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Intuition links three WA greats

Review: Kyle Hughes-Odgers, Theo Koning, Cathy Blanchflower ·
Turner Galleries ·
Review by Claudia Minutillo ·

Floating somewhere amid the built and natural world or lived experience and inner subconscious, Turner Galleries presents three exhibitions which encourage the viewer to inhabit a space between these oppositions.

Curator Allison Archer thoughtfully brings together three celebrated Western Australian artists, Kyle Hughes-Odgers, Theo Koning and Cathy Blanchflower. To some extent, each artist’s practice materialises from a point of raw intuition and communicates with a well-developed, idiosyncratic artistic language.

Installed in the main gallery is Kyle Hughes-Odgers’s ‘Between the Earth and the Moon’, which is the Perth artist’s fifth exhibition at Turner Galleries. Widely known and loved for his large-scale street art locally and abroad, Hughes-Odgers’ work translates beautifully from the outside world to the inner sanctuary of the white-walled gallery. The Hughes-Odgers world is surreal, built on clear geometric patterning and cool colour combinations. Having recently returned from a residency in Iceland, this body of work seems to project a cool Scandinavian flare.

Hughes-Odgers’ large acrylic-on-canvas paintings collectively explore the way humans relate to each other and their environments, striking a balance between figuration and abstraction. The artist’s small Paper Studies series, 20 to 60, are a nice inclusion; a subconscious layering of colour and pattern, these works show freeing process which allows him to test colour and composition before they might be translated to larger works.

The exhibition also offers some 3D forms. Hughes-Odgers’ quirky sculpture Girl hints towards the artist’s interest in animation, lifting his characters out of the canvas and into life. The installation Feverdream brings a touch of light-hearted fun with shadow play and reflection.

Kyle Hughes-Odgers’ Girl, acrylic on board sculpture.

In engine room 1, Theo Koning’s ‘The Lastest Issue’ heightens this sense of play with his experimental practice led by pure intuition. This is suggested in the way the artist assembles, stacks, and (re)arranges his work on the floor and wall. Koning’s artist’s statement comes in the form of a home-made style zine. In it he asks, “How do you talk about your work when mostly it arrives intuitively?” For Koning, words come after the visual and how the sculptures are organised is like stringing together a sentence.

The artist’s sculptural forms are often dictated by the material itself; using found objects he then injects them with new life and energy by re-purposing or altering them with range of mediums such as acrylic, gesso, paper maché, and silicone. The sculptures are suggestive, spirited and mischievous and play with spatial balance and informed movement, for example Olive or Tilted are tethered in a way that suggests they might fall––the space requires the viewer to be conscious of their physical relationship to the work.

Theo Koning’s works at Turner Galleries.

Cathy Blanchflower’s ‘Recent Paintings’ in engine room 2 also forges a physical connection between viewer and work. It is perhaps the most visually stimulating show out of the three. Blanchflower’s medium to large-scale oil paintings are composed of opaque layers of paint in patterns that float over each other. Blues, greens, purples, and orange being the predominant colour palate, each vibrates with energy. Each painting shifts between a macro and micro world (they are almost cellular) but remain untethered to either orientation.

Significantly, Blanchflower’s painting Archz III marks a turn towards fluid organic patterning, reflecting her move from city living to the Blue Mountains. Previously, her paintings had reflected the density and energy of the city with grid-like structures, mathematical measurement and design. However, having been surrounded by nature, as Archz III shows, it becomes a way of life and a way of thinking through things. Blanchflower’s work is a direct response to her environment.

This set of exhibitions call attention to the ways we interact with our natural and urban world – a very timely subject in an age of environmental crisis. There is always room for art which encourages a shared ecological consciousness, makes us slow down and takes us away from the business of life.

The exhibition runs at Turner Galleries until August 10.

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Trio play out of their skins

Review: Armadillo by Robyn Schulkowsky ·

Presented by the University West Australia & Tura New Music ·

University of West Australia, 16 July ·
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ·

A percussion trio led by American Robyn Schulkowsky has performed one of the concerts of the year as part of the international Gender Diversity in Music and Art Conference at the University of West Australia.

The Australian premiere of Schulkowsky’s 30-year-old work Armadillo is the first of three evening performances over the four-day conference  this week, in addition to a wide range of academic discussions about historic female artists, contemporary queer music, and feminist sound art.

Two more concerts round out the conference performance program at the the UWA Conservatorium of Music, presented by UWA and Tura New Music. Decibel new music ensemble, led by Cat Hope, offers a survey of compositions by contemporary Australian female composers as part of its 10th anniversary (Decibel 10 at 10) on July 18. Queensland percussionist Vanessa Tomlinson closes the conference with a performance in the UWA Tropical Garden on July 19.

Schulkowsky is a veteran of the US and German experimental scene, having worked with Christian Wolff, Morton Feldman, and many others, principally in the role of performer/interpreter. In devising Armadillo, she was inspired partly by Mayan calendrical cycles and numerological groupings.

As performed by Schulkowsky with Tomlinson and UWA head of percussion Louise Devenish, Armadillo is a mercurial, endlessly surprising work. Small, semi-detached rhythmical items rest within other inconsistent, larger groupings, which intermittently break out, or cause the piece to morph in time signature and/or sonic texture.

Although peppered with extended, cumulative agitations of the cymbals and tam-tam (or gong), it is first and foremost a piece for drums. It is amazing the amount of sonic variation that Schulkowsky, especially, coaxes from these instruments as the piece develops in time.

There is a brief passage of Brazilian batucada-style drumming, with sharply-attacked bongos leading, but this is soon dispersed into a more effervescent set of motifs. Steve Reich’s highly repetitive, minimalist drumming is evoked when the three performers settle into a groove which feels like it could last all night. But on the whole, the shimmering effects and phasing so loved of Reich is absent here.

Armadillo is therefore more properly called a work which at times settles into a minimalistic lockstep, as rhythmic patterns are lovingly repeated. The highly asymmetric time signatures required Schulkowsky in particular to, very comfortably it seemed, pump out one rhythm with her foot on the cymbal hi-hat pedal, and an entirely different one with her sticks in her hands on the toms. This puts Armadillo ultimately within another musical and stylistic space to Reich or Latin percussion, although Schulkowsky is clearly influenced by both.

Another striking element of the performance is the rise and fall of intensity which is modulated through how the drums are approached. Schulkowsky and her collaborators however often combine a strike to the drum with a kind of dampening or pressing effect. When performing as a trilogy, the usual mode is to come together for several minutes, then one performer drops away, the others continue, and then the first returns before another drops out. In this turn taking, volume and textural density rise and fall. One needs a careful ear to attend to the very subtle layering of material.

Schulkowsky definitely loves her instruments. I have never seen a performer with such a deft touch on the skins of the drums. While Tomlinson and Devenish are also superb, Schulkowsky all but strokes her instruments. She bashes, coaxes, rubs, caresses and finger-thunks these items. As she rocks gently back and forth, or looks off in absorption upwards and to one side, we in the audience also move to another place with her; a place of objects, surfaces, drum-skins, and musical sublimity.

This was one of the most extravagantly wonderful and awe-inspiring Perth concerts of the last few years: please bring Schulkowsky back!

The Gender Diversity in Music and Art Conference ends on July 19.

Pictured at top: Vanessa Tomlinson, Robyn Schulkowsky and Louise Devenish. Photo by Tristen Parr.

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Body language speaks on many levels

I See You, I hear You, Various Artists ·
Gallery Central, North Metro TAFE ·
Review: Stephen Bevis ·

A Noongar man, his body painted for ceremony, adopts a formal stance as if posing for a Neo-classical artist besotted by the exotic “noble savage”.

His otherness is confirmed by the accompanying flora and fauna in the painting, species examined, classified and indexed by the artist-naturalists who accompanied the 18th and 19th century voyages of “discovery” and colonisation.

Except here also are rabbits, foxes and sheep, true exotic fauna introduced to Australia by the Europeans. And the artist is not a Neo-classical English or French painter but Minang/Noongar contemporary artist Christopher Pease.

Pease embeds his body of work in the western figurative tradition, turning its techniques against itself to question, undermine and recalibrate its assumptions from the indigenous perspective. Here, his subjects reflect the widespread treatment of indigenous people as akin to native fauna, not counted in the population census until as recently as 1967.

Two works from Pease’s 2014 Flora & Fauna series feature in ‘I See You, I hear You’, a group exhibition of emerging and established artists which opened at Central Gallery as part of NAIDOC Week. The NAIDOC theme this year is “Voice Treaty Truth” and this show, running until the end of July, takes the idea of storytelling and communication without using or even having a voice at all.

The body and its non-verbal expressiveness through dance, adornment and gesture is foregrounded in just about all the works, which range across video, photography, painting and fashion and design. Visual arts, of course, is another non-verbal articulation of our humanity, giving a simple, clear curatorial thread for Gallery Central curator Thelma Johns to plot the flow of the exhibition.

Entering the gallery, the viewer is confronted with three photographic prints by Brenda L Croft. A black and white 1960s childhood image of Croft with her father outside the Perth GPO is reproduced twice as negatives. All three pictures are then overlaid by racist text taken from regulations restricting Aboriginal life in Perth at the time. Relatively fair-skinned and holding the hand of her darker Guringji father, Croft inverts their skin tones through the effect of the negative images  and upends assumed stereotypes being reinforced by the negative racial descriptions.

Dennis Golding, a TAFE and PICA artist-in-residence for 2019 Hatched, also uses photography to examine identity, power and confidence in Beings I and Beings II. The Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay artist gives us an enigmatic self-portrait, wearing a superhero cape emblazoned with a target and standing back-to-camera looking out to sea on a cliff at Sydney’s Little Bay.

Dennis Golding’s Beings I uses pop culture and place to examine identity.

Among other works by Kylie Graham, Debra Miller, Pantjiti Mary Mclean, Darren Stockwell and Katie West are two stunning archival images from the State Library. These two photographs from around 1900-10, taken by an unknown photographer, show Wadjuk elder Joobaitch and several other Noongar men in ceremonial dress and body paint in Kalamunda bushland.

Contemporary artists, including Christopher Pease, have used these historical images as important reference material for their own work and they are compelling and powerful inclusions in this show. The photographs of Joobaitch, born in the early days of the Swan River Colony, also inspired the body-painting designs used in a collaborative video work of animation and filmed dance involving, among others, Darryl Bellotti, Nigel Wilkes, Kirk Garlett and dancers from the Northam Clontarf Academy for the Bilya Koort Boodja Centre for Nyoongar Culture and Environmental Knowledge in Northam.

Another video, by director-performer Karla Hart and the Yokayi girls from Girrawheen Senior High School, also celebrates the ongoing strength of traditional Noongar culture. Because of Her, We Can was made for NAIDOC 2018 and is a joyous expression of identity, community and culture told primarily through dance.

Though compromised by the lack of a darkened space to highlight their qualities, these two videos of the students of Clontarf and Girrawheen, affirm the exhibition’s commitment to telling a story of standing strong and proud, sharing and celebrating indigenous heritage and culture.

I See You, I Hear You is at Central Gallery, Aberdeen Street, Northbridge, until July 27.

Pictured above: Christopher Pease’s Flora & Fauna I and III, oil on linen paintings, 2014. Photo courtesy courtesy of Gallerysmith, Melbourne.

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Sweeney sets the blood racing

Review: WA Opera, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street ·
By Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 13 July ·
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ·

It is the 40th anniversary of the premiere of Sweeney Todd,  prompting revivals of the musical thriller around the world. Composer Stephen Sondheim also collaborated with Hugh Wheeler on the musical’s lyrics and scenario to produce a truly unified piece.

Based on Christopher Bond’s ghoulish 1973 play and a 19th century British melodrama, Sondheim’s version follows Todd’s quest for vengeance upon his return to London from an Australian penal colony. Todd is seeking the corrupt Judge Turpin, who had Todd transported, raped his wife and stole his daughter Johanna as a “ward” to be groomed to fulfill Turpin’s desires in marriage.

Todd teams up with failed pie-maker Mrs Lovett to kill unsuspecting patrons to his barbershop, whilst awaiting Turpin. The bodies provide the irresistible ingredient for Lovett’s now booming trade.

Director Hal Prince’s 1979 Broadway production was both epic and gothic, featuring a highly flexible stage with dynamic set elements. Few comparable venues exist in Australia, and director Theresa Borg’s current Sydney production is hampered by the poorly designed if spacious Darling Harbour Theatre.

The West Australian Opera has the opposite challenge with His Majesty’s Theatre, which dates back to the halcyon days of melodrama. Sound designer Jim Atkins works the acoustics well, and director Stuart Maunder and designer Roger Kirk retain almost all of the elements from Prince’s 1979 production but have responded to the narrow stage by compacting them. They have divided the original expanse of gantries into distinct banks left and right so that the effect is more of a columnar, crisscrossed set of points, than of Prince’s wide swirling maelstrom.

The performers, led by Ben Mingay as Todd and Antoinette Halloran as Mrs Lovett, are fantastic, and so is the West Australian Symphony Orchestra under the music direction of Brett Weymark. But while the spatial compromises largely work, there are points where the performances seem cramped.

Todd’s trunk, in which he hides the bodies, all but destroys the sightlines in his barbershop, where it should act as a significant but peripheral object. The chute connected to Todd’s mechanical chair for disposing of bodies is rather clunky, lacking the smooth efficiency which produces so much irony as he sings of his love for Johanna. The final scene where the waif Tobias (Joshua Reckless) goes mad at the sight of the bloodshed, and then surprises both the audience and Todd with use of the cut-throat razor, is anticlimactic given that Tobias must first sidle along a narrow band at the back of the set.

Mingay triumphs as Todd. While not a dynamically nuanced or varied delivery, his almost continuous basso profundo, launched feet apart and shoulders squared, makes for a wonderfully demonic barber. As an avenging angel come to punish the rich, the powerful and the whole of venal humanity, he recalls Rod Steiger’s Judd in the film Oklahoma! and it comes as no surprise that this is a role Mingay has played on stage.

James Clayton is a rather perverse Turpin, whipping himself like a penitent as he rationalises his wicked lust for Johanna. Fiona Campbell portrays the mad beggar who takes a strong interest in Todd’s shop, nailing the ranting song “City on Fire”. Emma Pettemerides as Johanna and Nathan Stark as her beau Anthony are rather more randy than in the original, making the repeated, interrupted refrain of “Kiss Me” more comedic than touching.

For all of Mingay’s brooding presence, the production is all but stolen by Halloran as Lovett. The role was famously written for Angela Lansbury, who produced a wonderfully blousy, pragmatic character whose true wish was a domestic, well-to-do life. Halloran by contrast is explicitly sexual and is clearly after Todd for his erotic allure rather than just his ability to secure her prosperity. She is constantly amused, flirtatious and suggestive: I lost count of how many times she rubbed her behind against Todd. Halloran  provides a live wire of electricity and sass running throughout this otherwise dark and unredeemed narrative.

Although WA Opera’s production does not establish any significant new precedents, it is a triumph of effective and affecting staging.

Sweeney Todd continues on July 16, 18 and 20. 

Picture above: Ben Mingay as Sweeney Todd and Antoinette Halloran as Mrs Lovett. Photo by James Rogers.

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Desert colours bloom at Goods Shed

Martu artist Bugai Whyoulter brings her first solo show in eight years to FORM in Claremont, writes Stephen Bevis.

As the grey winter rain beats down on The Goods Shed’s tin roof, vivid colours radiate in rhythmic harmony from the white walls of FORM’s gallery inside.

The western desert art of Bugai Whyoulter has come to brighten up the bleak depths of a Perth winter, the first solo show by this acclaimed Martu artist in eight years.

Many of the 40 dynamic acrylic-on-canvas works at FORM’s Claremont art space spring from a prolific burst of painting inspired by Whyoulter’s recent return to Country, the undulating red sands and waterholes around Wantili (Well 25 along the Canning Stock Route in the Great Sandy Desert).

This important ceremonial site is where Whyoulter, now about 80, first encountered Europeans for the first time as a teenager. It’s where she and her grandson Cyril Whyoulter, who also paints with the esteemed Martumili Artists group, spent time painting together last year in an important act of cultural transmission between generations.

A joint finalist in next month’s annual Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, Whyoulter is among a declining number of ‘pujiman’ or desert-born Martu artists who maintained an entirely independent, nomadic desert lifestyle until the 1950s and 1960s.

“Bugai always tells about Wantili,” Cyril Whyoulter says of his grandmother, a Warnman and Kartujarra speaker whose dynamic paintings pulsate with power across languages and cultures. “She saw whitefellas there for the first time. . . Canning mob travelling up and down the stock route with their bullocks . . . (her people) ran away from the whitefellas, watching them from a long distance.”

Her family eventually settled at Parrngurr on the edge of the Karlamilyi (Rudall River) National Park and then Jigalong until 2002 when the Martu’s successful land claim initiated her return to her homeland and the community of Kunawarritji near Well 33.

She took to painting relatively late in 2007, working her creative practice initially in textiles (a wall installation of 22 eye-popping minarri grass and wool baskets dazzles against a black background at the rear of the gallery).  She adapted to painting under the influence of the Two Noras, the late renowned Martumili matriarchs Nora Nungabar and Nora Wompi with whom she shared a house for many years.

Bound by kinship and country, the three women embodied the Martu approach to painting, ‘kutjanka’, which translates in desert language as “together as one”. Surrounded by grandchildren and their favourite dogs, their art-making was social, collaborative, prolific and pleasurable.

In Whyoulter’s case, she extends this legacy as a meditative practice through rhythmic, gestural patterns and adventurous combinations of colour that give joyous expression to stories of kinship, culture and country.

The result is art that has an immediacy that resonates on its own terms with audiences, regardless of context, says Martumili Artists Gallery Coordinator Amy Mukherjee. Her work is held by major Australian collections, including the National Museum of Australia, which toured her work to Japan with FORM’s Canning Stock Route Project.

“People don’t need to feel they have to be qualified to decode her work,” Mukherjee says. “They can look at it and feel something that is usually connected to how she was feeling at the time. Her appeal crosses borders and generations. Lots of people from all over the world feel really connected to her work without any wider contextual understanding of Aboriginal art history or her own history.”

Bugai  runs until 15 September.

Pictured top: Bugai Whyoulter with four works in her 2018 Wantili series at The Goods Shed. Photo: Taryn Hays, FORM.

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Decades of natural wonder from Nikulinsky

Review: Philippa Nikulinsky, ‘Nikulinsky Naturally’ ·
Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery · 
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

Since the 1970s, Philippa Nikulinsky has been travelling to remote areas of Western Australia to embed herself in the rugged but fragile landscape and illustrate its botanical beauty with great precision and care.

“Nikulinsky Naturally” is a survey of the artist’s deep investment and love for the incredibly diverse, resilient and beautiful flora of Western Australia over the past 40 years. Published alongside the exhibition is the book Nikulinsky Naturally: An Artist’s Life, which provides a depth of understanding about Nikulinsky’s working methods, her life as a female artist in the 1970s and 80s, and the history of botanical art and collecting since European arrival.

The exhibition and publication, both curated and edited by Ted Snell, speak to many pertinent themes of conversation in our current political and environmental climate. They address questions of classifying and preserving flora and fauna as well as the ability of artworks to reproduce, change form and mutate into more portable formats such as monographs and reproductions.

This last point is made in the book by Clive Newman (p. 34), that the mobility of a publication has the chance to do what exhibitions cannot – to travel beyond their immediate location and reach audiences much farther away. This seems prescient to the itinerant nature of WA’s botanical life in the 19th century, as specimens and seeds were voraciously captured, preserved and shipped back to Europe as exotic luxury items, far away from their homeland and the sandy soil that sustained them.

Taking items such as plants (and animals) out of their context and preserving them as specimens has the effect of anonymity, reducing an individual plant or animal to a representative of its entire species, a classifying act that fails to consider the specificity of environment. In her works, Nikulinsky works hard to avoid this trap, wanting the viewer to understand the relationship between flora and its environment, to make clear that they are part of an entangled whole. Displaying her deep investment in delicately portraying the natural world, she is mindful of finding ways to represent specific flowers or trees in their original environment, as individual parts of a whole, rather than as an anonymous specimen, a representative of a species.

This effort is shown clearly through her work as she focuses on the intricacies of entangled brush, or through her images displaying the banksia growing, flowering, browning and dying. This experience of  difference and growth over a life span is a common theme in her work, and one that is beautifully and movingly represented. In the same way, the blackened, twisted bodies of xanthorea thorntii (cundalee grass trees) after a bushfire are hung below pre-scorched trees. This before-and-after series represent the dangerous, harsh environment in which biodiversity flourishes. It is both a stark reminder of the devastating effects of fire and the joyful potential of renewal as Nikulinsky’s subtle splashes of colour gesture towards rebirth. These cycles of life, death and regeneration give her images pathos and an individuality that removes any idea of scientific, classifying distance from one’s artistic subject.

The monograph delves deeply into Nikulinsky’s approach to her work, and her single-minded drive to embed herself deeply in the bush. She spends weeks in remote desert drawing and illustrating what she sees, going bush to live in a space, as  her daughter-in-law Angela Nikulinsky stresses in her chapter That Girl From the Bush (p. 7). The extent of her immersion in their environment is reflected in the way her own field notes and diary entries are written across the paper upon which she has illustrated whole scenes of bushland. This is a particular kind of emotional and physical investment, an embodied presence upon the images.

This approach to the landscape, and to conserving and representing its particularities, felt deeply political, especially in the post-election haze and increasing sense of climate anxiety with which I viewed the exhibition. I felt that with such a strong focus on an embodied presence within the landscape, something that Nikulinsky clearly brings to her work with dedication and passion, the monograph would have benefited from Aboriginal perspectives or contributions.

Against the backdrop of a topic that so clearly references colonial practices of naming, classification and preserving, which are delved into in both Ted Snell’s and Kingsley Dixon’s chapters in fascinating detail, I was a little surprised that there wasn’t more reflection on the impact of imposing Latin names, collecting specimens and using European agricultural practices that differed radically from those used by First Nations people.

It would have been valuable to see a dialogue about this, or a critical reflection. However, considering Nikulinsky’s passion for continuing her practice, bush trips and conversations about the incredible biodiversity of our state, perhaps this is something for the future.

‘Nikulinsky Naturally’ runs until August 17.

The monograph Nikulinsky Naturally: An Artist’s Life may be purchased online or from the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery.

Pictured top is ‘Misteltoe’ by Philippa Nikulinsky.

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Intrigue in Thompson’s powerful gaze

Christian Thompson, ‘Ritual Intimacy’ ·
John Curtin Gallery ·
Review by Jenny Scott ·

The spaces of John Curtin Gallery have been transformed by ‘Ritual Intimacy’, an exhibition surveying the last 15 years of Bidjara artist Christian Thompson’s career.

Originally curated by Hettie Perkins and Charlotte Day for Monash University Museum of Art, ‘Ritual Intimacy’ has been installed within an intricate floor plan of distinct rooms and resting areas designed to encourage contemplation of Thompson’s multidisciplinary practice.

It’s a dense show with the potential to be discombobulating, but the exhibition design and accompanying room sheet successfully showcase Thompson’s rich practice and the context behind his selected works. Spanning photography, sound, video and performance, these works reveal thematic links and trace the artist’s interests in language, song, ancestry, and living cultural traditions. The exhibition is also be accompanied by the publication of the first monograph on Thompson’s career and work.

Projected onto one wall is ‘Heat’ (2010), a three-channel video featuring the granddaughters of Aboriginal activist Charles Perkins. Each woman stares straight ahead as air from an unseen source whips their hair around their faces. Intended by Thompson to evoke the feeling of being on desert country, the footage imparts a sense of resilience as the women remain stoic while being buffered by outside forces.

On the opposing wall are five prints from Thompson’s iconic photographic series ‘Australian Graffiti’ (2007), which are stylish self-portraits of the artist adorned with cuttings of native flora; a low-slung crown of banksia flowers, a jaunty garland of grey gum leaves. While his eyes are obscured, Thompson’s posture hints that he can see from under the shadows of his foliage. Forming tensions between strength and fragility, masculinity and glamour, these works reflect on a corporeal connection to the Australian landscape, and the power of the gaze.

The artist’s exploration of identity and representation continues in the Northern Gallery, a large room of stunning C-type prints relating to Thompson’s experiences working with the Pitt Rivers Museum’s Australian photographic collection in Oxford.

In works from the series ‘We Bury our Own’ (2012), Thompson has staged personal reinterpretations of the ‘essence’ of selected photographs from this collection, using costume and symbols to invoke hidden meanings and unseen practices. These works re-inject museological specimens with an intimacy, subjectivity, and uncertainty of meaning, contesting the authority of ethnographic collecting. Thompson terms this process ‘spiritual repatriation’ – a concept that is particularly relevant with the increasing global pressure on museums to repatriate their collections.

Thompson’s challenge to the legacies of colonialism is more explicit in works such as the series ‘Museum of Others’ (2016), in which the eyes of famous ‘dead white males’ (an explorer, an artist, an anthropologist) have been removed and replaced with the artist’s own. Viewing such an evocative array of prints is made even more powerful by the atmospheric leakage of overlapping songs from other nearby works in the show.

‘Ritual Intimacy’ is a rich exhibition in which it is worth lingering to soak up the aesthetic pleasure of this collection of thought-provoking and vital works.

‘Ritual Intimacy’ runs until 21 July.

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Mixing the moguls and the maestros

Business and arts leaders pose creative ways to boost WA culture and the economy but Mark Naglazas finds it is a fraught path to success.

The arts and business communities have long been locked in a marriage of convenience. The impoverished bride is happy to walk down the aisle with any almost suitor with desire for a bit of culture so long as they have deep pockets; the cashed-up groom, on the other hand, is elevated in everyone’s eyes by the class act at their side.

The two communities engaged in a public courting ritual at the Hyatt on Tuesday morning (or, more accurately, a round of speed dating) during a breakfast hosted by Business News and ScreenWest and presided over by the Marriage Broker-in-Chief, Culture and Arts Minister David Templeman.

Interestingly, the minister and other members of the creative community on the panel did not focus on their need for money but came out fighting, reminding their cousins in the business sector they are a major contributor to the Australian economy, especially when it comes to attracting tourists. It was more of a case of you need us more that we need you.

“We know that visitors to Australia now are more likely to engage with arts and culture than they are to visit wineries, casinos or even attend sporting events. We need to maximise that opportunity,” said Mr Templeman, suggesting that it is now high time for Western Australia to shift its economic focus from the resources to creativity.

Mr Templeman’s call to arms was following by a similarly stirring speech from Ben Elton, who reiterated the minister’s point that the creative sector should not be regarded as a penurious relative always shaking the begging bowl but a dynamic part of a booming global industry.

“The creative arts are clearly a money-making proposition,” Elton said. “If we can get a successful (creative) industry – and we are a long way from being there – in the long run the benefits won’t just be cultural. They will be financial.”

Naturally, Elton’s focus was on film and television, which he believes presents enormous opportunities in the age of streaming. Companies such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney, who will soon launch their own streaming services, are craving content, the comedy legend said, so it is not a question of benevolence on the part of investors but a chance to make big bucks.

Elton, however, is not so naïve as to believe Western Australia can compete on the global stage without government intervention. “It has to be hand-in-hand with public investment and a public initiative to support Australian arts. Without infrastructure – and infrastructure is very expensive – we are not going to get business to join hands (with us),” said Elton, who threw his weight behind the long-standing fight for a movie studio.

Chamber of Arts and Culture WA executive director Shelagah Magadza kept the rhetoric to a minimum and drilled down on the impossibility of forging a relationship between arts and business without up-to-the-minute data and a sound strategy that considers the arts in a broader educational, social and economic context.

Ms Magadza likened the current situation trying to swing a Datsun 120Y engine into an electric vehicle. “We need a long-term plan in which it’s clearly articulated what needs to happen – where the investment and skills development need to go for artists who want to take advantage of the opportunities that people like Ben (Elton) are creating in the state,” she said.

Interestingly, Tuesday’s breakfast confab about the relationship between business and the arts was taking place on the same morning that The Australian’s fearless, highly respected Victoria Laurie published a piece about the dangers of the business world climbing into bed with the arts.

Laurie zeroed in on the practice of stacking the boards of arts organisations with people who have no direct experience of working in that particular art, causing as much of a problem if it was the other way around, that is, practitioner-heavy boards.

Laurie sought comment from former Australia Council chairwoman and Musica Viva board member Margaret Seares, who cautions against adopting the American model of appointing wealthy donors to boards.

“If you’re putting money into something, what power and leverage should that give you? It’s a debate we haven’t had but it needs to be discussed. For any company to have no one on the board with an arts background, or one lone voice, is as dangerous as having only arts practitioners,” Professor Seares was quoted as saying.

Laurie’s piece is a continuation of her investigation of the ugly situation at Black Swan State Theatre Company, in which the board, headed by high-profile philanthropist Nicola Forrest, removed the company’s executive Natalie Jenkins and replaced her with a recently-appointed board member with no performing arts industry experience.

Among those who’ve also expressed concern about the abrupt exit of Ms Jenkins is Black Swan’s founding patron Janet Holmes à Court. “I’m extremely disappointed that Black Swan seems to be turning out to be the sort of company that Andrew Ross and myself and Duncan Ord and the others who were involved in founding in 1991 did not have in mind,” Mrs Holmes à Court said.

So it was disappointing that Mrs Holmes à Court did not attend the State of the Arts in Business event, where she had originally been billed to appear on the panel. In doing so, she avoided any awkward encounter with Minderoo CEO Andrew Hagger, who was there in place of Mrs Forrest.

Still it was hard not to contain an ironic smile when Mr Hagger said that “when you have partners working together that’s when you get great outcomes” while our ears are still ringing with the news that Ms Jenkins, one of the State’s most experienced and respected arts administrators, had been moved on after falling out with a board headed by a major private sector funder.

There was a buzz in the Hyatt Ballroom during and after breakfast – the arts crowd certainly comes alive in the presence of money. Much of that discussion was focused on the benefits and needs for the two communities to work together and less about the issues raised by those relationships, such as the freedom of arts companies to criticise industries from which they’re benefiting.

The backbeat, of course, is the overall decline of government funding for the arts. Organisations such as ScreenWest (now reconstituted as a not-for-profit) are on the hunt for private investment so in the future that marriage of convenience will take on air of urgency. Minister Templeman may have to get out his shotgun.

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News, Reviews, Visual arts

Kotai offers material for meditation

Review: Eveline Kotai – Invisible Threads ·
Art Collective WA ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

With a focus on colour, pattern and texture, Eveline Kotai’s work rewards a sustained focus. Her current exhibition at Art Collective, “Invisible Threads” combines recent works with those selected across her 40-year practice.

Kotai’s work spans a broad range of materials including beads, thread, wood, and printmaking. She unites this diverse practice through her deep commitment to pattern and texture, meticulously detailed, and an ongoing experimentation with materials. She is drawn to the relationship between art-making and the natural world, particularly through elements of continual change, or the cycles of life. In her more recent works, she cuts up her paintings and restitches them together in an act of collage that reflects an increasingly fragmented, transitory world.

Trace Elements Expanding 1-9, 2019, is a succession of nine canvases restitched together in this way. As the viewer walks along the wall, the canvases progressively become smaller and more colourful, ranging from large, luminous and pale to a tiny riot of colour at the end. Whilst they initially look like paintings, and in in a way they are, but the canvases have been sliced into strips and stitched together, reordered from their original composition by the invisible threads of the exhibition’s title.

For Kotai, this way of working opens up a space for contemplation, and the possibility of regeneration. This meditative mood is reflected throughout the exhibition, not only in the large collage-paintings but in the artist’s smaller, delicately patterned works that similarly avoid any kind of representation, focusing purely on abstract patterns. Whilst this could be seen as a way to make sense of the world, or create order out of chaos, it’s actually the opposite.

Rather than representative works that try to make sense of or reflect the world around us, Kotai’s methods of working create experimental new spaces and visual languages that don’t rely on ordering or representing the world, but simply exploring it, and creating new possibilities along the way.

“Invisible Threads” ends on June 15.

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News, Reviews, Theatre

Beauty from the bush a musical delight

Review: Blonde Moment Theatre, Miss Westralia ·
Blue Room Theatre, 23 May ·
Review by Steven Cohen ·

For purposes of clarity, Miss Westralia could have been called 1926 Miss Westralia goes to America. The renaming would allow theatre-goers to know exactly what to expect of this cute and sweet-tempered bio-musical about Australia’s first beauty queen.

In telling the incredible tale of Beryl Mills, the young woman from a sheep station outside Geraldton who scaled the heights of  national celebrity, this unabashed archetypal musical comedy celebrates pre-war Australian parochialism to a tee, while reflecting on the changing role of women over the decades.

First seen at Fringe World 2018, Miss Westralia comes from a talented team led by writer-producer Madeline Clouston and musical duo of  composer Matthew Predny and lyricist Jake Nielsen, who also directs.

It traces all 15 minutes of Beryl Mills fame: from winning the West Australian beauty contest to first place in Miss Australia 1926 and finally to the pièce de résistance and her prize – a promotional tour of America chaperoned by the young newspaper proprietor Frank Packer.

Like any biopic, this quaint little musical rejoices in the spirit of its protagonist, played by a genial and immensely likable Helena Cielak, and moderates its saccharine tendencies with a deep human spirit under the engaging directorial flair of Nielson.

Cielak’s accomplished performance is well supported by Rachael Chamberlain as Beryl’s starstruck mother, Thomas Dimmick as the dynastic powerhouse Frank Packer (grandfather to James) and Grace Johnson as Miss USA. The three supports also busily play a range of other minor characters and all four actors succeed as triple threats in the most difficult artform of all – to perform precision-tool dancing, to sing in key and tread the stage as a tribute to a different time.

The music is excellent – the tone providing enough emotional depth and dramatic heft to balance the performance and the lyrics are charming, corny and quietly funny. Technically, Miss Westralia is admirable and Kelly Fregon’s set design and lighting by Mai Han mesh assuredly into the Blue Room’s small space.

Miss Westralia is a revitalizing portrait of a bygone era and of a woman who was once a national role model but is now remembered only in her home town. We are fortunate to have such a talented creative team prepared to bring her story to the stage.

Miss Westralia runs until June 8.

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