Flaunting it: The 2019 Ravenswood Australian Women’s Art Prize

Joanna Braithwaite,  Bold and the Beautiful,  2019, oil on canvas, 137 x 121cm; courtesy the artist and Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney

Joanna Braithwaite, Bold and the Beautiful, 2019, oil on canvas, 137 x 121cm; courtesy the artist and Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney

‘If you’ve got it, flaunt it,’ said artist Joanna Braithwaite on accepting the 2019 Ravenswood Australian Women’s Art Prize last Friday night in Sydney. She was referring to the subject of her winning painting: a fierce-eyed cassowary which flaunts a hat brimming with palpably trilling budgies and rainbow lorikeets.

Ravenswood alumnus and artist Jennifer Turpin, one of the prize’s three female judges, praised the richness and precision of Braithwaite’s rendering, which ‘draws our attention to the importance of biodiversity, the rights of animals and the joy of bestowing them with compassion and care’.

In the emerging category, Chris Casali was singled out from a record 1200 entries for her Mutawintji Dreaming, a dizzingly detailed and staggeringly skilful watercolour of graphite on silvery Yupo paper. ‘An intriguing shimmering dreamscape,’ Turpin opined, ‘this complex work conjures the space of the imagination.’ And befitting for Australia’s richest female art prize; the exhibition is currently on view at Ravenswood’s Centenary Centre in Gordon until 9 June.

Michael Fitzgerald, Sydney

Size matters: The 2019 Auckland Art Fair

Auckland Art Fair 2019 , installation view, The Cloud, Auckland, May 2019, featuring the work of Séraphine Pick; image courtesy Michael Lett, Auckland; photo: Josef Scott

Auckland Art Fair 2019, installation view, The Cloud, Auckland, May 2019, featuring the work of Séraphine Pick; image courtesy Michael Lett, Auckland; photo: Josef Scott

New Zealand’s only major art fair, the Auckland Art Fair, came into being about a dozen years ago as a biennial event organised by a charitable trust. The fair received a major reorientation in 2016 with new sponsorship, a fresh management team of Co-directors Stephanie Post and Hayley White, and a new specific focus on the art of the Pacific Rim. In 2018 it became annual, attracting around 10,000 visitors and with a turnover of about NZ$7 million in sales.

The 2019 reiteration, held in the first week of May, drew 41 commercial galleries – almost 30 from various parts of New Zealand, with the rest from Hobart, Jakarta, Melbourne, Rarotonga (Cook Islands), Santiago, Shanghai and Sydney. Its location in the scenic Cloud building, at Queens Wharf on the Auckland waterfront near the city centre, made it both a very accessible venue, but also one that imposed its own space constraints. The management team is happy to retain the venue into the future, so the Auckland Art Fair will remain a relatively ‘boutique’ event compared even with Sydney Contemporary (which this September will boast some 90 participating galleries), not to mention Art Basel, Expo Chicago, FIAC in Paris or the various Frieze fairs, all of which require a motorised scooter to travel their full length.

With art fairs size does matter, and a small and tightly focused format permits the organisers to be discerning in the galleries they accept. The mounting prestige of the Auckland fair has enabled the curatorial selection committee, consisting of two curators from public galleries plus two from commercial spaces, to vet the competing entries for admission. In 2019 there was also a modest budget for a series of ten non-commercial projects introducing cameo displays largely by emerging artists frequently lacking gallery representation. The fair also subsidised related art events. In 2019 the highlight was ‘China Import Direct’, a curated cross-section of digital and video art from across China, helping make this iteration a gem of a fair.

Sasha Grishin, Auckland

Waxing faith: Matthew van Roden’s ‘Apocryphilia’ at the NCCA

Matthew van Roden: Apocryphilia , exhibition installation view, Northern Centre for Contemporary Art, Darwin, March 2019; photo: Fiona Morrison

Matthew van Roden: Apocryphilia, exhibition installation view, Northern Centre for Contemporary Art, Darwin, March 2019; photo: Fiona Morrison

Matthew van Roden’s first major solo exhibition was the culmination of a master’s thesis investigation into the qualities of wax in its relationship to printmaking and video projection. Installed in four parts at Darwin’s Northern Centre for Contemporary Art during March this year, ‘Apocryphilia’ made manifest a confronting, visceral and transgressive aesthetic in which wax serves as both a form of printed text and a fleshy textural surface on which the artist creates multimedia self-portraits.

Considering ‘Apocrypha’ refers to biblical texts, and to things of unknown or doubtful origin, Van Roden has defined ‘apocryphilia’ as ‘an orientation, a desire towards text, specifically apocryphal text’. This desiring orientation imbues the relationships between the artist’s material process (of wax), his subjectivity as a queer body (of flesh) and his biography as a former Pentecostal student (of text) with palpable and compelling determination.

The exhibition’s six spaces formed a series of conceptual and escalating stages reminiscent of the stations of the cross. This journey began at street level with the earliest of Van Roden’s works: a set of nine paddles, each printed with the phrase ‘YOU TRAIN YOUR CHILD’. Inside the gallery, this work was followed by I AM A TEXT, a wall of digital and wax plate prints mounted on wooden panels. These hung opposite a video of Van Roden addressing the viewer in androgynous drag regalia, superimposed onto excerpts of text from The Second Book of Maccabees. Below the video, a plinth supported an open bible, the majority of its pages gutted. The third work, titled THE//WORD//BECOMES//FLESH, comprised nine text-scarred wax boards installed in grid formation, and projected with a video of the artist undulating in stark and distorted tonalities.

The exhibition culminated in the main space with its titular work. Here, a moving dual-form image of the artist was projected onto a fleshy disc of wax. Melted directly onto the surface of the gallery walls opposite were two competing and repeated statements: ‘NORMATIVITY IS THE CANONISATION OF THE BODY’ and ‘THE APOCRYPHISER WILL RIP THROUGH THE SEAMS OF THE EPISTEME’.

Declaring that his ‘queer body is always reading biblically’, Van Roden created with ‘Apocryphilia’ a relational space between the seemingly contradictory drives of his fundamentalist textual past and his re-territorialised queer present. In doing so, the artist affirmed his queerness as an apocryphal relation to heresy and the periphery, with wax becoming the binding yet fluid medium that names, unites and destabilises the divine word of God.

Carmen Ansaldo, Darwin

Pictures of transition: Contemporary paintings from Myanmar

Pictures of Transition: Contemporary Paintings from Myanmar , exhibition installation view, ANU School of Art & Design Gallery, Canberra, March 2019; photo: David Lindesay

Pictures of Transition: Contemporary Paintings from Myanmar, exhibition installation view, ANU School of Art & Design Gallery, Canberra, March 2019; photo: David Lindesay

Myanmar, though not as widely associated with contemporary art as neighbouring China, India and Thailand, has established a presence at international biennales, art fairs and auction houses following the dissolution of military rule in 2011 and easing of restrictions placed on artists, both in subject matter and access to global audiences. ‘Pictures of Transition: Contemporary Paintings from Myanmar’, an exhibition of 40 works by 23 artists presented at the ANU’s School of Art & Design Gallery in March, was a product of this shift and had the distinction of being the first public display of such work in Australia since the inauguration of Burmese democracy. The works chosen varied widely in style and content yet were given coherence by their arrangement into five themes: abstraction and individualism, urban life, rural life, sociopolitical life, and beliefs.

For most Australian viewers, the last two themes were likely most familiar, calling to mind Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and the country’s Buddhist temple architecture. Daw Suu (2016), a sensitive portrait by Zwe Yan Naing, fulfils the first expectation. What seems at first an expression of devotion is complicated, however, when closer inspection reveals a collage of postage stamps, transforming Aung San Suu Kyi into a symbol for a new nation united in diversity, and celebrating the freedom of communication brought by her election as State Counsellor in 2016. Yet the fracturing of the political leader’s face could also be read as a subtle allusion to the cracks that have started to appear in her public image as news of persistent human rights abuses continues to emerge from Myanmar.

Buddhist themes predominated further into the gallery, most clearly in Shine Lu’s The Buddha’s Face (2014), one of a series of canvases recreating past schools of Buddhist art, from ancient Indian Gandhara to the nineteenth-century Burmese Mandalay style. Like the faded protagonists of a timeworn temple mural, comparable Buddha images emerged from inscrutable drips and fields of colour in Htoo Aung Kyaw’s Narrative (2013) and Lola Hasta (2017), fusing the refined iconography of the Pyu and Bagan eras with an emotive response to the pressures of contemporary life.

More than recognisably Burmese subjects, it was this range and mastery of technique that proved most appealing in ‘Pictures of Transition’. The artists, ranging across generations, handled their materials with sensitivity and expressiveness. A dizzying array of drips, slashes, voluptuous strokes, ethereal washes and impasto outcroppings of paint carried viewers through an equally eclectic range of inspiration, leaving little doubt about the defining trait of contemporary art in Myanmar: its strident individuality after five decades of government repression.

For more information, see: https://issuu.com/anuschoolofartgallery/docs/pictures_of_transition_catalogue_fi

Alex Burchmore, Canberra

Collective fantasies: ‘The TV Show’ at Wollongong Art Gallery

The TV Show , exhibition installation view, Wollongong Art Gallery, 2019; photo: Document Photography

The TV Show, exhibition installation view, Wollongong Art Gallery, 2019; photo: Document Photography

When thinking about television, what we watch and how we watch are two things that consistently change. The recent exhibition ‘The TV Show’ at Wollongong Art Gallery curated by Daniel Mudie Cunningham (30 November 2018 to 24 February 2019) took television as a ubiquitous reference point and considered how it frames personal and collective experiences of the world. Including work by Liam Colgan, Sarah Contos, Amala Groom, Sara Morawetz, Liam O’Brien, Philjames, JD Reforma and Giselle Stanborough, it existed as a reflection of a particular moment. Themes of gender and social media, hierarchies of taste, nostalgia and narrative offered multiple entry points that relied on shared social coordinates. The next generation of digital natives may not share the same nostalgic references, but that’s not really the point.

Beneath the nostalgia running through the exhibition was the poignancy of deep and lasting affection – for the characters we remember and the times they mark. Contos presented Friends (2018), a hanging mobile of plush, stuffed shapes referencing journalists, TV characters and Jeanne Little. Coupled with Contos’s poetic artwork description, Friends captures the power of TV to epitomise a moment of hope, escape, ambivalence, aspiration and family turmoil.

The nostalgia invoked throughout the exhibition was also one of contested images and meanings. Groom’s single-channel video presented on multiple small monitors, Lest we...get over it (2017), cuts up and re-edits together archival footage of the bleatings of Australia’s media mainstream – politicians and shock jocks alike. Reforming their words of Australian, British and Anzac pride, assimilation and national unity, Groom’s video imagines a situation where the same kind of energy used to defend Australia’s colonial project is redirected to centralise indigeneity at the heart of the nation. The tricky-to-follow, choppy nature of the cuts imbues the powerfully satisfying narrative with anger and frustration; the affirming and accountable statements Groom draws together are a far cry from the rhetoric of Australian nationalism. Narrative restitching, selective memory and our relationships to dominant representations were multiple threads unifying ‘The TV Show’.

Part of the charm was its thematic pairing with Wollongong Art Gallery’s concurrent and adjacent exhibition ‘The Box in the Corner’ (30 November 2018 to 17 March 2019). Curated by Nigel Giles, it presented TV ephemera from 1956 to 1999, including TV guides, advertisements, costumes, signed headshots, stills and an ‘applause’ light box from the heyday of studio audiences. For all the difference between the two moments – the internet of the twenty-first century and analogue of the twentieth – these exhibitions fed off each other and reflected our collective fantasies around TV as social object and personal artefact. Both, in their own way, archived the impact of TV on our lives.

Paul Kelaita, Wollongong

Re-runs and re-enactments at the Perth Festival

David Noonan,  Untitled , 2019, installation view, ‘A Dark and Quiet Place’, Fremantle Arts Centre, 2019; Jacquard tapestry, stainless steel hanging system, 190 x 300cm; photo: Rebecca Mansell

David Noonan, Untitled, 2019, installation view, ‘A Dark and Quiet Place’, Fremantle Arts Centre, 2019; Jacquard tapestry, stainless steel hanging system, 190 x 300cm; photo: Rebecca Mansell

Thinking about the visual arts program at this year’s Perth Festival, I was struck by a peculiar and noteworthy pattern in its offerings. At the Fremantle Arts Centre (FAC, until 31 March), David Noonan’s sombre projection piece A Dark and Quiet Place (2017) is on its third showing, after earlier presentations in London and Melbourne. At the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (until 14 April), a large solo exhibition by Canadian artist Cassils was opened with a performance of Becoming an Image, first executed in Los Angeles in 2012. The show consists substantially of documentation from that and other previous performances. At John Curtin Gallery (until 18 April), a two-person show features Candice Breitz’s 2016 video work Love Story alongside Angelica Mesiti’s two-channel projection Mother Tongue (2017), both shown before in other festivals and exhibition formats. In 2019, the festival has become a venue for re-runs and re-enactments, whose presentation in this context is often incongruous or unconvincing.

Noonan’s contribution is exemplary in this regard. The show – given just two small rooms in FAC’s labyrinthine nineteenth-century building – takes its name from the headline work, a 28-minute sequence of slowly dissolving black-and-white found imagery. Quotation and iteration are the primary terms: A Dark and Quiet Place elaborates on themes from Noonan’s broader oeuvre, especially the suggestive, overlapping juxtaposition of images from different formal or thematic genera. Here they are theatrical performance and painterly abstraction; the work unfolds rather like a slide show, recording the debut of a frightening suprematist opera (Malevich’s 1913 designs for Victory over the Sun seem like an unavoidable reference point).

In a book produced to accompany the work, an essay by the Irish author Brian Dillon provides it with a kind of textual frame, but in most senses it comes to us rather bare, almost naked. The exhibition’s second room features several prints, but these tell us little about the artist’s project, and nothing about who he is speaking to. The curatorial contribution is remarkably limited – a short wall text, with the mere fact of the artist being internationally successful seeming to stand in for any sturdier notion of why this material matters and why it is here, in Perth, today. As with much of the festival’s visual arts program, there is the uncomfortable sense that all of this, like a hazy transmission from some distant star cluster, is shortly to end and leave us all suddenly, shockingly, alone again.

Christopher Barrett-Lennard, Perth

Maximising minimalism

Gerard Byrne,  A thing is a hole in a thing it is not , 2010, still; five-channel HD video projection, 2mins to 30mins duration; image courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery; ? Gerard Byrne

Gerard Byrne, A thing is a hole in a thing it is not, 2010, still; five-channel HD video projection, 2mins to 30mins duration; image courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery; ? Gerard Byrne

In Gerard Byrne’s five-channel video installation A thing is a hole in a thing it is not (2010), the Irish artist recreates several key moments in our generally accepted history of minimal art. There is a 1964 radio conversation between three of the New York art movement’s high priests, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd and Frank Stella, for example. And the cosmic 1951 drive by Tony Smith along the unfinished New Jersey Turnpike, illuminated only by his car lights, that was later mythologised in his famous 1966 interview in Artforum. That drive, he said, revealed to him a new way of seeing things in the world: ‘It seemed that there had been a reality there which had not had any expression in art.’ It was a reality that had to be reckoned with and experienced afresh.

Minimalism brought the art object into a new and direct relationship with the viewer, as if pulled out of the darkness and into intimate focus by the high beam of Smith’s car, and contemporary art was forever changed. But a new exhibition in Southeast Asia suggests that we may have been on the wrong road in our historical thinking about minimal art.

A project conversely and, perhaps ironically, maximal in scale, ‘Minimalism: Space. Light. Object’ spans two Singapore venues (the National Gallery and the ArtScience Museum) and around six decades of art, corralling some 70 international artists under the mantle of minimalism. It is an enormous and immaculately executed undertaking, drawing important works from far-flung collections, including many from Australian institutions (though not Malevich’s Black Square from the Hermitage; that’s been in Sydney), with the curatorial research deepened by a satisfyingly scholarly catalogue that lives up to Stella’s maxim of ‘what you see is what you see’. What can be gleaned from all of this is something as revelatory as Smith’s drive: a new understanding of the relationship between minimalism and Asian art.

Michael Fitzgerald, Singapore

For the full article, see Art Monthly’s forthcoming March 2019 issue.

Intimate illuminations: ‘Daughters of the Sun’ at Bendigo Art Gallery

Daughters of the Sun: Christian Waller and Klytie Pate , exhibition installation view, Bendigo Art Gallery, 2018–19; image courtesy Bendigo Art Gallery

Daughters of the Sun: Christian Waller and Klytie Pate, exhibition installation view, Bendigo Art Gallery, 2018–19; image courtesy Bendigo Art Gallery

The recent two-artist exhibition ‘Daughters of the Sun’ (10 November 2018 – 10 February 2019) explored the close relationship between the printmaker Christian Waller (1894–1954) and her niece, the ceramicist Klytie Pate (1912–2010), one of Australia’s most significant potters. Waller had a strong influence on the practice of Pate, who she and her husband Napier helped raise at their arts and crafts-style home at Fairy Hills in Melbourne. Both artists shared a deep spirituality that underpinned their work and practice, and the exhibition noted their mutual interest in astrology, mythology, theosophy and the occult.

Showcased in ‘Daughters of the Sun’ was Waller’s belief in all-encompassing design, featuring a small selection of works from her broader oeuvre that included illustration, painting, printmaking, mosaic and stained glass (for which the artist was especially revered). Indeed, the exhibition provided visitors the rare opportunity to glimpse her designs in-depth. The round window Untitled (Angus Og and Caer Ormaith) (c. 1930s), created for the musician and close friend Hilda Meadows, was displayed backlit to illuminate the vibrant colours. When viewed up-close, the intricate handpainted daisies, stars and halo of swallows surrounding the lovers were revealed.

The centrepiece of the exhibition was Waller’s artist book of seven original linocuts, The Great Breath (1932), which explores the seven theosophical stages of human evolution through intricate symbolic designs. These small yet powerful prints were displayed in a special freestanding room accompanied by three of Waller’s original linocut plates that emphasised the great skill of the artist.

The main exhibition room included a remarkable display of Pate’s vibrant viridian green earthenware, showcasing the rich colour plays and innovative glazes that she became renowned for. The surfaces of these vessels are incised with elaborate art deco designs that recall the drama of theatre but are grounded in Pate’s theosophical beliefs and connection to nature.

Sensitively curated by Emma Busowsky Cox, ‘Daughters of the Sun’ celebrated the life and work of Waller and Pate through an intimate retelling, bringing these important female artists to the fore.

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

Coming together: ‘Termasuk: Contemporary Art from Indonesia’ at Darren Knight Gallery

Termasuk: Contemporary Art from Indonesia , exhibition installation view, Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney, 19 January – 16 February 2019, with the works of Setu Legi and Mohamad ‘Ucup’ Yusuf; image courtesy the artists and Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney

Termasuk: Contemporary Art from Indonesia, exhibition installation view, Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney, 19 January – 16 February 2019, with the works of Setu Legi and Mohamad ‘Ucup’ Yusuf; image courtesy the artists and Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney

The Bahasa Indonesia word ‘Termasuk’ refers to inclusiveness or togetherness. This exhibition at Sydney’s Darren Knight Gallery (until 16 February), curated by art adviser and collector John Cruthers and the cross-cultural networking organisation Indo Art Link (led by Lauren Parker with Melissa Burnet Rice), has a deliberately broad remit which is brought together neatly in its title, exploring ideas of belonging, both personal and political, within this diverse country of 265 million people.

There is a variety of media across the 12 participating artists, including drawing, painting, printmaking, textiles, ceramics and installation. However, these emerging and mid-career practitioners working in Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta and Bali share a refinement of the hand and a conceptual confidence which combine to produce nuanced, beautiful works encouraging slow and considered appreciation.

Mohamad ‘Ucup’ Yusuf’s reduction woodblock prints feature impossibly dense scenes containing pop and traditional cultural references surrounding the imposing visage of a Javanese bride. Fika Ria Santika employs alternately delicate and robust found and industrial materials such as felt and chiffon, resin and beads, creating abstract sculptural reliefs which evoke organisms and landscapes. Surya Wirawan’s richly detailed comic strips, executed in aquarelle and coloured pencil, wittily narrate encounters within the art world and beyond, while Maharani Mancanagara explores Indonesia’s history of exiled political prisoners as an allegorical tale using wooden toy-like objects and a storybook.

‘Termasuk’ also serves as a reminder of the significant role that art collectors and commercial galleries can play in the art ecosystem and, more broadly, in cultural exchange. The exhibition was put together dynamically and responsively during 2018 and realised with professionalism and rigour – each artist is introduced via a suite of recent works, public programs include a presentation on the history of contemporary Indonesian art by academic Brigitta Isabella and a panel discussion on collecting Indonesian art, and the show is accompanied by a catalogue including a foreword by Aaron Seeto, Director of Museum MACAN, Jakarta.

With Indonesian art forming the focus of recent and forthcoming shows in several major Australian art institutions, ‘Termasuk’ makes for a timely and exciting introduction to the world of contemporary Indonesian art and provides important insight into our near neighbour.

Chloé Wolifson, Sydney

Transporting delight: The 14th Cuenca Biennial

Cecilia López,  Red , 2018, installation view, Museo del Monasterio de las Conceptas, 14th Cuenca Biennial, 2018; audio cables, double basses, stereo; photo: Natalia Ottolenghi Bradshaw

Cecilia López, Red, 2018, installation view, Museo del Monasterio de las Conceptas, 14th Cuenca Biennial, 2018; audio cables, double basses, stereo; photo: Natalia Ottolenghi Bradshaw

How refreshing to attend an art biennale that isn’t an identikit model of international art events. In Ecuador, the Cuenca Biennial is one of the world’s oldest-running such surveys, and one that is consistently original and arresting – with the current fourteenth iteration (until 3 February) not disappointing.

Aptly reflecting the region, the Cuenca Biennial focuses primarily on Latin American art, and miraculously – given a total budget of less than US$1million – includes significant works by major international artists.

As previous director of the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation in Miami, Venezuelan-born Chief Curator Jesus Fuenmayor is one of Latin America’s leading art figures, and he here delivers a biennial that is thoughtful, unique and exciting – no opening week parties and public programs required.

Thankfully the artworks escape the pretension of the edition’s title ‘Living Structures. Art as a plural experience’. In total, 53 artists have work displayed at 24 sites across Cuenca – some of them the most charming venues imaginable. For example, works by Patricia Dauder, Cecilia López and Juliana Vidal are set in the sixteenth-century Museo del Monasterio de las Conceptas. As DJ, López provides an outstanding example of site-spedificity with Red’s audio cables and musical instruments creating a memorable transportation in what once served as a crypt. Vidal’s work won the prestigious ‘Premio Paris’ residency prize for her sublime Geographies of Mortality (2018) – 123 seemingly simple plaster casts that embed the walls of a former nun’s study.

Though both continents straddle the Pacific Ocean, it is surprising that there is not more dialogue between Australia and Latin America. This significant biennial art event, in one of the world’s most fascinating university cities with such a rich melding of Inca and colonial histories, has the potential to attract far wider audiences.

Natalia Ottolenghi Bradshaw, Cuenca

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 www.contour556.com.au 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 http://paot.com.au/pdf/paot_catalogue_web.pdf).

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.