Review: Laurence Watts, “Looking West” and Hoda Afshar, “Behold” ·
Perth Centre for Photography ·
Review by Phoebe Mulcahy ·
Though an Iranian bathhouse and regional Australian rodeo culture might be some of the last places you’d expect to see signs of shifting notions of gender and masculinity, both make for an interesting social study, as two new exhibitions at the Perth Centre for Photography reveal. In Laurence Watts’s “Looking West” and Hoda Afshar’s “Behold” we see two worlds that can be defined in large part by their insularity, and respective codes and rituals. Yet the self-contained customs that underpin these communities may not be as impervious as they appear. Taken together, the exhibitions offer a fascinating view of what might be at play behind the bounds of these two vastly different realms.
At first glance, the two exhibitions seem an improbable double-bill, with little in common in tone, subject matter or composition. But delving closer, it becomes clear that the separate collections of works play off each other at a number of levels.
“Looking West”, Laurence Watts’s exploration of Australian rodeo subculture, is placed in the sunlit front portion of the gallery, heightening the works’ highly performative and forward-facing style. The cowboys square off the camera in their hyper-masculine costumes of Stetsons, chaps and heeled boots, resisting as best they can the pervasive signs of suburban domesticity that surround them. Positioned beside a large pink fitness ball or a neatly-arranged bedside scene however, their claim to the kind of rugged masculinity promised by the archetype of the cowboy is unconvincing.
By contrast, Hoda Afshar’s “Behold”, placed in the back gallery as one enters the space, is dimly lit and subdued, lending a reflective tone to these provocative depictions of same-sex relationships in a Middle Eastern bathhouse. In the same way as the Australian rodeo subculture sits apart from broader society, bathhouses can be seen as refuge-like sites that are distanced from the outside world and maintain implicit rules about who can and can’t attend. Afshar herself states that as a woman, she was “not allowed to enter” and in fact had to rent the premises in order to produce her photographs — a detail that renders the scenes just as staged as Watts’s self-conscious modern cowboys. Nonetheless, the works are touching in their seeming unaffectedness and intimacy, and illustrate their own version of the complexities of masculine identity today.
By pairing these almost absurdly disparate cultures, the exhibitions put forward a composite view of maleness as experienced in societies that are literally worlds apart. It’s a thought-provoking combination that adds nuance to the so-called ”crisis in masculinity” brought on by changing social landscapes.
7 Feb – 24 Mar @ Fremantle Arts Centre ·
Presented by David Noonan ·
London-based artist David Noonan has made his name internationally as an assembler of black and white photographic images. Collected from found books and periodicals, the images are juxtaposed, edited and collated to conjure a range of possible narratives.
For his first exhibition in Western Australia Noonan has created an immersive installation that invites viewers into an atmospheric ‘dark and quiet place’. Bringing together in dialogue major new works rendered in film and tapestry, this strangely cinematic and poetic world offers a meditative space of wonder and intrigue.
Presented in association with Fremantle Arts Centre
21 Jul – 8 Dec @ Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery ·
Presented by Berndt Museum ·
Stockyards and Saddles: A Story of Gibb River Station explores the lives of those living and working on the remote cattle station of Gibb River in the East Kimberley region from the early 1900s until the 1990s.
The importance of photographs as historical memorabilia often goes beyond the people represented in the images to depict a period of time in our country’s history. Given many of the original cattlemen are no longer with us and the old stories of stockyards and saddles now seem such a distant memory, the Berndt Museum celebrates life in cattle country for those few who remain.
18 August 2018 – 7 January 2019 @ The Art Gallery of Western Australia ·
Presented by: International Art Space, various artists ·
Organised by the WA-based International Art Space, spaced 3: north by southeast brings together 11 artists from Australia and the Nordic region.
Artistic explorers of a different kind are celebrated in spaced 3: north by southeast. Six Australian artists completed artistic residencies in the Nordic heartlands of Finland, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden and five Nordic artists find their place in Western Australia’s rural and remote communities. Using sculpture, video, photography and installation, this show is an enlightening series of windows onto the world we know, and the world we have yet to understand.
The decision to place artists in regional and remote locations is motivated by the fact that even small and seemingly isolated towns are affected by global economic, environmental and social forces. The interplay between the strong sense of local identity, which is typical of these communities, and the effects of globalisation provides a fertile ground for artists to explore.
Robyn Backen (NSW), Michelle Eistrup (Denmark), Gustav Hellberg (Sweden), Deborah Kelly (NSW), Danius Kesminas (VIC), Tor Lindstrand (Sweden), Heidi Lunabba (Finland), Dan McCabe (WA), Linda Persson (Sweden), Keg de Souza (NSW), Sam Smith (NSW).
1 June – 15 July: Exhibition Opening Friday 1 June, 7pm, Viewing Times 2 June – 15 July 2018, Tue-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat-Sun 11am-3pm @ Mundaring Arts Centre ·
Presented by Mundaring Arts Centre ·
Pioneering aerial photographer and WA State Living Treasure, Richard Woldendorp AM, exhibits a selection of rarely seen, early black and white images which launched his long and successful career photographing the Australian landscape.
Supported by the Department of Local Government, Sport and Creative Industries, WA.
Perth Festival review: “Emissaries” by Lisa Reihana ·
John Curtin Gallery ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·
Lisa Reihana’s “Emissaries” takes as its starting point a tapestry made in 1805, Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique. At the time, the popular tapestry provided an escapist-style insight into the lives and cultures of the First Nations peoples of the Pacific – told, of course, through the eyes of the white colonialists.
Reihana, who is of Māori and British descent, seeks to redress this one-sided depiction by reimagining vignettes of early contact between the First Nations peoples of the Pacific and European explorers. I had already seen this work at the Venice Biennale, so I was surprised to discover that the show has expanded, the more spacious and modern venue giving it room to breathe. The sleek rooms of John Curtin Gallery provide a series of antechambers, and, walking deeper into the show toward the rumbling, creaking soundtrack of Reihana’s epic video work In Pursuit of Venus [infected], I felt that I was entering the hull of a ship.
As an entrance, the first room shows portraits of certain ‘emissaries’, including Joseph Banks, astronomer and explorer, and the Chief Mourner of the Society Islands, a mysterious figure who can move between worlds. It is clear that these emissaries aren’t just from another time, but another place – otherworldly shadows. Reihana’s digital photography gives the figures a contemporary feel, whilst their garb and formal attitudes hearken back to Enlightenment portraiture. These are augmented by historical material from the Kerry Stokes Collection, a series of original eighteenth and nineteenth century works on paper depicting Captain Cook’s first voyage to the South Pacific. History and fiction are combined to create a more complex narrative of colonialism, discovery, and myth-making.
This first two rooms provide an elegant introduction to the cinematic video work In Pursuit of Venus [infected]. You can hear it echoing through the gallery, but you can’t see it until you face the single shadowy portrait of a Nootka ancestor and totem and enter the final room.
Here, the suggestions of Enlightenment values, colonial histories and reclaimed narratives become strikingly clear. The panoramic video uses modern imaging technology to digitally animate moments of Pacific life at the time of the original tapestry’s inception. It’s hypnotising and incredibly rich in detail.
Many of the stories show people simply living their culture: dancing, sparring, and singing. There are moments of humour (a grown man pretends to labour and joyfully birth another grown man) and, frequently, moments of confusion, violence, and awkwardness that come with groups of people with no common language or culture meeting for the first time. Sometimes they interact by exchanging tokens and gestures of friendliness. Sometimes the Europeans are shown to be painting the Pacific Islanders, presumably to bring home the taxonomic images we’ve just seen in the previous room. And sometimes it ends in unspeakable violence – lashings, murder, a disembodied limb.
As the soundtrack grows louder, the vignettes reach a breaking point – with weeping and agonised screams, and waves are breaking loudly nearby. But everything keeps on moving. Even the satisfying moment of Captain Cook’s murder by a Hawai’ian doesn’t stop the slow march of history. The moment of the fatal blow reverberates for just a minute – the people recoil and sit in stunned silence – before the moment rolls by.
“Emissaries” is a richly woven tapestry of its own, retelling historical narratives with inventiveness and tenderness. It’s a comment on what we think of as history, how we come to accept narratives, and who gets to tell these stories. Just as the narrative of In Pursuit of Venus [infected] cycles through its story without a clear beginning or end, Reihana’s work is never-ending. Time is not linear, and history is always repeating itself – the implications of colonialism are always continuing in both new and old forms. Reihana’s work seeks to redress an imbalance, and to correct the record. It is, of course, partly fictionalised, but then, who is to say the accepted narratives we already think we know are real?
Top: Lisa Reihana, detail in Pursuit of Venus [infected], 2015–17, Ultra HD video, colour, sound, 64 min. Image courtesy of the artist and New Zealand at Venice.
Miranda Johnson is an arts worker from Perth. She spent the past few years in London working as a record store clerk whilst studying an MA in Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmiths College. Upon returning to Perth, she has been working for some of Perth’s major contemporary arts institutions, as well as co-directing Moana Project Space, an artist-run initiative. Miranda also sings in indie-pop choir Menagerie and co-hosts Fem Book Club at the Centre for Stories.
For the duration of Perth Festival, Miranda is part of its customer service team.
1-4 February @ 7pm, 5 February @ 6pm @ Paper Mountain Gallery ∙
Presented by: Bernadette Lewis ∙
A multidisciplinary performance installation. An intimate dialogue between light, photography, found object and dance. Drive on down to the strange lands of vintage women’s wrestling, age-old pageant queens, exercise fads and treat yourself to our neon, time travelling dreamscape.
Welcome to The Honeymoon Suite. Enjoy your stay. Don’t feed the birds. And let’s get ready to rumble!
Seesaw co-editor Nina Levy shares her tips for the 2018 Perth Festival.
One of my favourite things about living in Western Australia is the quality of the light here, particularly around sunset. The many moods of the sky at that time – perhaps a wash of juicy-orange, or peppered with tiny iridescent pink slivers, or crowded with moodily glowing cumulus clouds – fill me with incredible joy.
So when Perth Festival director Wendy Martin tells me that the 2018 program is themed around our beautiful WA light, I feel the first little dart of festival anticipation. The 2018 Festival invites audiences to “see art in a different light,” explains Martin. “The idea behind that is taking inspiration from the light and the landscape of WA, and our position overlooking the Indian Ocean rim.”
That dart of excitement balloons as Martin talks me through the 2018 Perth Festival. Her presentation is almost a performance in itself and I leave feeling slightly breathless. I want to See. It. All. Be still my beating heart.
So where will you find me between 9 February and 4 March?
Given my aforementioned great love of Perth sunsets, I’ll be checking out Siren Song, the Festival’s 10 day long free opening event. “As the sun begins to fade you will hear the most extraordinary voices that will be coming from speakers all along St George’s Terrace and then you will see a helicopter appear and a voice will be coming from that helicopter,” says Martin.” The voices are all voices of women. I love the idea that at sunrise and sunset, for the first 10 days of the festival, the city will be transformed by the female voice, thus the title Siren Song. We’ll see the helicopter in a sort of choreographed dance around the buildings of the terrace and around the river.”
To a Simple, Rock ’n’ Roll Song
My other great love is no secret. It’s dance, and there’s plenty of it here. Contemporary dance is, traditionally, a harder sell than other performing art-forms, but I’ve got a suspicion that Michael Clark Company’s To a Simple Rock ’n’ Roll Song is going to be one of this Festival’s mega hits. Created after David Bowie’s death, the work is set to music by Erik Satie, Patti Smith and Bowie, and pays homage to the composers Clark loves, says Martin, who saw it in December ’16. “The Bowie section… It’s impossible not to feel deeply moved by the music,” she reflects. “The audience just screamed to see Bowie’s music so beautifully articulated by the body.”
We’ve all heard about bands playing unplugged. “This is the ACO (Australian Chamber Orchestra) ‘plugged in’, if you like,” says Martin. “They’re collaborating with Brian Ritchie from the Violent Femmes and Jim Moginie from Midnight Oil. As the program says, they can make a pop song sound like heavy metal or like it was written in the 17th century.”
I’m excited to have a chance to see this work, created by renowned Belgian choreographer Damien Jalet in collaboration with Japanese sculptor Kohei Nawa. “Vessel is presented on a stage flooded with water, and there are seven dancers. In the middle of the water is Nawa’s sculpture which is like the top of a volcano or something – it’s for your imagination to figure out what it could be. But these seven bodies, I do not know how they do what they do. They are like other-worldly creatures,” muses Martin.
Barber Shop Chronicles
Six barber shops spread across the globe and a love of football is the premise for this work and it sounds like a whole lot of fun. “We travel from country to country, from Harare, to Johannesburg, to Accra, to Lagos, to London, in different barber shops,” elaborates Martin. “In each one they’re all watching a game of soccer between Barcelona and Chelsea. Like all Inua Ellams’ work, he’s really dealing with big issues but as we shift from scene to scene it’s also held together by song and dance, so it’s utterly joyous at the same time as packing a punch.”
Martin is halfway through describing Cerita Anak (Child’s Story), a work aimed at 2-7 year olds, when I give a little gasp and exclaim, “Oh I want to go!” It’s the immersive element that appeals to me. “Children are led into the space, in which they hop aboard a ship and they go on a journey together,” Martin tells me.” They go through a storm at sea and the beautiful sea creatures are projected all over the sails. Then when the water becomes calm the kids take fishing rods and what they’re actually pulling in is the creatures that they’ve made themselves. It’s a multi-sensory adventure about the life of the ocean. It’s completely beguiling for adults as well.”
Farewell to Paper
I’m more than just nostalgic for the pre-smartphone world. This year I have finally managed to revert from an electronic to a paper diary and I love it. So Farewell to Paper by Russian poet, playwright and theatre director Evgeny Grishkovets holds immediate appeal. “It’s exactly what the title says,” remarks Martin. “It’s a trip around remembering what life was like before we had these tiny things in our hands that connect us, but also disconnect us. The work is a reminder of the poetics in life that are disappearing.”
Museum of Water
A free installation, the “Museum of Water” is a two-year program of events based around our relationship with water. Taking place this time at the Fremantle Arts Centre, it’s Martin’s description of “sound umbrellas” that sparks my interest. “Rachel Dease, the sound artist for the project, will create special sound experiences,” says Martin. “You’ll be able to pick up an umbrella and open it and walk around outside and be protected from the sun and hear the stories of water.”
Also at Fremantle Arts Centre, as part of the visual arts program, is Repatriate, by artist Latai Taumoepeau. “It’s a video installation – Latai is in a tank of water, in Pacific dress, performing Pacific dances,” explains Martin. “As she’s performing, the water in the tank is rising. It’s a metaphor for rising seas, and the fact that in years to come people in the Pacific will be unable to practise their culture because their islands will be disappearing.”
Two of my favourite Australian choreographers, Lucy Guerin and Gideon Obarzanek have joined forces with Indonesian music duo Senyawa in Attractor, which is described as a “trance-noise odyssey”. Attractor has caused a stir in the Eastern states, taking out two Helpmann Awards this year, and I can’t wait to find out why. There’s an option to participate too. “One by one the participants who have agreed to be part of the show peel out of the audience and become immersed in the dance. It is the most elegantly executed audience participation I’ve ever watched,” remarks Martin. “And if you didn’t opt in, you regret it. To get lost in this hypnotic state just looks so thrilling.”
But wait there’s more!
These shows and programs also sound super… head to the Perth Festival website to check them out:
White Spirit: Features the Whirling Dervishes. “It’s vividly illuminated,” says Martin “It’s a sublime musical and movement experience.”
You Know We Belong Together: Centred around a young woman’s dream of being on Home and Away, this work sounds moving and delightful.
Emissaries: “This work was one of the big hits of this year’s Venice Biennale,” says Martin. “Lisa Reihana is a Maori woman. This cinematic piece was inspired by 18th-century wallpaper that tells the story of Captain Cook in the Pacific. It’s a re-positioning of history from her perspective.”
Beyond Time: Martin describes this work by Taiwan’s U-Theatre as “an explosive mixture of martial arts, contemporary dance and ritual from Taiwan’s U-Theatre… a beautiful piece about our relationship to time and the universe.” I’m keen to join the walking meditation that company members will be leading along the Swan River the weekend that they are in town.
The Second Woman: I caught Nat Randall, the artist behind this 24-hour live spectacle, at this year’s Proximity Festival and my curiosity is piqued.
Jordi Savall: I love medieval music. Both shows sound glorious (NB – although Jordi Savall was announced early, there’s an additional second show in the program with harpist Andrew Lawrence-King)
Ballet at the Quarry: Milky Way: A Perth institution. The headline work, Milngia, Milky Way – River of Stars, is an exciting-sounding new collaboration between Gary Lang of NT Dance Company, opera artist Deborah Cheetham AO and WAB.
Writers Week: Helen Garner. My absolute favourite of favourites.
The Chevron Gardens: Where to start! The line-up includes some massive names (Dizzee Rascal, Block Party, Ben Folds to name a just few) as well as plenty of opportunities to expand your listening game. I’m keen to check out The Staves + Lucius, Mama Kin, Abbe May, and Kitty, Daisy & Lewis.
Review: Visitants: Close encounters with remote Western Australia ◆
FORM Gallery, Perth ◆
Review by Belinda Hermawan ◆
For those of us living in Perth, it can be easy to take our state’s regional beauty for granted. It’s this complacency that is pierced by FORM’s latest project, “Visitants: Close encounters with remote Western Australia”, which saw three artists commissioned to capture the distinct beauty and phenomena of the Pilbara region. The result is a breathtaking series of works, each of which mimics the awe-inspiring wonder of the natural subjects encountered.
The collection of abstract collages by Penny Coss (Sydney-born, Perth-based) displayed at the front of the exhibition are of such staggering height that one feels dwarfed, as one might when confronted with the vastness of the Pilbara desert. The canvas of each piece is stained with blue acrylic, inspired by the blue asbestos running through Dale’s Gorge, and a deep orange-red hue. Added to this are strips of contrasting colour, torn pieces of painted scenery, explains Coss. Gravity has dictated placement; the strips are featured where they fell. In acceding to a natural force in this way, Coss imbues nature into her artistic process and work.
In the centre section, Bewley Shaylor’s sublime photo mural of the lush Karijini rainforest is already impressive as an image, but it’s the addition of a live, projected rainbow that makes Unflattened Karijini, a mixed media installation by Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde, particularly successful. The viewer has the almost God-like power to stand in front of the projection and interrupt the refraction of light.
On a more simple scale is Red Right Shoe, a pair of “before and after” piezo prints of Smilde’s sneakers. White and pristine when brand new, and then covered in red dirt after the visit, the stubbornness of the dirt represents the way in which the Pilbara implants itself in the memory, difficult to shake.
Untitled “atmospheres”, by Consuelo Cavaniglia (Rome-born, Sydney-based), is a vibrant gradient of orange and pink painted directly onto the vast back wall of the gallery. Mimicking the transformation of the sky as the day progresses, the mural creates what Cavaniglia refers to as a sense of impermanency. The colour on white evokes images of red dust and the sun – either strengthening or fading depending on your vantage point – with the selection of pink rather than blue capturing a surprising ephemerality; freshness, transition and rawness. I found the installation difficult to leave; a sunset captured in time.
It’s an oft-quoted adage that one must stand back to truly appreciate a piece of artwork. With “Visitants”, the viewer’s proximity to the work is also part of the immersive experience. Whether we step closer, step back or step to the side, to encounter remote Western Australia we must momentarily travel outside the urban centre of our lives. It’s a journey well worth the reward.