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, illustrating the incredibly plants and animals of WA’s rugged but fragile landscapes.
“Nikulinsky Naturally”, at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, is a survey of the botanical artist’s work 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, 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. She is mindful of finding ways to represent specific flowers or trees within 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 – hung with pre-scorched trees in before-and-after fashion – represents the dangerous, harsh environment in which biodiversity flourishes and is a stark reminder of the devastating effects of fire. These cycles of life, death and regeneration give Nikulinsky’s 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.
13 April @ Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery ·
Presented by UWA Cultural Precinct ·
Join us for ‘Feminist Futures: Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon & Panel Discussion’ for an afternoon of events exploring the overlap between feminism, art and archiving practices. The work of women, transgender and non-binary artists has been underrepresented within public art collections. While disrupting the white, cis-male art canon has been integral to the work of feminists for decades, what are some of the issues for those carrying on this work today?
PANEL DISCUSSION (1:00pm – 2:30pm)
Join a panel discussion featuring local artists and arts workers committed to questioning and challenging institutional collecting practices. Collectively, we will consider ways feminism might be used as a toolkit to strive for more meaningful collections.
ART+FEMINISIM WIKIPEDIA EDIT-A-THON (11:30am – 3:30pm)
Join us at any stage throughout the afternoon for a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon! While anyone can contribute content to the world’s largest encyclopaedia, only 9% of contributors identify as female and less than 1% as trans or non-binary. Help improve those statistics by learning how to create and edit Wikipedia content. Some resources will be available on artists from Western Australia.
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.
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.
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.
Review: Ted Snell (curator), “RITUAL” ·
Presented at There is gallery by Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·
Curated by Ted Snell, “RITUAL” brings together works by 12 of WA’s leading contemporary artists. Touching on the ways in which rituals inform artistic practice as well as the role of ritual in our daily lives, “RITUAL” is a satellite exhibition of Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery and is currently installed at There is, a new gallery in Northbridge. Formerly the Stuart Street Gallery (which closed some years ago), the space is – once again – in use as a gallery, complete with a hole-in-the-wall café.
Art-making itself is a ritual, and the exhibition showcases a range of practices that constitute this ritual. Though varied, the conceptual links within and between the works are strong, exploring the many ritualistic behaviours we undertake throughout our lives; the personal, the public, the religious, the secular, the social, the cultural.
Some works in “RITUAL” investigate the ways in which these acts can be mundane or habitual, even compulsive, such as the repetitious act of mark-making to pass the time. Rebecca Baumann’s Untitled (any moment now) (2018) is a series of small lines on framed pieces of paper, tiny yet delicate imprints made to mark the passing of the hours and days. From farther away they merge together, and it’s only through getting close to the works that the simple marks reveal an intricate yet impeccably orderly tally of the passing of time.
So often a part of our rituals, animals feature heavily in this exhibition, whether the engorged silver cast of the heart of Phar Lap in Anna Louise Richardson’s Wonder Horse and Gift Horse (2019), Abdul-Rahman Abdullah’s beloved childhood lamb in I’ve Been Assured You’re Going to Heaven My Friend (2013) or the echoes of childhood safe spaces that are so often tactile, like the childhood blanket and rocking horse combined in Olga Cironis’s Wild (in my mind) (2008).
Tarryn Gill’s extraordinary installation Belly of the Beast imagines a housecat as a kind of Egyptian sphinx lording it over the moon and sun, the tactility and shapeliness of the figures, as well as the sparkly, velvety materials hinting at the idiosyncrasy of the things we find ourselves worshipping.
Amongst all of these revered and holy creatures, Pilar Matar Dupont’s ghostly, foggy landscape photographs – inspired by a dream of Sigmund Freud’s, in which the ruins of Ancient Rome appear through the landscapes of mountainous forests – reminds me of the animals that crop up throughout Freud’s writings on his patients, most often as representations of our unconscious desires or of our hidden, base natures. Rituals, then, link us to the deeply held parts of ourselves, maintained through repetition, imitation, worship and cultural practices.
Finally, ritual can be ephemeral and inextricably linked to a place. Tom Mùller’s work Spectres (2019) is an installation reflecting the spaces in which rituals unfold, the moments before or after the event. An empty room with disco lights and silence, it feels oddly empty and seedy, like a nightclub during the day, waiting for something to happen.
Ephemeral though these spaces might be, I’m hopeful that There is gallery will stick around, at least for a little while.
4 May @ Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery ·
Presented by Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery ·
In this talk, artist Jacobus Capone discusses his works in the Perth Festival exhibition Love, Displaced. Based in Perth, Western Australia, Jacobus Capone maintains a practice that incorporates performance, photography, video installation, painting and site-specific work. Characteristically evocative and poetic, his work frequently combines physically demanding durational performances with majestic, sublime landscapes.
In 2007, he traversed Australia by foot in order to pour water from the Indian Ocean into the Pacific.
His work has been shown in a range of solo and group exhibitions, most recently his solo exhibition Forgiving Night for Day, Perth Institute of Contemporary Art (2017), Primavera, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2017) and NEW16, Australia Centre for Contemporary Art.
22 March, 5 April & 10 May @ Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery ·
Presented by Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery ·
Join us at the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery for a lunchtime discussion on the latest
exhibitions and events. Hear from curators, artists and experts as they share their insights with us.
Starcraft and Cosmic Music
Friday 22 March 2019, 1:00pm – 2:00pm
Medieval and early modern people were fascinated with the heavens. In an illustrated talk, Emeritus Professor in English and Literary Studies at UWA, Andrew Lynch explores the nature of the early cosmos in religious, philosophical and scientific thought, and its influence on literature and the arts, with effects lasting until present day.
Video Art in the Expanded Field
Friday 5 April 2019, 1:00pm – 2:00pm
Join Dr Laetitia Wilson to hear about contemporary developments in video art. Dr Wilson has taught art history courses on topics such as the evaluation of contemporary video practices and has curated numerous significant exhibitions in Perth.
From Boxes to the Walls
Friday 10 May 2019, 1:00pm – 2:00pm
Learn more about the artworks featured in currently exhibition, Carrolup Revisted as Berndt Museum of Anthropology Collection Manager Natalie Hewlett shares details about what it takes to prepare artworks for an exhibition.
19 March @ Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery ·
Presented by UWA Cultural Precinct ·
Drinks / Music / Door Prizes / Art Activities / Tours
Bring your friends to LWAG’s Art Party to celebrate the new academic year. Newcomers as well as regular visitors are invited to explore the gallery and to tour the latest exhibitions, ‘Love, Displaced’ and ‘Carrolup Revisited: A Journey through the Southwest of Western Australia’ in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
Enjoy a free sundowner, experiment with art activities, listen to live music and view the exhibitions. Students are particularly welcome.
What were Seesaw writers’ favourite shows this year? What were the highlights and lowlights for the arts in WA? And which artists will our contributors be looking out for in 2019?
As 2018 draws to a close, Seesaw writers reflect on the year that was and the year that will be.
Xan Ashbury Top shows Cloud Nine, by Caryl Churchill. Directed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler for West Australian Youth Theatre Company in July. Gutenberg the Musical, starring Jacob Jones and Andrew Baker. The musical was directed by Erin Hutchinson for Western Sky Theatre in June. Huff by Cree playwright and solo performer Cliff Cardinal and directed by Karin Randoja, staged at the Subiaco Arts Centre in March by Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company.
Looking forward to… Our Town at Perth Festival. Black Swan State Theatre Company present Thornton Wilder’s classic play. Clare Watson directs a cast of professional actors and everyday citizens. Le Norat Perth Festival. Perth theatre-makers The Last Great Hunt tell interwoven stories of love in a world that’s falling apart, as they perform a faux foreign film live. Re-member Me at Perth Festival. Lip synching maestro Dickie Beau channels audio recordings of great historical performances of Hamlet. Billed as “humorous and haunting”.
Top Shows “No Second Thoughts: Artemis Women’s Project” @ LWAG – a stunning inquiry into the continuing history of feminist art in WA. The Second Woman @ PICA – If I could turn back time I would have made the effort to try to attend the whole 24 hours of this endurance piece! However, the four hours I spent watching Nat Randall and assorted men replay the same scene over and over was life-changing.
Can I say the entire Unhallowed Arts program? It was so amazing to have a festival (a monstrosity!) that encompassed institutions, ARIs (artist run initiatives), performance, experimental and visual art, and cutting-edge science and humanities research.
Nationally, the (slowly…) increasing number of ARIs that are now able to offer artist fees to exhibiting artists. I hope that a Perth ARI is soon able to access funding that will allow them to pay artists on a regular basis too!
Locally, it would be hugely biased of me* to say the opening of a new ARI in Perth’s CBD… but seeing a few more spaces opening up as exhibition venues has been heartening. I’m thinking of venues such as Old Customs House and the Lobby as well as Cool Change Contemporaryhere!
* Miranda is a co-director of Cool Change Contemporary.
The renaming of the Fringe World Pleasure Gardens to include a certain company’s name has been a recent reminder for me of the huge amounts of money that oil and gas companies give to the arts, and how they use the arts to appear “progressive” whilst contributing hugely towards climate change, making no effort to reduce emissions and paying very little tax. Of course it’s not news that this happens and that all our arts institutions rely on this source of funding in lieu of adequate governmental funding, but it’s been increasingly on my mind, and something that I think will require a reckoning amongst us artists and arts professionals – we are all implicated.
Looking forward to… “Cassils” @ PICA, as part of Perth Festival “Love, Displaced” @ Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, as part of Perth Festival The Violent Years@ The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights, as part of Fringe World
Leon Levy Another year of frequent absences from Perth has meant missing some significant productions and performances. Some of these – had I seen and heard them – would most certainly have jostled for inclusion in a “top 3” which was, in any case, challenging enough to achieve.
“Don’t Stop the Music” (ABC TV), for the moving depiction of the transformative impact of the introduction of music teaching at primary school level, and for the possibility that it will prove to be a catalyst for widespread adoption of music in the school curriculum. Such a development would also be an apt tribute and memorial to Richard Gill whose untimely demise was a grievous blow to music-education and to the nation… the “arts lowlight” of the year, if this loss can be thus characterised.
Since I’m only allowed to nominate three events, I’ll have to keep as a secret the fact that I’m also looking forward to Wot? No Fish!!, with Danny Braverman (Perth Festival), and can barely contain my excited anticipation of the glorious Elgar Violin Concerto, to be played by Nikolaj Znaider with WASO under Asher Fisch.
Nina Levy Top shows
Really difficult to choose this year! So many great shows.
Attractor by Gideon Obarzanek, Lucy Guerin, Dancenorth and Senyawa’s , presented as part of Perth Festival. Oh the Dancenorth dancers. Sigh. Huffby Cliff Cardinal, presented by Yirra Yaakin and Cliff Cardinal. Utterly compelling. You Do Eweby Unkempt Dance, performed by Co3 Australia as part of “The WA Dance Makers Project”. Ok, I didn’t actually see this work in the theatre because I was interstate for the season, but the studio show won me over with its highly relatable humour.
Arts highlight As I said at the time, the realisation, earlier this year, that we only have one more festival under Wendy Martin sent me into a period of premature mourning. At the risk of sounding unoriginal (because I’ve edited this piece and know how many other people have said the same), the appointment of Iain Graindage as the next Perth Festival director made my heart lift.
And seeing Strut Dance’s Sunset headline the 2019 Perth Festival launch was pretty special – a huge achievement for local independent dance.
The passing of the wonderful Richard Gillat age 76, conductor and music educator extraordinaire – such a loss to our community.
At a more personal level, I am also deeply saddened by the recent passing of my friend and mentor Lesley Goodman, a visual arts educator, who worked at the Art Gallery of WA for many years. For a short time I had the privilege of working with Lesley at AGWA, as her education assistant, and learned so much from her about how to talk to young people about visual arts.
Jonathan W. Marshall Top shows
2018 was an especially good year for dance, beginning with Vessel in the Perth Festival: a piece in which the dancers hunched forward so as to become faceless, moving sculptures.
Marrugeku’s trilogy of solos Burrbgaja Yalirra (Dancing Forwards) was also superb, featuring Eric Avery’s tremendous “burlesque” (or disrespectful re-enacting) of colonial tropes, performed while dressed in an animal hide tail coat, and using a violin and a microphone stand in ways which would feature well in a punk band.
Although there were strong musical showings from both Greywing Ensemble and Decibel (notably the latter’s wonderful Revolution), for sheer digital joy, Robin Fox’s lesson in live avant-techno was hard to go past.
2018 saw the first program at Black Swan Theatre actually devised by still relatively new artistic director Clare Watson (who had until now overseen much of the work programmed by her predecessor). While Xenides and Skylab were disappointing, it was still a bold selection of works, and the bleak queer/trans drama Hir was a stand-out.
Robert Lepage’s approach of taking significant cultural events, conflicts and exchanges and turning them into feel-good theatre about families continues to be massively over-rated (Far Side of the Moon, Perth Festival), while Fringe seem to be digging in their heels in their misguided belief that the more massive and completely uncurated the Fringe festival is, the better — even though this means that artists end up competing with each other for audiences and the program booklet is completely impossible to navigate. At least the Blue Room are curating their Fringe program; always worth looking out for!
Looking forward to…
WA’s gift to new music, the organisation Tura, turns 32 next year, kicking things off with Cat Hope’s bass and extended-vocal-technique opera Speechless(Perth Festival 2019), while our fabulously inventive MoveMe dance festival is almost certain to be back next year.
Meanwhile PICA continues to bring us some of the most exciting interdisciplinary performance, with new works from Aphids (who’s fabulously rag tag Howl featured at PICA in 2018) and Last Great Hunt already programmed.
Also worth looking out for is a new adaptation of Medeafrom Black Swan Theatre, who are also hosting Nakkiah Lui’s Black Is the New White, which made waves in Sydney in 2017.
Claire Trolio Top shows
Not only was Dizzee Rascal (for Perth Festival) my gig of the year – his show was one of the best live music experiences of my life so far. Let Me Finish was a powerful, hilarious and emotive feminist work that showed at The Blue Room. If you missed it, it’s coming back for Fringe next year so get tickets!
The appointment of Iain Grandage as Perth Festival artistic director for 2020-2023. Whilst I’m still sad that Wendy Martin’s time at the helm is coming to an end, I’m excited to see what direction Grandage will take!
David Zampatti Top shows Folias Antiguas & Criolas: “From the Ancient World to the New World”, Jordi Savall with Hesperion XXI and Tembembe Ensamble Continuo: It is impossible to imagine a more exciting or exquisitely performed concert than this. It was thrilling to listen to, and wonderful to watch. The Tale of Tales, Clare Testoni: A small, brilliant gem of storytelling, and a breakout achievement for its deviser and performer, Clare Testoni. Her images have a magical three-dimensionality, and move with an almost cinematic quality. It’s an honest show, and a heartfelt one. What Doesn’t Kill You (Blah Blah) Stronger by Tyler Jacob Jones and Robert Woods: Tyler Jacob Jones, as a writer of script and lyrics, and as a comic actor and singer, is the most prodigious talent in this town. His long-standing partnership with the composer Robert Woods and the versatile performer and director Erin Hutchinson has honed their skills to starry heights.
The appointment of Iain Grandage as Perth Festival Director for the next four years. We’ve got much to thank our recent directors for, but Iain brings his virtuosity as composer and musician, and makes history as the first born and raised West Australian to fill the position. Exciting times ahead!
Obviously I can be accused of self-pity here, but the retreat of The West Australian from coverage of the arts is both a symptom of a much wider malaise and a cause for particular concern. Still, change is good. Platforms like Seesaw have the capacity to fill the void and energise and grow the audience.
Looking forward to…
It’s hard to look past the festivals right now: Gatz: After the overwhelming experience of The Gabriels, who wouldn’t be looking forwad to another 8+ hour (with breaks for libations) American marathon. Icarus: Christopher Samuel Carroll’s Paradise Lost was one of the marvels of the ’17 Fringe. This time he’s taking to ancient skies. Our Town: I’m not sure that “looking forward” is exactly what I’m doing to Clare Watson’s take on Thornton Wilder’s classic American novel performed by a cast of professionals and “everyday Perth Citizens”. Including me…
Pictured top are Andrew Searle and Zoe Wozniak in “You do Ewe” by Unkempt Dance, performed by Co3 Australia. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.
9 Feb – 18 May @ Lawrence Wilson Arts Gallery ·
Presented in association with Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery ·
In the 21st century, feelings of love and empathy are filtered through social media platforms and 24-hour news cycles. The film-based and video art in Love, Displaced offers new and innovative modes of navigating the white noise of contemporary life towards places of re-sensitisation and emotional engagement. Works in the exhibition provide insights into personal and political situations of displacement caused by family breakdown, racial or political oppression and the loss of traditional culture.
The exhibition brings together some of the world’s leading contemporary
artists: Jacobus Capone (WA), Richard Lewer (NZ), Tracey Moffatt & Gary Hillberg (Australia), Christian Thompson (Australia) AES+F (Russia), Jeremy Deller & Cecilia Bengolea (UK, Argentina/France) and Roee Rosen (Israel).
Sunday 10 & 24 February 11am-5pm
Review: Various artists, “NO SECOND THOUGHTS: Reflections on the ARTEMIS Women’s Art Forum” ·
Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·
“NO SECOND THOUGHTS: Reflections on the ARTEMIS Women’s Art Forum” is a reminder of where we came from. ARTEMIS Women’s Art Forum was formed in 1985 in Perth, and aimed to advocate for women in the arts, through education, free childcare, workshops, meetings and forums, as well as an exhibition space in the Perth Cultural Centre. In this exhibition at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, artworks (both old and recent) and archival materials from the group and its members are juxtaposed alongside the works of younger Perth artists, whose work engages and responds broadly to feminism, gender, labour and the ongoing project of creating meaningful institutional change.
It’s an exciting project, and as I wandered through the two galleries I felt quite emotional. So much of the work that we do as feminists, as artists and arts workers, can feel like an endless act of digging, of turning the earth over and finding meaning that has already been sowed years previously, rehashing the old and learning what has already been learned. It’s a double-edged sword; knowing that there are people who have done the work before you can be comforting at times, but at other times it can be wearying to know that the work continues on regardless.
The exhibition’s work of intergenerational exchange, however, provides sparks of hope, recognition and comfort. And it is work, as questions of invisible labour, institutional oppression and organisational structures loom large throughout the exhibition. Teelah George’s Wall Piece (2017-18) hangs prominently in the Westpac Gallery, luminously glowing. The weight of the material hangs heavy with the knowledge of the time taken for the artist to make the work – 7.5 hours a day for several months – and it is a reminder of the kind of invisible, unpaid domestic labour that women have been doing for centuries without acknowledgment. Similarly, Taylor Reudavey’s work is presented here as documentation of a performance in which she marries her own art practice, complete with white dress and wedding ring. It’s a humorous yet pointed act of recognising the ways in which labour such as art-making is undervalued and misrepresented as romantic whimsy.
The work of these younger, emerging artists sits alongside old, as well as more recent, work by original members of ARTEMIS, Penny Bovell and Jo Darbyshire. The inclusion of both newer and older works by these artists provides the opportunity to see how their work has changed over the years, whilst also cleverly resisting any kind of lazy historicisation that places their practices in the “past” (as older women and established artists), compared to the “present” works of younger artists Reudavey and George. In this way, the timelines overlap, forming not one straight line of progression, but a convergence of works that are ongoing.
This feeling continues into the Sheila Cruthers Gallery, which displays archival documents from the State Library archives – meeting minutes, exhibition catalogues, artworks, newspaper articles, drafted conflict resolution policies in colourful texta. Whilst obviously historical, again the texts and images still seem relevant and urgent. ARTEMIS Women’s Forum is, of course, only one aspect of this cause, and the discussions occurring today have evolved, expanded, shifted into different specificities. Nonetheless, collaboration, how best to communicate and resolve disputes, how to gain recognition for your work, and how to overcome structural barriers to equal representation – these are the fights that are still ongoing.