News, Reviews, Visual arts

Body language speaks on many levels

Various Artists, ‘I See You, I hear You’ ·
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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News, Perth Festival, Reviews

Playing with time

Perth Festival review: Kate McIntosh, Worktable ·
Gallery Central, North Metropolitan TAFE, 21 February ·
Review by Robert Housley ·

Undertaking any activity at break-neck speed is commensurate with doing it on the edge of certain death. In literal terms, the spine just can’t take the pressure.

Life in the 21st Century is moving at such a pace that neck problems abound. Many struggle to keep up and it is not just those with generational lag. There is seemingly so much to do and so little time.

So what happens when you slow down time? What is that experience like? Is it even possible?

Belgium-based Kiwi Kate McIntosh’s well-travelled piece Worktable encourages that experience while “giving you the power to unleash your creativity and to potentially discover things you didn’t know about yourself”.

Her “fascination with the misuse of objects and playfulness with audiences” is the basis of this interactive work, which has audience members selecting, deconstructing and repurposing second-hand objects.

How quickly or slowly you do it is up to you.

It begins with you being asked to select a used object – for example, clock, shoe, keyboard, stuffed wombat – sitting atop a long row of shelves in the foyer. Then you wait, seated in an informal queue, to be ushered alone in to the installation space.

Once inside, you are taken to one of three “work rooms”, replete with work bench, light and an assembly of tools and safety equipment. On the wall are your instructions – essentially, break the object and take it in pieces in to the next room.

It is there that you meet the rest of the “audience”, who beaver away with crafty endeavour in a communal environment devoid of digital intrusion.

There is a feeling of connection and the time to make it, much like the Slow Movement encourages people to make real connections in their time-poor lives.

What this Perth Festival offering also reminds us of is the by-product of our busy lives – objects, things for which we no longer have a use.

At first glance, Worktable is a simple piece that champions our inner selves and the sharing of experiences. But there is a lot more to it, if you take the time.

Bookings for Worktable are available at 15-minute intervals. The installation is open 22-24 February and 27 February – 3 March.

Photo: Kate McIntosh

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Work by Jade Richards
News, Reviews, Visual arts

An ongoing conversation

Review: “Djookian (Sisters)” ·
Gallery Central, North Metropolitan TAFE ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

Curated by Thelma John, “Djookian (Sisters)” is an exhibition celebrating this year’s NAIDOC Week theme, “Because of her, we can!” It features the work of numerous Aboriginal women with diverse arts practices, including textiles, weaving, painting and digital art. The artists featured also come from a range of different personal and professional backgrounds. Some are professional artists, others are arts students from Central TAFE. Others work with DADAA, collaborate with residents from Boronia Prison in printmaking workshops or are involved with women’s community groups from around the state. This range of experiences makes for an engaging exhibition, enriched by the didactic panels that provide more information than usual about the artists’ lives, statements about the works and other personal touches. Providing a rich insight into the varying practices of the artists, these panels made me feel as though I was part of an ongoing conversation as I walked around the gallery.

Mandy White, ‘Busy bird dancing with woodarchies’, Ink and acrylic on paper, 2018, 76cm-x-56cm.

Illness and trauma characterise many of the stories behind the works; poignantly, such events frequently set the women on the path to beginning an arts practice. Lena Mandijarra and Purtungana (Nancy Bangu), for example, both made their works for “Djookian” whilst receiving treatment at Autumn House, a residential facility run by Derbal Yerrigan Health Services. Reading such stories provides the viewer with insight into these deeply personal works. Purtungana paints her grandfather’s country in the Great Sandy Desert, particularly the spinifex she remembers from the single time she visited. Story and painting together reveal her connection to family and the positive impact they have had upon her recuperation.

Throughout the show, a range of different styles and techniques are displayed, with the work of more senior artists – including Julie Dowling, Sharyn Egan, and Janine McAuley Bott – shown alongside work from emerging artists. There’s a strong theme of social enterprise and community groups, including Yawuru Jarndu Aboriginal Corporation, a not-for-profit art and textile organisation, highlighting the importance of collaboration, skill-sharing and sociality through art-marking.

Janine McAullay Bot            Mother Yganka in the Chair 2015 Queen palm tree fronds, seed pods
Janine McAullay, ‘Bot Mother Yganka in the Chair’, 2015, Queen palm tree fronds, seed pods.

A highlight is Dianne Jones’s wonderful photographs from her Hollywood Series, in which she dresses up as Hollywood heroes to draw attention to the lack of Aboriginal role models in popular culture. Her series of images shows the artist dressed variously as Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Cary Grant and James Dean, the overly stylised and performative images revelling in the humour of not taking oneself too seriously, whilst also engaging in the more serious work of decolonising and, in some cases, queering the dominant culture’s grasp on representation and role models. These images sit alongside the more tactile fabric and textile works, such as Simone Penny’s painted and stitched handkerchiefs. In this case, the artist has redesigned the hankies with her own artworks, covering the white fabric with painstakingly stitched and embroidered dot-painting style depictions of country, as well as transfers of family photographs and painted flowers, re-making the everyday object of traditional white femininity with her own memories.

The works shown in “Djookian” are diverse and wide-ranging, but united by the insight each artwork provides into the artist’s practice, life and memories. A strong thread of collaboration and community runs through the show, fitting given the NAIDOC Week theme. “Djookian” beautifully showcases the work of Aboriginal women throughout WA.

“Djookian (Sisters)” plays Gallery Central until July 21.

Pictured top: Jade Richards, ‘us in them’ acrylic, gouache, ink on paper.

‘Djookian’ features the work of numerous Aboriginal women with diverse arts practices, including textiles, weaving, painting and digital art.
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Down on their Luck, 2017, ash, polymer, timber veneer on canvas, 183x225cm, Photograph by Bewley Shaylor
Mixed media, News, Painting, Reviews, Visual arts

Art from the ashes

Review: Nigel Hewitt, “Recinder” ·
Gallery Central, North Metropolitan TAFE ·
Review by Belinda Hermawan ·

In his latest body of work, “Recinder”, Tasmanian born and Perth-based artist Nigel Hewitt utilises the medium of ash on canvas to construct landscapes in layered monochromatic tones, creating rainforest scenes that may be desaturated of colour but are saturated with meaning. Not only do his pieces prompt the viewer to think of a natural environment under threat, they also pose questions about Australia’s prevailing colonial attitudes and the ongoing conversation surrounding our ideas of land, heritage and identity.

The use of ash in these pieces goes far beyond any traditional notion of charcoal-based visual art. For example, Eucalyptus Regnans is a stunning depiction of wood chips and bark created from ash and polymer on canvas. What is particularly impressive and unique to Hewitt’s work, however, is his use of techniques that have been refined over a six-year period. Several of the pieces, including Down on their Luck and the Woven section of Yield, depict rainforest imagery in digital, pixelated form, providing further contrast to the hyperreal imagery in the foreground. Hewitt explains that ash was applied pixel by pixel using special equipment. The effect is similar to that of embroidery on an enlarged scale, as if he has used yarn and needle to stitch a naturally occurring scene.

Hewitt uses contrasting images in the foreground to delve into issues such as the problems of colonial legacy or the tension between ecological loss and survival. In Cross-cutting and Arcadia, early twentieth century paintings sit on easels in the foreground, serving as a juxtaposition to the less romanticised Australian landscapes in the background. Easily a crowd favourite, Reformation vividly showcases the wildflower Richea Dracophylla in technicolour-like glory.

Reformation, 2018, ash, polymer, oils on canvas, 187x187cm, Photograph by Bewley Shaylor.jpg
“Reformation:, 2018, ash, polymer, oils on canvas, 187x187cm. Photo: Bewley Shaylor.

Other pieces embody contrast in other ways, between light and dark, isolation and the whole. Trees and treescapes in this exhibition transfix the viewer. There is also a joy in discovering wildlife in the images. Hewitt has chosen to depict the thylacine (Tasmanian tiger), speaking to extinction and the ramification of human intervention.

I was fortunate enough to meet briefly with Hewitt, who explained that using ash collected from bushfires across Tasmania carries a lot more meaning than the remnants of just any fire. Ash is a by-product of fire; it represents its finality and is an expression of its destructive forces. This, to Hewitt, makes it a fitting medium to use to explore concerns about the fragility of our natural surroundings. Add to this the confusion of histories, as depicted in In the Wake, where Indigenous peoples hold a flag symbolising Western “progress”, and we find vulnerability in our social and political constructs as well.

A must-see exhibition, Hewitt takes monochrome to new levels, teaching us that not everything in life is black and white.

“Recinder” is showing at Gallery Central at North Metropolitan TAFE until 19 May.

Pictured top: “Down on their Luck”, 2017, ash, polymer, timber veneer on canvas, 183x225cm. Photo: Bewley Shaylor.

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April 18, Calendar, May 18

Visual art: Recinder | an exhibition by Nigel Hewitt

30 April – 19 May @ Gallery Central ·
Presented by Nigel Hewitt ·

Senior visual artist Nigel Hewitt’s latest body of work Recinder is created from ash collected from bush fires across Tasmania. These natural monochromatic tones are layered on to the canvases to create a series of vulnerable and uneasy landscapes.

Collectively, these works speak about more than just a natural environment under threat; they address colonial attitudes which determine our ecological and social relationships. Destruction, rebirth, and forgotten histories are brought into light through Hewitt’s political portrait of contemporary Australia. Recinder is a personal reflection on a history, a land, and an identity contested.

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Photo: Reformation, 2018, ash, polymer, oils on canvas, 187x187cm. Photograph by Bewley Shaylor.

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