Features/What to SEE/Perth Festival/Visual Art

Festival exhibitions look skywards and inwards

7 February 2023

The endless possibilities of the stars have created unlimited options for this year’s Perth Festival visual arts program, and Ara Jansen is excited to turn her gaze in celestial directions.

Perth Festival’s 2023 visual arts program invites you to open your eyes to embrace the stars, and your heart to fire up that internal light.

This year’s Festival theme is Djinda – Noongar for “stars” – and uses First Nations astronomical knowledge and stories as a starting point to consider not only the bright stars but the darkness of the space between.

Channelling the visible and invisible, ultimately, it’s an examination of the endless expressions of the human condition that exist under a shared sky.

Perth Festival Visual Arts Curator Annika Kristensen says it’s a theme which explores a universal experience – looking up at the sky. And the Perth sky, she says, offers opportunities absent in bigger and more polluted cities.

Perth Festival visual arts program curator Annika Kristensen sits in a brightly lit room at a wooden table. She looks relaxed and happy.
Perth Festival Visual Arts Curator Annika Kristensen. Photo: Mia Mala McDonald

“I look at the sky with a sense of wonder and awe,” she says. “There’s still so much we don’t know but it remains a constant companion that reminds us how incredible this world is.”

The theme has the dual role of encouraging us to look to the stars and the sparks inside each of us, giving this year’s artists and their work the opportunity to respond in such varied ways that the program is fascinating in both its diversity and cohesion.

Kristensen grew up in Perth but left WA 15 years ago. Her return and subsequent appointment as visual arts curator at Perth Festival creates the propitious marriage of someone who brings the world in, while also having an understanding of the nature of our state and what it means to be a West Australian.

“WA is at an interesting point in its history,” says Kristensen, who has kept her eyes on the local scene while most recently working as senior curator at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne.

“During an extended period of closed borders in WA, there was such a focus on the local, which gave artists here a fantastic opportunity to show their work. All that wonderful practice can now be exhibited elsewhere. Now we can create dialogue and exchange between local artists and interstate and international audiences and practitioners.”

Add to that the people who returned or moved to WA during the height of the pandemic, not thinking they would stay but finding that “it’s such a great place to live” and you have a proliferation of talent.

“Historically in Perth, once an artist has shown at the key places, they were often inclined to move elsewhere to seek further creative opportunities. I think the last few years have helped artists understand that you can base your practice here and still have an interstate and overseas career. Perth can be a wonderful base to work from while remaining connected to the world and realising the opportunities to show nationally or internationally while still contributing to the creative life of WA,” says Kristensen.

A still from Francis Alys’ ‘Children’s Games’, which will be screened weekly, before the LotteryWest Films Program.

Across film, photography, painting, sculpture, installation and an audience participation project communing with the stars, the Perth Festival visual arts program features almost a dozen local and invited artists.

As part of bringing art to a wider audience, Sydney-based artist Michaela Gleave takes over the rooftop of the Art Gallery of Western Australia with a public work in which light beams are pulsed into the night sky. The audience can submit lines to help Gleave create a collaborative morse code poem beamed to the stars.

Kids at play are the topic for Belgian Francis Alys’ series of films, Children’s Games. Shot during his travels since 1999 and now comprising nearly 20 videos, they will be screened weekly before the Lotterywest Films program.

“The films are three to five minutes each and it’s a fantastic way to put visual arts programming in front of a slightly different audience and hopefully create new audiences for visual art,” says Kristensen.

Film also features in Black Sky (Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery) in an immersive work by a group of Gombawarrah-Yinhawangka traditional owners and Yanyuwa/Jingili filmmaker Michael Bonner, combined with a multimedia installation by the Tennant Creek Brio and works by Tracey Moffatt and Julie Dowling from the Berndt Museum and the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art.

Fabian Brown, one of the leading artists from the Tennant Creek Brio group, holds one of his works in the Men’s Shed set up for the artists to work.

Artist-in-Residence Jason Phu is creating work at The State Buildings in an open studio and invites people to pop in for a chat and to see what he’s creating over a week. It will premiere as part of Perth Festival’s Literature & Ideas program.

“I love that this artist is encouraging people to have a conversation about art, his process and work, which might lead to new things,” says Kristensen.

She hopes that the program as a whole also inspires interesting conversations and exchanges which help artists make new work and other people to create in their own lives.

“Most people think of art, particularly visual art, as an outcome, not so much about the artist and the process of how it was made. My true privilege as a curator is to visit artists in their studios to see how they live and work and what inspires them to create – which is something I hope to be able to share with audiences.”

Perth Festival’s visual arts program is free and extends several weeks beyond the main Festival season.

Look out for exhibitions opening throughout February, at Fremantle Arts Centre, Goolugatup Heathcote Gallery, John Curtin Gallery, Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, Moore Contemporary, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) and the State Buildings.

Pictured top is Michaela Gleave’s ‘Between us’. Photo: Dianna Panucchio

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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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