Features/Perth Festival/Visual Art

Sailing on an ocean of art

11 January 2022

Perth Festival’s choice of wardan – the ocean – for this year’s festival theme plays out beautifully in its visual arts selection. Ara Jansen plunges in to pull out some highlights.

If you’re heading out into the ocean that is this year’s visual arts program at Perth Festival you’ll need a variety of water-going craft.

At the very least, you’ll need to be willing to stand on the water’s edge and dip your toes in. If you’re a little braver, diving right in may just be the perfect Fremantle Doctor’s prescription.

Gemma Weston. Photo: Jessica Wyld

Festival visual arts curator Gemma Weston is excited by the variety of work which links to this year’s festival theme – “wardan”, which means “ocean” in Noongar language.

“The ocean is so much a part of the WA psyche,” says Weston. “There are so many powerful aspects to work with, in a visual arts sense.

“Crossing the threshold of a gallery should be like stepping into another world. I hope the program allows you to be immersed in it. Are you going to dunk your head underwater or jump in?”

It’s a theme which not only encompasses literal interpretations of the ocean but metaphorical journeys into the soul and more subtle renderings of the aquatic.

A photo of a young Asian woman, suspended in the air by wires, dressed in billowing white fabric, against a green screen.
More subtle renderings of the aquatic: Isaac Julien, ‘Green Screen Goddess (Ten Thousand Waves)‘, 2010, Endura Ultra photograph. Courtesy: the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

Sympathetic to the theme is British film maker and installation artist Isaac Julien’s collection of photographs and film at John Curtin Art Gallery, which explore migration, class and the arrival on international shores. In contrast, “The Sunset Lounge” invites you to the Alex Hotel to “float on a sea of otherworldly sounds” and experience installations from Tarryn Gill and Ben Barretto or dine under a light installation inspired by tidal forces, from Nemo Gandossini-Poirier.

A sculpture of a cat with a human-like face. The cat is textured in a bronze/gold material and its eyes glow golden.
‘The Sunset Lounge’ invites you to float on a sea of otherworldly sounds. Pictured:Tarryn Gill, ‘Tricksters’, 2018, Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Sally Dan Cuthbert

“Last year, when we focused on WA artists, it highlighted the quality of the work and talent here, so it felt right to continue that exploration, create a new context and see what would happen,” says Weston.

“I feel like in the visual arts sector as a whole at the moment, there’s a sense of energy, change and possibility. I’m proud the Festival has been part of that, so having that energy bubbling along has helped create an atmosphere and climate of receptiveness for WA artists and artwork.

“I hope the visual arts program can introduce audiences to a variety of voices and perspectives, while also offering a sense of narrative cohesion. I think the breadth and depth of the festival’s theme this year, of all our the personal, cultural and emotional associations with the ocean, makes this possible.

“I’m excited to see Sonia Kurarra – one of Western Australia’s most senior and significant artists, working out of Fitzroy Crossing – exhibit alongside an internationally-renowned installation artist like Isaac Julien, for example. Both have incredibly different practices, but each will offer an immersive and transportive experience.”

One of WA’s most senior and significant artists, Sonia Kurarra, will exhibit at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery. Pictured is her work “Martuwarra’, 2021, synthetic polymer paint on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency.

Seesaw Mag’s picks from the program

Bedside Manner
11 February – 6 March, broadcast on radio

Update: Since publishing “Bedside Manner” has been cancelled.

A picture of a stork carrying a bundle in a scarf (presumably a baby). In the background sunbeams break through a bank of clouds.
What would happen if a midwife delivered the news bulletin? Photo: Getty Images

“This is a curious one and we have been vague about it on purpose. It’s from Jessie Bullivant who has created works which are email and text based,” says Weston. “This is the kind of public work that could exist in text or sound form and their practice is really sympathetic to that medium of working.”

This made-for-radio work explores what would happen if a midwife delivered the news bulletin.

“Jessie had been thinking of radio and about the care and trust and the kinds of voices which carry those roles of responsibility. There’s a sense of shepherding something into reality and how important a voice and tone is and what the emotional responsibility in that is.”

Keep an ear out for which Perth station will broadcast the result.

Strangers on the Shore
12 February – 12 March @ Holmes à Court Gallery @No. 10

Undoing colonial storytelling: Kelsey Ashe, ‘Mooro Boodjar 29th December 1696 (detail)’, 2021. Image courtesy and copyright of the artist

Overtly courting the ocean theme, this is a contemporary and historical exhibition which features new work in conversation with key works from the Holmes a Court Collection and pieces from the WA Maritime Museum.

“Select pieces from the Janet Holmes a Court Collection and artifacts related to shipwrecks that are pre-1826 (pre-dating British colonisation) from the WA Maritime Museum have inspired the new work, creating a link from the past to the present,” says Weston.

“It looks at the expeditions from Asia and Europe and these different moments of exchange that ran counter to the first contact with the people of the continent. The intent was to show that there’s a lot of evidence of exchange, trade and encounters that undo some of the colonial storytelling we’ve been told about Australia before colonisation.”

Artists Kelsey Ashe, Jo Darbyshire, Anna Nazzari, Lea Taylor and Sandra Hill explore themes around shipwrecks, survival, social contact and First Nations peoples’ knowledge.

Our Language
5 February – 9 April @ DADAA

Exploring how language creates culture: Fayen d’Evie with Anna Seymour, Vincent Chan & Trent Walker. ‘Essays in gestural poetics {;;} ‘Care is a cognate to grief”, 2021, screenprint and tactual UV prints

“This exhibition thinks through the relationship between language, culture and stories and an understanding of non-verbal language,” Weston says. “It explores how language creates culture and when you speak – whatever form that takes – all the cultural information that comes with it.

“In spoken language you are not just communicating the content of what you are saying we are signalling our presence in a society, a history and a culture. That’s significant with something like AUSLAN as a cultural form because it builds community and has its own customs.”

Works are by Josh Ophel, Zoe Mat Je, Alter Boy, Fayen d’Evie and Nastaran Ghadiri. This exhibition at DADAA in Fremantle features a diversity of mediums such as video and printed material.

This is just a sample from the many exhibitions taking place as part of Perth Festival. Head to the Perth Festival website to see the full program.

Pictured top: Johnny Bulun Bulun, ‘Murrukundja Manikay Cycle – Visiting Groups to Arnhem Land’, 1993-94, bark painting, 34.5 x 78 cms, Copyright the Artists Estate, Janet Holmes à Court Collection

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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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