Reviews/Perth Festival/Visual Art

Celestial dreams have a human touch

4 March 2023

Filled with cosmic light, two Perth Festival exhibitions embrace the mysteries of the galaxy and humanity. Jaimi Wright is transported.

Emanations, Rosa Barba
Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts

Between Us, Michaela Gleave
Rooftop, Art Gallery of Western Australia (viewed from the Perth Cultural Centre), 3 March 2023

As a species, we have an innate fascination with the immense scale and complex secrets of the universe. Its majesty brims with forbidden knowledge, within which we strive to assign human meaning.

Rosa Barba’s Emanations, currently exhibiting at Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA), and Michaela Gleave’s Between Us, a light installation hosted by the Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA), each in their own way embrace the ambition of this cosmic scale to fantastic effect, while also allowing space for our own smaller scale reflections.

Beautiful and seemingly impossible revelations: Rosa Barba, ‘The Colour Out of Space’, 2015, 5 coloured glass filters, steel base, HD video, colour, sound; 36 min, exhibition view, ‘Emanations’, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, 2023, © Rosa Barba, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022. Photo: Dan McCabe

Emanations is Italian artist Rosa Barba’s first solo exhibition in Australia and represents a body of work spanning the last ten years. Developed in response to the 2023 Perth Festival theme of djinda – Noongar for cosmos or stars – the exhibition also concerns Barba’s long-standing exploration of the connections between film and astronomy, as well as their engagement with concepts of light, time and distance.

A sphere on a platform. The sphere is covered in what could be hieroglyphics and looks like a small grey moon.
Strange new life breathed into a near-forgotten machine: Rosa Barba, ‘Language Infinity Sphere’, 2018, lead letters on steel, ⌀ 46cm, exhibition view, ‘Emanations’, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, 2023, © Rosa Barba, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022. Photo: Dan McCabe

To experience Emanations is to become privy to what feels like a celestial third-person perspective of earth, alien and disjointed. What emerges from this complex and unearthly combination of projections and machines are beautiful and seemingly impossible revelations; the echo of us that is also somehow mystifyingly beyond us.

Barba’s exhibition is dotted with contraptions like Enterprise of Notations (2013) – an installation composed of a 116-film loop, a projector and three small, metal balls – that casts eerie, endless, globular forms upon the gallery wall. Inspired by structuralist film making of the 1960s and 70s, this piece has a captivating oddness in its juxtaposition; it is contained within a human machine, yet its movement and images have a curious autonomy.

The sister works Language Infinity Sphere (2018) and Language Infinity Sphere Recording (2018) speak of evolution, technology and our view out to the stars.

Language Infinity Sphere is as advertised; hundreds of old lead letterpress blocks are mounted on a 46cm across steel orb. The orb has been rolled onto a canvas to create Language Infinity Sphere (Recording), the ink print of the sphere on the loose sheet of canvas forming a conglomeration of letters in what looks like a doughnut or a crater.

The processes created by the sphere are convoluted and almost makeshift, as though an extra-terrestrial is trying to make sense of human speech visually, with the broken and discarded remnants of our civilisation. The result is both sobering and awe-inspiring, as strange new life is breathed into a near-forgotten machine.

Sydney-based artist Michaela Gleave’s Between Us (2023) is occurring as I write this review, and it has caused my heart to fill with love and my eyes to fill with tears.

An ambitious installation and collaborative public artwork, Between Us is projected into the night sky from AGWA’s Rooftop on the closing nights of Perth Festival. Gleave collected short phrases from the Perth community, through the Perth Festival website, in the lead-up to the work’s opening. She encouraged people to submit phrases that explore the themes of “you and I” or “us”.

These messages have been translated into morse code, becoming an expansive poem that is beamed up with white light into the night sky.

Michaela Gleave's 'Between Us', photographed from a distance - a collection of blue light beams shoot into the night sky. The moon shines brightly alongside the bundle of blue light.
‘Between Us’ by Michaela Gleave is a simple yet uplifting experiment. Photo: Robert Frith

What is so moving about this work is that even though the project brief was about the space between us, the messages have not been about division, but of community and deep love.

Although some were silly – People of Earth; we come in peace. Phone home – others were poignant. Some favourites:

Shared sky. Shared land respecting First Nations

I looked at you in many ways, and I loved you in them all

Although a hemisphere apart… always in my heart

And perhaps most touching of all:

We miss you Granny

In this simple yet uplifting experiment, Gleave shows Perth to itself and to the universe: many as one, with love. To see it in real time, in such a simple and elegant way, fills my heart with love and hope.

For a chance to touch the stars and ponder the endless question of what it is to be human, you can’t go past these two exhibitions, free for all at Perth Festival.

Between Us continues on the AGWA rooftop (visible from locations around the Perth Cultural Centre) until 6 March 2023.

Emanations continues at PICA until 23 April 2023. Stay tuned for our review of Robert Andrew’s Held Within a Word, also currently at PICA, coming soon.

Pictured top: ‘Between Us’ by Michaela Gleave is an ambitious installation and collaborative public artwork. Photo: Robert Frith

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Author —
Jaimi Wright

Jaimi is a Development Coordinator for ARTRAGE and your friendly neighbourhood arts writer. She also writes for Art Almanac and ArtsHub as she cannot keep still. Her favourite piece of play equipment is the roundabout even though her stomach should know better.

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