News, Reviews, Visual arts

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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August 19, Calendar, July 19, Visual arts

Visual Arts: (cross)hatched

19 Jul – 1 Aug @ YMCA HQ Gallery, Leederville ·
Presented by room01 collective ·

19 Jul – 1 Aug @ YMCA HQ Gallery, Leederville ·
Presented by room01 collective ·

room01 collective’s debut exhibition, (cross)hatched brings together graduate artists from local institutions as a celebration of their achievements. The exhibition aims to offer a platform for emerging careers outside of an educational setting.

The exhibition organisers are students themselves and believe in the importance of facilitating  young artists entering the industry. Aimee Dodds, Grace Hewitt, Annie Huang, Stirling Kain, Claudia Minutillo, Elizabeth Smith, Molly Werner and Jaimi Wright are the initial members of room01 collective.

(cross)hatched is a volunteer-based curatorial project that will not “curate” submissions, rather it will create space in the gallery for any artwork that is offered by its maker. On display are the graduate projects of artists who completed their final studio unit in 2018. The organisers hope that it will exhibit the breadth and depth of contemporary concerns in emerging artistic practices.

Opening event: Friday July 19th, 6.00pm
Open: 9am-5pm Monday-Friday, July 22nd –August 1st, 2019
YMCA HQ Gallery is at 60a Frame Court Leederville 6007

More info

Pictured: Annie Huang, “Neither To Nor Fro”, 2018

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Features, Music, News, Visual arts

Celebrating diversity

Dr Louise Devenish’s career as a percussionist has taken her around the world collaborating with a huge range of musicians and artists. Her wide-reaching approach to music making underpins the Gender Diversity in Music and Arts Conference which Devenish is convening next week at the UWA Conservatorium of Music. Seesaw mag caught up with Devenish to find out what gender diversity looks like.

Seesaw: The Gender Diversity in Music and Arts is the third in a series of national conferences focused on gender in the arts, building on the momentum generated from conferences at ANU (2017) and Monash (2018). What inspired you to host the conference in WA?

Louise Devenish: I am inspired by the strength and advocacy shown by Australian artists and academics on this issue, particularly Cat Hope, Vanessa Tomlinson, Claire Edwardes and Liza Lim.  I have seen the effects of their advocacy appearing in programming, education and in general visibility in certain areas of the arts. By hosting the conference in Perth, I hoped to add more voices to the discussion and create an opportunity for people to get together to talk about gender diversity, and to broaden the discussion to include organisation and individuals across a range of genres and approaches to music and art.

S: As a woman in the performing arts industry you’ve been intentional about commissioning and collaborating with women creatives, both as a solo artist and in your ensembles Decibel and Speak Percussion and Intercurrent. Now you are championing the topic at an academic level – is grassroots activism not enough?

LD: I think there is always more to be done in terms of championing equality, and that efforts across industry, academia, community are all equally important. Particularly in the context of how artists make work today – a large number of us epitomise the portfolio career and are therefore active in a range of spaces. At UWA, one of my roles is Diversity Chair within the Conservatorium, and even in the few years since I started here I have seen change in this space. This conference is a great opportunity to invite students, staff and peers to continue focused discussion around the issue, and to expand our efforts.

Artist in Residence Shoeb Ahmad. Photo supplied.

S: In the past few years there has been a renewed concern about the lack of visibility for women and people of diverse gender in the music industry. What difference does a conference like this one make?

LD: Like the 2018 event, GDIMA 2019 is designed to be a very open platform. Although it’s called a conference, it is not just about the presentation of research in the field of gender studies, but also in providing a platform for gender diverse artists to share work – in short an opportunity to increase visibility. I am thrilled that there are a range of performances and creative work being presented, from emerging through to established artists, well known and relatively unknown.

S: You have invited an impressive range of guest speakers and artists including Jennifer Walshe (Ireland), Robyn Schulkowsky (U.S.), Shoeb Ahmad, Sandy O’Sullivan, Nicole Monk and Vanessa Tomlinson. What do you hope they will bring to the discussion?

LD: All of these artists are total inspirations – both artistically, but also in their ability to talk about their work and about important topics related to it. With support from range of partners including the UWA School of Design, Institute of Advanced Studies and Tura New Music, we’ve been able to draw together a range of keynotes and artists in residence working in different artistic fields, at different stages of their career, and active in different cities to share their experience.

S: The #metoo movement has been a helpful catalyst in many arenas; has it brought more awareness to gender disparity in the arts?

LD: I think it has – and in fact one of the papers presented at the conference – ‘Teaching Women in Music in the #MeToo Era’ – will focus on exactly that. Come along!

S: Larger arts organisations seem to struggle to move beyond a male-dominated canon of art. However the small-to-medium organisations have been addressing gender diversity in their programming and commissioning for awhile now. Are there examples of what is working to redress the balance?

LD: The opening plenary session is aimed at this – we have invited representatives from small-to-medium and MPAs including WASO, Wa Opera, Pica, Tura and WA Music to speak about what each organisation is doing in this space. 10am, 17 July!

American percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky will be performing the Australian premiere of Armadillo. Photo by wowe.

S: The conference also includes three unique concerts with free access for the public. What can audiences expect?

All three are going to be fantastic. Armadillo will feature Robyn Shulkowksy’s work of the same name, performed by three generations of percussive women.  Shoeb Ahmad has drawn together an ensemble to perform their work in what promises to be a really fascinating lecture-recital. Decibel 10 and 10 is part of the ensembles 10 year anniversary celebrations, and features works by women composers from WA including a world premiere by Kate Milligan.

S: Can you see a future where we will no longer need conferences promoting gender diversity in the arts?

Not yet….but I am optimistic! The response to this conference has been overwhelming already – there is a clear interest in discussing and working on gender diversity at present. I hope that another Australian city will host this event in 2020 to continue the discussions…Brisbane, Adelaide or Sydney perhaps!

The Gender Diversity in Music and Art Conference runs July 16-19 at the UWA Conservatorium of Music. 
Concert 1 Armadillo is July 16.
Concert 2 Decibel 10 at 10 is July 18.


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Four women engaged in panel discussion
August 19, Calendar, Lectures and Talks, Visual arts

Lectures & Talks: Women in Art: Then & Now

3 August @ Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) ·
Presented by PICA ·

An intergenerational discussion.

In response to Trying to Find Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair, leading female art makers and industry voices discuss the history of women’s art and the arrival into the present. Join us for this critical panel exploring where we have come from, where we are, and where we need to go.

PICA invites industry and community alike to engage in this interdisciplinary discussion.  From forgotten artists to triumphs celebrated, seize the opportunity to prompt further discussion during our Q&A as we explore the question, “Have we come far enough?”.

Saturday 3 August, 3.30pm – 4.30pm

More info

Pictured: Women in Art, Credit: Susie Blatchford (Pixel Poetry)

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News, Visual arts

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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Woman standing at fresh green section of supermarket. Chinese script on rear of her jacket
August 19, Calendar, July 19, Visual arts

Visual Arts: Failure is the Mother of Success (失败是成功之母)

20 Jul – 2 Aug @ The Lobby ·
Presented by Rebecca Jensen ·

Failure is the Mother of Success (失败是成功之母) is a creative interrogation into my year since returning from abroad, both as an artist now well outside of the institution and as a (perhaps eternally) single woman.

Having spent 12 months focusing solely on my practice in China, and for the first time negotiating genuine criticism, this exhibition examines the fallout we experience from reproach. Using humour, language, and misinterpretation, Failure is the Mother of Success (失败是成功之母) seeks to break down the process of regaining autonomy over my arts practice.  By imparting the (oft unsolicited) wisdom shared with me on garments, this work plays on the universal and personal nature of critique. Rather than shying away from them, each garment makes its statement and offers the wearer the opportunity to challenge the advice of others – because yeah, it is fucking good to see you making best use of your arts degree.

20 July 6 – 8 pm
21 July – 2 August Open by Appointment

More info

If you’re going to cry for help make it luminescent. Credit Aimee Chappell 2019

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News, Reviews, Visual arts

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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Pine trees, birds in flight and leopard figure all in black etched against blue/pink sunset sky
August 19, Calendar, July 19, Visual arts

Visual Arts: Hearsay

8 Jul – 31 Aug @ Wanneroo Gallery, Wanneroo Library and Cultural Centre ·
Presented by City of Wanneroo ·

Hearsay shares fireside tales; from the ghostly Alkimos wreck, big cat sightings and UFOs, to daredevil feats of the Birdman Rally and the adventures of Moondyne Joe. Set to the backdrop of the shipwreck coast and the Gnangara pines, and drawn from  the rich history of the Wanneroo region, this exhibition blurs the line between fact and fiction.

More info

Pictured: Hearsay

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Mixed Media artwork
Calendar, July 19, Visual arts

Visual Arts: July Exhibitions at Cool Change Contemporary

5 – 27 July @ Cool Change Contemporary ·
Presented by Cool Change Contemporary ·

Join us for the next block of exhibitions at Cool Change Contemporary:

Andrew Nicholls and Sion Prior: Hymn
Gallery 1

Nathan Beard: White Gilt
Gallery 2

Grace Wood: Ersatz
Gallery 3

Opening Night 5 July, 6-8pm

More info

Pictured: Grace Wood, Stand Back, 2019. Digital print on cotton canvas. Image courtesy of the artist.

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News, Reviews, Visual arts

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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