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Features/Visual Art

Feast of art feeds local appetites

10 December 2020

It’s time to dump cultural cringe. This year’s visual arts program at Perth Festival is both bigger than before and almost 100% local. It’s exciting and a chance for everyone to put a little more art into their lives. Ara Jansen reports.


Discovering local places and looking up, down and around to rediscover interesting things on her daily lockdown walk led Gemma Weston to curate a macro neighbourhood experience for Perth Festival.

As the Festival’s visual arts program associate, Weston found that discovering the world outside her door on foot provided micro inspiration for curating the 2021 program.

Next year’s program is larger, broader and acknowledges the challenge of communicating our experiences of 2020. Thirty WA artists have worked across sculpture, photography, video, sound, drawing, painting, performance and projection.

Like much of the rest of the festival, rather than being a navel-gazing affair which moans about the issues of the year, there’s an inherent joy to the choices. In many cases the year’s events have been a jumping off point for determination, curiosity, innovation, exploration and, yes, there’s that word again, joy.

It’s also a program which transcends itself, by being interesting enough for each exhibition to be considered outside any personal preference or love for a specific medium.

Weston said the program began with discussions with a handful of local galleries who had been part of the festival in past years but quickly expanded.

A series of colourful shapes made of what looks like resin. The shapes are things like doughnut rings, steps, heaxagons, and other more abstract shapes. They sit on a yellow surface, with a corrugated white back drop.
Work by Wong + Megirian x Liam Kennedy, 2020 from ‘Fair Isle’, which will be presented at DADAA.

“There was something really important and almost logical about 2021 being a WA-focused program,” she says. “Part of making that statement was to present exhibitions in more of the spaces where art happens. Art practice here is really rich and vibrant and this was an opportunity to showcase just a sliver of that diversity, not just of who is making it but of where you can see it.”

The expected places – including the Art Gallery of WA, Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts and John Curtin Gallery – are in the mix, but they’re joined by DADAA and for the first time by the city’s Cool Change Contemporary, Fremantle’s PS Art Space, the Holmes A Court Gallery @ no. 10 in West Perth, Goolugatup Heathcote in Applecross and the newly opened WA Museum Boola Bardip.

“Those conversations with artists and galleries in the early part of the year revealed projects that were so strong and connected to the festival theme that it was an easy decision to expand.”

For example, DADAA, an arts and health organisation which creates opportunities for those with disability and mental illness, returns to the program after participating in the 2020 festival. Inspired by the past year and re-focusing on creativity at home, “Fair Isle” features eight local artists, designers, photographers and writers exploring new forms of practice and self-sufficiency to create continuity in a time of disruption.

Tony Sarre and Mayma Awaida’s Re-thinking the image, which will be fully revealed in late January 2021, will be an online audio work exploring and re-creating the way a gallery is experienced by a vision-impaired person.

“I wanted to think of the impacts of this year as opportunity rather than a challenge. There’s an appetite for WA-made work and an incredible depth of it to draw from. People have embraced the idea and it has felt like the right time to make this statement.”

I wanted to think of the impacts of this year as opportunity rather than a challenge. There’s an appetite for WA-made work and an incredible depth of it to draw from.

This is Weston’s second Festival, and she’s the first for a while to curate it from Perth. Like the rest of the Festival, presenting work of international calibre which could only be made here but more than capably stands on its feet elsewhere was part of the bedrock behind the exhibitions.

She says this is also the time we stop talking about Western Australian art in terms of parochial isolation. Quite simply, it’s an outmoded thought. Let’s be done with it.

“We’re a multicultural state and city. We’re home to one of largest First Nations on the continent – Noongar – and are closely connected to South East Asia. This is an inherently cosmopolitan place, and the conversations about this don’t always reflect the unique and special reality of living here. This is an opportunity to change that story.”

“The theme of the festival is bilya (river) and I thought about that a lot. Bilya means river in Noongar but also umbilical cord. It’s a word that connects the body and mind to a place. I hope this program makes that connection for people, and that people connect with it.”

Olga Cironis, ‘Hollow Desires’, 2016, recycled military canvas, hair, thread and child’s clothing

While themes and connections run through the works, tying them together and to us in interesting ways, they’re also incredibly varied.

The works in “A Forest of Hooks and Nails”, at Fremantle Arts Centre, take us behind the scenes where the installers are the artists and are let loose to turn the space inside out and put it all back together again while exploring many of the aspects that go into the job.

PICA hosts a landmark exhibition titled “the gathering”, by First Nations artists from Australia and Aotearoa (New Zealand), which reflects on the act of gathering. Also at PICA ,”Songs From Patrick William Carter” is an evocative survey of an artist and performer who uses a mix of mediums to tell his stories while “Dislocation”, at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, showcases artist Olga Cironis and 30 years of disenfranchised identity.

On the lighter side Perth-based artist and film-maker Tee Ken Ng’s “Leaving LA” puts the focus on his recent animated collaboration with Tim Minchin for his song of the same name. This installation of handmade zoetropes brings Minchin’s music to life while making the viewer feels like they’re in the animation themselves.

Across more than a dozen events all but one are free, which Weston hopes will encourage those who are new to the visual arts or who want to dip a few more toes in to see at least a couple of the exhibitions.

“Of course, galleries always want to expand their audiences and the Festival wants that too,” says Weston. “This year has demonstrated how much desire there is in the community to bring art into our daily lives. The more opportunities we can create to do that that the better.”

Head to the Perth Festival website to check out the visual arts program. One of the exhibitions, “Alluvial Gold” by Erin Coates with Stuart James and Louise Devenish, is already open – read Seesaw’s review here.

Pictured top is a still from ‘DANCE’, by Patrick Carter, 2014, from his upcoming exhibition at PICA, ‘Songs From Patrick William Carter’.

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Author —
Ara Jansen

Ara Jansen is a freelance journalist. Words, bright colour, books, music, art, fountain pens, good conversation, interesting people and languages make her deeply happy. A longtime music journalist and critic, she’s the former music editor of The West Australian. Being in the pool next to the playground is one of her favourite places, ever.

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