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Reviews/Visual Art

Taking the pulse of young artists

2 May 2019

Review: ‘Pulse Perspectives’ ·
Art Gallery of Western Australia ·
Review by Lydia Edwards ·

There is a tendency, when it comes to exhibitions of under-18s’ work, to curate with an inclusiveness that sometimes suggests a lack of discernment. Works are either viewed with awe – “how could that have been done by a school student?” – or dissatisfaction at the skill level or maturity of subject matter. When such exhibitions are staged in established galleries, a viewer can be especially unsure how to judge the work they are seeing. AGWA’s “Perspectives”, an annual exhibition of work by Year 12 Visual Arts students from across Western Australia,  consistently seems to have avoided this uncertainty, and not only because the artists shown are clearly the next generation of West Australian talent. The show has always been curated with a non-patronising, highly professional touch, in line with other, more conventional exhibitions at the gallery. Captions and didactic panels do not focus on the age or status of the artist, but on their personal vision and description of the work, which is often an insightful and useful addition.

Genevieve Matthews (Penrhos College), ‘Ocean in the plastic’ 2018, slip cast, paper cast, porcelain corals, twenty-nine parts: dimensions variable.

With 2019’s “Pulse Perspectives”, which features 46 works by 2018 graduates, the gallery aims to “gauge” and emphasise the “pulse of young people who will influence, empower and shape the world we live in.” A few works in, and it’s clear that the pulse of young Australian students beats to the rhythm of climate change, the refugee crisis, gender disparity and discrimination, as well as cultural isolation. This is hardly surprising, and young activist Greta Thunberg’s chilling battle cry: “I want you to feel the fear I feel every day” resonates in works such as ceramicist Genevieve Mathews’ Ocean in the Plastic and Lawson Boughey’s Plea from the earth, which beautifully mimics traditional Chinese paintings with a soft, dreamy peacefulness that – on first glance, at least – belies the sobering underlying message.

Other pieces, like Connor Fallon’s Boys Don’t Cry and Mila Mary’s Super normal gorgeously emulate the work of stalwarts Grayson Perry and Tracey Emin, artists from a different generation who expressed their sexual and social anxiety in remarkably similar ways.

Connor Fallon (Wanneroo Secondary College), ‘Boys don’t cry’ 2018, mixed textile, 66 x 207 x 140 cm irregular.

But amongst all these worthy exclamations of global distress sit more introspective pieces, focused intently on the individual. Far from betraying millennial self-absorption, however, they speak to both age-old growing pains and the quietly growing confidence of a society having to deal with a mental health epidemic. Emily Lewis’s Death inspires me utilises a scratchboard technique to depict a dog-like beast chasing a petrified rabbit, an angst-ridden scene indicative of her recent emotional and life struggles. Beautifully rendered in a medium suggestive of the slow, ancient art of engraving, the work combines the frenetic life of a 21st century teenager leaving home with the kind of slowness and thoughtfulness this generation is often accused of lacking. Such mindfulness is also evident in the work of Alexandra O’Brien (detail pictured top and full work at end), a deaf artist who uses the brooding darkness of the Dutch Golden Age to express the “liminal space” in which she lives.

A tiger chasing a rabbit
Emily Lewis (St Norbert College), ‘Death inspires me’ 2018, scratchboard, four parts: 57 x 168.5 cm overall (framed).

Whilst these works are technically skilful and emotionally absorbing, the exhibition left me with mixed feelings — and this was quite possibly its intention. The personal and collective angst felt by these young people is draining to witness, with very few works predicting a bright future. Nevertheless, if “Pulse Perspectives” is indicative of the current climate, its works need to be shown… and older generations should take note.

‘Pulse Perspectives’ runs until July 22.

Pictured top: Detail from Alexandra O’Brien’s (Iona Presentation College), ‘I’m all ears’, 2018 oil on canvas, audio file and oil on headphones three parts: two at 50.5 x 40.5 cm each; Headphones with audio: duration 2:42 min. Full work below:

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Author —
Lydia Edwards

Lydia Edwards is a fashion historian and author. Her first book How to Read a Dress was published in 2017 and its follow up, How to Read a Suit, will be out in February 2020. She lectures at ECU and WAAPA, and her favourite piece of playground equipment is the expression swing!

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