull’s skull. Jenni Kemarre Martiniello, a local glass artist with a studio at Canberra Glassworks, was at the launch to describe the making of her work, Parachilna bicornual set. The complex pieces take their inspiration from the artist's father and his stories of trips to Parachilna in South Australia as a young man. He would describe the open fields of small flowers blooming in the springtime, reflected in the vibrant colours of the work. The work is detailed and layered to evoke the weave of the bicornual basket and takes around 20 hours to prepare. Locals Emilie Patteson and Elizabeth Kelly are also on show.
The Waterhouse Art Prize will be on display at the National Archives of Australia in Canberra until 13 November 2016.