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 Artistsgroup, spent time painting together last year in an important act of cultural transmission between generations.
“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.”
With a focus on the creative and community-building possibilities of collaboration, and a strong commitment towards leaping into the unknown, project curator Andrew Nicholls gave Miranda Johnson some insights into the background of the project and what to expect when the installation is opened to the public at Revealed: WA Aboriginal Art Market, Saturday 13 April.
Miranda Johnson: How did the relationship between Polyglot, Tjanpi Desert Weavers and FORM originally come about? Andrew Nicholls: FORM has worked with Tjanpi on numerous exhibition projects over the past two decades we are huge admirers of their work in general, and well-aware of their artistic significance at a national level. Although we had not previously worked with Polyglot, they came to our attention a few years ago when we were looking to incorporate some more children-and-family-focused programming into what we do. It was actually my colleagues Amy Plant and Mollie Hewitt who first came up with the idea of bringing the two organisations together, as they recognised strong aesthetic similarities between the work made by both organisations. The three of us just had a gut feeling that there was the potential there for a really exciting collaboration.
I then approached each of the organisations (back in 2016) with an exceedingly vague invitation to collaborate, which was a bit daunting because at that stage we really didn’t have any clear idea what we were pitching! Luckily it turned out that Tjanpi had been thinking about exploring performance for some time and had just been waiting for the right project, and that Polyglot were huge fans of Tjanpi and also had been looking for a project that would allow them to collaborate with Aboriginal artists, so everything just fell into place. There’s been an extraordinary amount of serendipity and good luck as the work has come together over the past three years.
MJ: How were the project’s artists selected? AN: Tjanpi Desert Weavers engage artists from numerous communities spread across hundreds of thousands of kilometres of central Australia, so to make things manageable they suggested we work with four highly respected tjanpi artists from Warakurna, in remote Western Australia: Cynthia Burke, Dianne Ungukalpi Golding, Nancy Nanana Jackson, and Dallas Smythe.
Polyglot similarly recommended some of their most innovative performers, Justin Marshall, Justine Warner, and Tamara Rewse, with their phenomenally talented artistic director and co-CEO Sue Giles leading the development workshop sessions.
MJ: How has the collaborative process rolled out? AN: We held our first workshop at Polyglot’s premises in Melbourne in November 2016, to get to know each other and throw ideas around. Again, it was quite daunting for everyone because none of us had a clue what we were actually going to do together, or if a collaboration would even be possible. Thankfully everyone very quickly realised that we wanted to work together to make something really special. It has been an absolute joy to develop the work together, and to draw inspiration from such a talented and professional group of creatives.
The initial workshop was followed by a trip to Warakurna, where all of the non-Tjanpi artists were introduced to the Tjanpi artists’ Country. This was a transformative experience for everyone involved and allowed the artwork to really start to take shape. Further workshops followed in Perth and then in Warakurna again, and now in Fremantle during the lead-up to Revealed.
MJ: What are the similarities and differences that you noticed between each arts organisation’s artistic practices? AN: The project came about because everyone involved recognised similarities between what Tjanpi and Polyglot do. Both organisations make very sophisticated work from simple materials and techniques, and both of them have a joyously playful aesthetic and a highly mischievous sense of humour. In terms of the working methodology, the content of the project was primarily driven by the Tjanpi artists and how they wanted to share a sense of their Country, which was then shaped by the Polyglot team into something that would work as an experience for audiences. Throughout this process, FORM played the role of facilitator.
But the joy of tjanpi weaving is that the techniques are so easy to share, so within a couple of hours of meeting everyone at the first workshop in Melbourne we were all making tjanpi creatures that will be travelling across the country to be part of the work in Fremantle.
In terms of differences, Polyglot allows everything they do to be driven by input from children – kids are involved wherever possible throughout the development of their projects. This isn’t necessarily how the Tjanpi artists work, but children are always a strong presence in remote community life, so this felt like a very natural thing to incorporate into the process, and we worked with children in each of the workshop locations. The Tjanpi artists meanwhile are primarily inspired by culture and their connection to Country, and everyone got a taste of this in Warakurna. While non-Indigenous visitors to Warakurna are never going to have a comprehensive understanding of what this means, the creative team were given an extremely warm and generous introduction that really crystallised the project for everyone involved.
MJ: Can you tell me more about the interactive nature of the installation? AN: The installation is a space for children to explore at their own pace. The artists will all be present to guide this, but as with most of Polyglot’s work it is the participating children who will take control. They will get to climb over and explore the installation, discover tjanpi creatures hidden throughout the space, listen to the sounds of Warakurna, and sit inside the wiltja (a traditional shade structure) and learn how to create a tjanpi object of their own. We have tried to make it a work that children of almost any age, and all levels of physical ability, will be able to enjoy.
MJ: You’ve spoken about the wiltja as a literal safe space created from collaborative labour, which became central to the project. Tell me about this idea of a safe space, and what it can provide in terms of creativity… AN: Something that I think resonates with everyone who learns tjanpi weaving technique is how incredibly meditative and soothing it is to do – spending an hour or two in the company of those artists, hand-making something and sharing conversation simply makes you feel fantastic. I think the technique itself is a “safe space” and the wiltja was an organic extension of this. As an object in its own right it’s very clearly hand-made and it’s something you can sit inside, so it has a very cosy feel.
Everyone involved in “Manguri Wiltja” has had nothing but respect toward everyone else for the duration of the project, and this trust was able to build up over a solid length of time, which has given us all the confidence to work at our best and take a few creative risks with each other. That’s an incredibly rewarding space to be in as a creative. Ten days out from the world premiere we still don’t entirely know exactly what the experience of the final work will be, but we trust each other enough to know it’s going to be marvellous.
MJ: Do you see collaboration as central to cross-cultural learning and communication? Do you think this is something that would be beneficial to adults as well as children? AN: Absolutely. At FORM we always strive to try to achieve a level of collaboration in most projects we undertake with artists – we are passionate about placing artists in conversation with Western Australian communities and seeing what can happen as a result. However, co-creation is not something you can force. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The great joy of “Manguri Wiltja” is how the various collaborators “clicked” almost immediately on our first day together in Melbourne. Given how vague the parameters of the project were to everyone initially, and how disparate the various creative practices and cultural influences were, it could easily have gone the other way.
We have always intended for “Manguri Wiltja” to be a work that children can experience with their parents (or other relatives) so we absolutely want people of all ages to share in the joyous spirit of the project and learn some more about life in remote Australia.
13 April @ Fremantle Arts Centre ·
Presented by FORM and Fremantle Arts Centre ·
During the Revealed Market, children and families are invited to enter Manguri Wiltja, an interactive play space made from intricate tjanpi woven forms, repurposed tyres and evocative sounds. A wiltja is a traditional shelter created here from woven circles, offering a tranquil space for contemplation. The installation draws upon the playful yet sophisticated aesthetics of both Tjanpi Desert Weavers and Polyglot Theatre and is designed to introduce children to the culture and Country of Warakurna.
FORM presents Manguri Wiltja at Revealed in a world premiere. The installation will tour nationally throughout 2019. For more information visit www.form.net.au
Review: Mulyana, “A Man, A Monster & the Sea” ·
FORM Claremont, Goods Shed ·
Review by Belinda Hermawan ·
In his first Western Australian residency, Indonesian installation artist Mulyana delights with a playful yet thought-provoking sea-themed installation “A Man, A Monster & the Sea”, at FORM’S Goods Shed exhibition space. Using yarn – a medium traditionally associated with accessories such as scarves, throws and blankets – Mulyana‘s soft and dynamic knitted and crocheted sculptures of reef, coral and marine creatures not only subvert our expectations but reference the threat that climate change poses to underwater worlds.
Mulyana’s grouped installations are ambitious in scale; each installation piece is its own standalone feature occupying the floor, wall or air-space. In combination with the intricate detailing that cleverly mimics coral, the works evoke a sense of wonder.
First, we encounter the safe world, where Mulyana’s alter-ego, a monster named Mogus, takes refuge. The colourful coral reef in Mogus World IV is teeming with life and vitality. It reaches, sprawls and cascades. Hung from the ceiling to “float”, the resulting movement of the schools of fish and jellyfish mimics the undulation of water. This exhibition is not a static experience; for children and adults alike, the installations invite exploration from different vantage points. Though touching the works is discouraged, there is an interactive family-friendly activity in the exhibition which encourages participants to use props to play and imagine.
Though the googly-eyed creatures of Mogus World (as Mulyana describes his imagined marine environment) are cute and cartoonish, the narrative of the exhibition is grounded in sobering reality; environmental disaster is not the stuff of fairy tales. As the Satu installation reminds us, coral turns white when it starts to die. The vivacity of Mogus World IV starkly contrasts the stretch of bleached jellyfish, whose tentacles dangle eerily towards the skeleton-like coral below. The fish are gone, the jellyfish are drifting away from the coral, leading to Si Hideung, who stands as a warrior evolution of Mogus. He is now on the defensive, in armour woven from a foreign material; plastic rope. The messages seem clear: it is plastic that is starves and destroys marine life.
The final installation, Kosong, is constructed in monochromatic dark tones. Mulyana explains that “while blackness may appear to be a symbol of emptiness, it also provides space in which to pause and begin a new journey”. So, though the word “kosong” means empty, the work speaks to renewal; the end of one cycle leads to another. This cyclical nature is depicted in the tilted ring of numerous black jellyfish suspended above the greyed coral like a halo askew. The effect is ethereal; highlighting, perhaps, the fragility of these precious and unique underwater environments.
Mulyana originally learnt how to knit and crochet at the Tobucil collective in Bandung. Now based in Yogyakarta – aka Jogja, a city well known for its contemporary art – his collaborative community-based projects see him training and working with a group of women known as Konco Mogus. He and his “Mogus family” work to co-create these vivid, intricate clusters of sea-life. It’s this spirit of connection that embodies how we should interact with each other and our surroundings if we’re to realise conservation efforts.
An exhibition for all ages, “A Man, A Monster & the Sea” is worth diving into.
Review: Martumili Artists & Spinifex Hill Artists, “Pujiman” ·
The Goods Shed ·
Review by Jenny Scott ·
“Pujiman” is a travelling exhibition presented by Form, featuring works created during a two-year collaboration between Martumili Artists and Spinifex Hill Artists, two Aboriginal art centres from the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
The title “Pujiman”, a word which means “desert born and dwelling”, refers to the last living generation of Aboriginal artists to lead traditional lifestyles. This collaborative project links pujiman painters, including Nora Wompi and Jakayu Biljabu, to a younger generation of emerging Aboriginal artists, who have been encouraged to develop their creative practices.
Presenting the results of such a valuable community project, “Pujiman” emphasises the importance of sharing knowledge and culture within Aboriginal communities, honouring senior artists, and celebrating intergenerational learning. In the words of senior Martumili artist Nola Ngalangka Taylor, “There’s so much lost, but we need to keep sharing to keep it alive.”
A week-long artist camp was arranged as part of the project, which saw 26 artists travel to Punmu community to work with creative facilitators including, Steven Aiton and Andy Quilty. The exhibition includes some video footage from this camp, which gives insight into the communal creation of the large-scale paintings, and the charming stop-motion sand animations that are also screened. In this documentary footage, viewers can watch the development of many of the exhibited paintings including Wilarra, a three metre long work by Mulyatingki Marney and May Maywokka Chapman.
Featuring gestural dotwork around fields of wide, emotive brushstrokes, this stunning painting depicts the site of Wilarra near Punmu, which is adjacent to the salt lake Nyayartakujarra (Lake Dora). In the wall text accompanying Wilarra, Mulyatingki explains the Jukurrpa (Dreaming) story of the site and the salt lake, emphasising the deep connection between culture and land.
Many of the paintings in the exhibition have been created to encompass the traditional significance, uses and narratives of different landscapes within the Pilbara region. Karlamilyi, Big Country, Big Area, a tall painting by Wokka Taylor and Nancy Karnu Taylor, functions as a husband and wife’s collaborative depiction of Nancy’s ngurra (home country).
Other artworks illustrate recent events and stories, such as Doreen Chapman’s energising Camel Chase, and the Captain Hedland comic book page by teenage artist Layne Dhu Dickie who featured in the “Revealed” exhibition at the Fremantle Arts Centre last year. Equally captivating are the smaller figurative works, which include Wendy Nanji’s stylised pencil portraits of senior artists, and Owen Biljabu’s acrylic paintings of community leaders.
“Pujiman” brings together an engaging and diverse collection of contemporary Aboriginal art, celebrating the art centres of the Pilbara region as hubs of continued cultural collaboration and creative excellence.
17 February – 28 April @ Port Hedland Courthouse Gallery ·
Presented by FORM ·
Pujiman is a collaboration featuring artworks from the senior pujiman (desert born) and young emerging artists of Martumili Artists and Spinifex Hill Artists. The senior pujiman artists are the last desert born people of their generation, and in this exhibition they have shared their knowledge, stories and techniques with the younger artists to ensure the continuation of the oldest living culture on earth.
Learn Me is the debut solo exhibition of Pilbara-based artist Ruth Leigh, who has captured the artists she has worked with during her four years in the region. It is rare to have an exhibition which showcases the artists of another exhibition, and even rarer to have both shows running concurrently in one gallery.
Review: Builded Remnants –
Berndnaut Smilde –
The Goods Shed –
Reviewed by Phoebe Mulcahy
It is a testament to the shifting and often indefinable state of contemporary art today that an artist can build a career working with what essentially amounts to vapour and smoke. A ‘sculptor of clouds,’ Berndnaut Smilde has gained international acclaim both in and beyond the art world after first generating a successful cloud in 2012. He has been manufacturing and photographing these artificial clouds, known as the Nimbus series, ever since.
Beyond the obvious novelty value of witnessing a miniature cumulus cloud take shape indoors, Smilde’s works keenly challenge ideas of space, time and nature. Working between mediums—photography, sculpture and installation—and seeking to explore what lies between established dualities, such elusive and intangible phenomena as clouds and rainbows are fitting centrepieces in his practice.
Smilde’s clouds, which are generated by shooting smoke against water vapour, dissolve in just ten seconds and until recently, had only been produced in indoor settings. Oddly suspended in the ornate rooms and chambers of mansions, cathedrals and museums, Smilde’s inquiry into the boundaries between interior and exterior space, and the natural and artificial, achieve vivid expression.
Yet, as part of FORM’s International Residency Program last year, these synthetic clouds have for the first time been brought outdoors at two locations in Western Australia’s remote Pilbara region. Working with local photographer Bewley Shaylor, Smilde’s month-long residency also saw him create works at disused industrial sites in Perth, as well as in the state’s South-West, where he was able to use the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse to dazzling effect with an experimental work based on the colour spectrum.
As Smilde’s works are by their nature extremely short-lived and unrepeatable events, the resulting exhibition, at FORM’s The Goods Shed, is chiefly one of documentation, presenting just a handful of large-scale photographs by which these ‘moments of revelation’ have been recorded. The Nimbus clouds are shown at the East Perth Power Station and the Midland Railway Workshops in Perth; but it is their appearance in the Pilbara that is most striking. The clouds may now be outdoors, but you would never mistake them for those that naturally occur in the sky above. Hovering just a few metres from a waterhole in the gorges of Karijini National Park, the implanted cloud appears so uncanny as to be almost sinister, recalling the kinds of misgivings about the Australian landscape that have been immortalised in stories like Picnic At Hanging Rock. As with previous entries in the Nimbus series, the photographs’ intensely crisp and accurate resolution heightens the sense of intrigue and strangeness.
In inviting Berndnaut Smilde to create works in Western Australia, FORM particularly anticipated a series that would speak to the unique natural environments found in this part of the world, taking his critical awareness of Romantic landscapes as the point of departure. It’s clear that this has been more or less achieved, and the resulting works are as captivating as any Smilde has produced. Yet it is inevitably an outsider’s perspective, and it is hard to say whether the images ultimately add very much to our understanding or appreciation of these landscapes on a local level. Placed against the vast and clear-skied vistas of this state, it seems that much of what made these Nimbus clouds so striking as indoor phenomena has only evaporated in the open air.
6 July – 17 September @ The Goods Shed. Presented by FORM
“Builded Remnants” is an exhibition by Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde capturing moments of revelation throughout Western Australia.
The works are the result of a residency undertaken by Smilde in Western Australia, in 2016, at FORM’s invitation. Based in Perth, Smilde one his studio assistant, German artist Annegret Kellner, also travelled extensively throughout the Pilbara region and the South West.
Smilde has a history of artificially creating natural phenomena such as clouds and rainbows and a critical approach to Western understandings of landscape in the Romantic tradition, and FORM asked him to respond to WA’s regional landscape through this lens. Smilde worked with WA photographer Bewley Shaylor to create a new series of his Nimbus cloud images, both in metropolitan locations and in the remote Pilbara. This included his first outdoor Nimbus works, created in Karijini National Park and the red dirt landscape outside of Roebourne. Following his Pilbara residency, Smilde travelled to the South West to create an experimental rainbow work at the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse on Australia’s most south-westerly point, a site first mapped by the Dutch several centuries ago.