Reviews/Visual Art

Youth pulse beats political

24 August 2020

Perusing the Art Gallery of WA’s “Pulse Perspectives 2019”, Miranda Johnson finds that WA’s most recent crop of school graduates are facing the challenges of our time with a clear moral compass.

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‘Pulse Perspectives 2019’, secondary school graduates ·
Art Gallery of Western Australia ·

Providing an insight into the interests and concerns of Western Australia’s high school graduates, the Art Gallery of WA’s “Pulse Perspectives 2019” raises questions about the unique challenges and threats facing young people in this particularly unstable political and environmental climate. Presented annually, this exhibition features work from the previous year’s cohort of Year 12 visual arts students. In 2020, 44 works (created in pre-Covid 2019) from graduates of 29 WA schools were selected for exhibition, from 300 submissions.

Pictured is Grace Crogan's 'A walk to school in 2019' features items of rubbish, such as a plastic glove, or a scrunched up plastic bag, and prints created from the rubbish, each carefully displayed in a wooden box.
Grace Crogan, ‘A walk to school 2019’, water based lino ink on paper, found objects, wooden boxes, entomology pins, fifty-five parts: dimensions variable

Curated by Dunja Rmandic, the exhibition is organised largely thematically, with environmental concerns at the forefront of the exhibition as the viewer enters the Centenary Galleries. Here, artists confront stark realities of impending environmental disaster, including plastic pollution, consumer capitalism, and the disappearance of bees.

Grace Crogan’s works successfully synthesise a personal connection and sense of place with a larger critique on consumerism and environmental degradation, with her daily walk through Fremantle to school leading to the collection and documentation of rubbish seen on the way. The rubbish is used to create a collection of prints, displayed museologically in a vitrine, with the amount of time items take to break down marked alongside the name and location where the rubbish was collected. The works create a personal narrative that reflects a larger global issue.

This sense of home is carried through much of the exhibition, with the diversity of WA students reflected in considered and personal responses to family narratives, displacement, and cultural roots. Sisi-Cynthia Ingenere’s sculpture Soul Searching uses the imagery of Afro-Futurism and 1970s disco to celebrate her background as a member of the African diaspora who wishes to reconnect with her homeland. The work reminds us of historical moments past that gave strength to displaced cultural identities, and the ways in which these movements can inspire and lift up the voices of current generations as they search for belonging.

Sharon Nguyen, ‘Paddle Pop generation’ 2019, oil on board, 144 x 95 x 25 cm

Cultural narratives and a sense of identity are also ironically explored in works that comment on contemporary youth culture in Australia. At a time when different generations of Australians seem to find fault with any other generation but their own (think boomers, versus millennials, and millennials versus Generation Z) it amused me to see that this tradition is carried on in the younger generations, with Sharon Nguyen’s work Paddle Pop Generation, a moralistic critique of the lifestyle of her youngest brother, whose time is spent on fast food, social media and the internet.

Meanwhile, Victoria Henderson’s photographic series Oi! I’m Not Underage, I’m Australian! appropriates iconic Australian artworks (including Frederick McCubbin’s 1889 work Down on His Luck, which is in the collection of AGWA and used to be on display in these same gallery spaces). However, the clearly underage people in Henderson’s images are drinking in a typical Australian style; beers in the bush while camping, or while sitting in the pool with your mates. In this way, the works ask us to consider whether these activities are truly something to be proud of as a culture.

At once a reflection on contemporary Australian culture, an exploration of larger global issues, and personal reflections on family and identity, “Pulse Perspectives” provides a thoroughly enjoyable and comprehensive insight into the lives of young people who have just finished high school. It’s comforting to see their strong sense of political engagement, individual confidence, and clear moral compasses as they embark on their journeys beyond high school.

‘Pulse Perspectives 2019’ runs until 5 October 2020.

Pictured top is a detail from Sisi-Cynthia Ingenere’s ‘Soul searching’ 2019, mixed media, nineteen parts: dimensions variable.

The students whose work is discussed in this review are graduates from the following schools:

John Curtin College of the Arts (Grace Crogan)
Corpus Christi College (Sisi-Cynthia Ingenere)
Chisholm College (Sharon Nguyen)
Perth Modern School (Victoria Henderson)

Detail from Victoria Hendersen’s, ‘Oi! I’m not underage, I’m Australian!’ 2019, digital print on paper, four parts: 49 x 69 cm (unframed) each 
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Author —
Miranda Johnson

Miranda Johnson is a curator and writer who has worked for various contemporary arts institutions, co-founded Cool Change Contemporary and co-hosts Fem Book Club at the Centre for Stories. Miranda’s favourite aspect of the playground is getting the chance to meet as many dogs as possible.

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