News, Reviews, Visual arts

Photography in a new light

Review: Michael Reid (curator), ‘Light Years’/Sandra Murray (curator), ‘Abstracted’ ·
Perth Centre for Photography, FLUX Gallery ·
Review by Belinda Hermawan ·

When I visited the Perth Centre for Photography in 2017 to view the Iris Award finalists, I remember questioning the suitability of its Subiaco location. Hay Street was a shadow of itself. Among shopfronts for lease and cafes with no patrons, I half expected a tumbleweed to come rolling past.

However, with upgrades at its previous West Perth gallery, PCP had at least taken up the invitation to relocate temporarily to The Colonnade – an option surely better than a hiatus. In doing so, the centre demonstrated its ongoing commitment to showcasing and promoting the best of the State’s photography.

Two years later, ahead of the 2019 Iris Award, we see PCP relocated to a central location at the King Street Arts Centre, in the gallery previously occupied by FORM. FLUX Gallery is described as a ‘new, seasonal gallery initiative’. In what appears to be a realistic response to the economic realities of supporting the arts, FLUX will also exhibit non-photographic work in an effort to operate sustainably and attract more stakeholder support of the initiative.

FLUX has commenced its program with two exhibitions. Michael Reid’s inaugural lightbox exhibition ‘Light Years: 1999-2019’ showcases works by Narelle Autio, Nici Cumpston, Marian Drew, Derek Henderson, Petrina Hicks, Joseph McGlennon, Fabian Muir, Catherine Nelson, Polixini Papapetrou, Trente Parke, Joan Ross, Luke Shadboldt and Christian Thompson.

Diverse and colourful, the exhibition illuminates the wonder and refinement that comes with technological progress in this artform. Lightboxes were once hot and clunky, and contemporary photography held only a small share of the art market. Now LED-enabled boxes present images with a magical quality, enriching colour and creating a vibrant, immersive experience that will make the viewer almost forget the prints are two-dimensional.

In a world where social media users play with filters and light to create the perfect Insta-worthy image, this exhibition is highly accessible and reminds us why contemporary photography is in such high demand.

Also on show at FLUX is ‘Abstracted’, curated by Sandra Murray and featuring works from Jennifer Cochrane, Tom Freeman, Chris Hopewell, Ian Williams and Gera Woltjer. These works are striking in a different way to the Technicolour-effect of ‘Light Years’.

The artists use colour at times but delight us with a variety of mediums and techniques. Cochrane’s impressive geometric structure in primary blue is a deserving centrepiece, beautiful in its angles and scale. Hopewell’s paintings feature a wet-look effect from his use of black resin; these fluid formations have surprising depth. Williams’ oil paintings are playful with shape, colour and shadow. His slices of gold, deep purples and pale peach are a real highlight in the white gallery space. Freeman’s glazed stoneware sculptures are curiosities with curves and coils that will prompt you to circle the plinths for a range of views. Woltjer’s installation piece is another winner: swimming pool lanes recreated on a wall and extending down to the floor.

At times, surviving in the arts must seem like a constant effort: a swimmer in a perpetual training session, propelling themselves, completing stroke after stroke, lap after lap, the tiled T-mark denoting the end of a lane, a cue to tumble-turn and do it all over again.

PCP’s renewed effort to garner support for creative industries and to find a way to keep swimming, whether there appears to be light or not, is particularly encouraging and worthy of commendation. With the benefit of a central location and exciting exhibitions, FLUX Gallery will hopefully be here for many years to come.

Light Years and Abstracted run until August 3 at FLUX Gallery (Wednesday to Saturday, 11am-3pm), 357 Murray Street, Perth.

Pictured top: Catherine Nelson’s Mission I (detail) is among the  works displayed with a touch of magic through LED-enabled boxes at FLUX Gallery.

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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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A group of people in different uniforms and outfits lying on top of one another
Film, News, Reviews, Visual arts

Film fascinates

Perth Festival review: Felicity Fenner (curator), Love Displaced ·
Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery ·
Review by Jess Boyce ·

Curated by Felicity Fenner, Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery’s Perth Festival exhibition “Love, Displaced” seeks connection and intimacy in the 21st Century. The all-video exhibition features the work of Jacobus Capone, Richard Lewer (NZ), Tracey Moffatt and Gary Hillberg, Christian Thompson, AES+F (Russia), Jeremy Deller and Cecilia Bengolea (UK, Argentina/France) and Roee Rosen (Israel).

Singing of brotherly love, Christian Thompson stars in his 2014 work Refuge. Alone on a white screen, the artist’s voice is accompanied by a piano as he stares down the camera in an intimate interaction between artist and viewer. Though sung without translation in his native Bidjara language, the commanding ballad powerfully conveys the emotion of the words.

A close up of a man playing the piano accordion
Jacobus Capone, ‘Volta’ (still), 2016, 2-5 channel video, duration: 53 minutes. Courtesy of the Artist. Commissioned by the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art for NEW16.

Jacobus Capone’s Volta documents his father’s attempt to relearn the piano accordion, an instrument he had not touched since the onset of severe depression that caused him to be psychologically absent from Capone’s life for a number of years. The highly personal film follows an emotional reconnection, not only with a much-loved musical instrument but also with his son. Intimately cropped to accentuate Capone’s father’s body language, the work is installed on two floating screens, allowing viewers to walk amongst the work. Disappointingly, three further channels, documenting other members of Capone’s family watching his father’s performance, were not presented in this iteration.

Like the work of Capone and Thompson, The Dust Channel by Roee Rosen uses music as a narrative device, yet in contrast to the tender insights of the former two works, the strength of this surreal operatic ode to a Dyson vacuum cleaner is in its absurdity. The Dust Channel fetishises the need for cleanliness, whilst reflecting on cultural prejudice, the refugee crisis in Europe, and the plight of Palestine.

Tracey Moffat and Gary Hillberg’s fast paced and erotically charged montage video Other traces interracial encounters in film whilst critiquing the white gaze and the exoticisation of the “other” in pop culture. Beginning with moments depicting first contact between white explorers and local inhabitants, the dynamic film gradually builds to a climax, featuring energetic dance scenes and fevered sexual encounters.

Jeremy Deller and Cecilia Bengolea’s work Bom Bom’s Dream is, curiously, the only work to be displayed on a television rather than projected. Situated in the same room as the work of Moffat and Hillberg, the two dance heavy videos compete for attention. With its bigger screen and out-loud sound, Moffat and Hillberg’s work diminishes the impression of Bom Bom’s Dream.

Inverso Mundus by AES+F presents a hyper-reality in which humans and mythical creatures co-exist and the world is turned upside down; the rich are thrown to the street, pigs murder butchers, and street cleaners litter the cities with waste. The surreal video displaces traditional power balances and social dynamics.

A line drawing of an elderly Indigenous woman leaning on a walking stick
Richard Lewer, ‘Mavis’ still and detail from Never shall be forgotten – a mother’s story, 2017, hand-drawn animation, 5:04 minutes. Courtesy of the artist, Sullivan+Strumpf and Hugo Michell Gallery. © the artist.

In contrast to AES+F’s highly produced and polished animation style, Richard Lewer’s hand drawn imagery and use of an overhead projector as an animation tool allows the viewer to witness the artist’s touch. This insight into the artistic process helps to facilitate a compassionate connection to the narrators of the two stories Never shall be forgotten – a mother’s story and Worse Luck I’m Still Here as they explore the devastating loss of their loved ones.

“Love, Displaced” is a lengthy exhibition. To watch each work in its entirety takes two hours, twenty seven minutes and 33 seconds. Challenging our ever-decreasing attention spans, the exhibition tackles another difficult task: creating genuine connection with an audience through screen-based works whilst also navigating practical issues of sound bleed.

Though these logistical hurdles are met with mixed success, the exhibition is empathetic to the displaced, the marginalised, the downtrodden and the grieving, and looks to ways to reframe connection through community, storytelling, art, song and dance. With an exemplary selection of artists, each work alone is worth a visit.

Catch “Love, Displaced” at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery until May 18.

Pictured top: AES+F, “Inverso Mundus”, Still #1-18, 2015, pigment InkJet print on FineArt Baryta paper, 32×57.5 cm (12.5×22.7 in), edition of 10. Image courtesy of AES+F and Anna Schwartz Gallery.

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