Tell – Si­mon Brig­den

Art Almanac - - NEWS - Si­mon Brig­den

Now en­ter­ing its 13th year, the ‘Bal­larat In­ter­na­tional Foto Bi­en­nale’ (BIFB) is one of Aus­tralia’s fore­most fairs of con­tem­po­rary na­tional and in­ter­na­tional pho­tog­ra­phy. The am­bi­tious 2017 pro­gram will be held over six pri­mary venues and more than 80 pub­lic spa­ces, such as cafes and wine bars, across the Vic­to­rian city. The di­ver­sity of BIFB’s ac­ti­vated sites is matched by the the­matic range of its pro­gram; ‘Self/Selfie’ in­ves­ti­gates the role of the tit­u­lar im­age in so­ci­ety; ‘#Dys­turb’ show­cases the work of in­ter­na­tional pho­to­jour­nal­ists seek­ing to short-cir­cuit the 24-hour news cy­cle and ‘David LaChapelle’ is the first Aus­tralian solo ex­hi­bi­tion of the Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­pher. Amongst this flurry of ac­tiv­ity sits ‘Tell’, an ex­hi­bi­tion of con­tem­po­rary pho­tog­ra­phy by Indige­nous Aus­tralian artists. ‘Tell’ is cu­rated by Palawa woman Jes­sica Clark, a cu­ra­tor and tu­tor at Mel­bourne’s RMIT Univer­sity who re­cently com­pleted the Aus­tralia Coun­cil Pro­fes­sional De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram at the 2017 Venice Bi­en­nale. ‘Tell’ in­cludes the work of 17 artists who con­sider both the medium of pho­tog­ra­phy and Indige­nous sto­ries. Its orig­i­nal and di­verse pho­to­graphic meth­ods and nar­ra­tives prom­ise to en­rich our un­der­stand­ing of the field of

con­tem­po­rary Indige­nous art in Aus­tralia. Clark sees pho­tog­ra­phy as an “em­pow­er­ing medium for Indige­nous artists to tell their sto­ries,” with the works in the ex­hi­bi­tion a “cel­e­bra­tion of Indige­nous pres­ence, sur­vival and re­sis­tance.”

Artists have di­rectly re­sponded to these themes through ei­ther com­mis­sioned or pre-ex­ist­ing pieces. The cu­ra­tor’s par­tic­u­lar selec­tion of artists, who range from the emerg­ing to the more es­tab­lished, also sug­gest that ‘Tell’ will be a unique op­por­tu­nity to view prac­tices from across the pro­fes­sional spec­trum. We will see work from Moo­rina Bonini, Ma­ree Clarke, Bindi Cole Chocka, Brenda L Croft, Des­tiny Dea­con, Robert Field­ing, Deanne Gil­son, Jody Haines, Dianne Jones, Ricky May­nard, Hay­ley Mil­lar-Baker, Kent Mor­ris, Pitcha Makin Fel­las, Steven Rhall, Damien Shen, War­wick Thorn­ton and James Ty­lor. Be­tween the group, there are those who ex­per­i­ment with holo­graphic pro­jec­tions, com­bine the pho­to­graph with archival ma­te­rial, and present more tra­di­tional items such as gelatin sil­ver prints. ‘Tell’s’ cel­e­bra­tion of Indi­gene­ity com­bined with ex­pand­ing pho­tog­ra­phy’s hori­zons serves to chal­lenge “peo­ple’s ideas about Indige­nous art,” ex­plained the cu­ra­tor.

Steven Rhall, a Taun­gu­rung man born on Wathau­rong Coun­try, pre­sents a new and con­cep­tual work com­mis­sioned for the ex­hi­bi­tion. His sculp­ture re­sponds to the ex­panded field of pho­tog­ra­phy, look­ing at how sa­cred Indige­nous sites, es­pe­cially scar trees, are pho­tographed by non-indige­nous peo­ple (and tourists in par­tic­u­lar). More broadly, Clark pin­points how Rhall in­ter­ro­gates “the his­tory of Indige­nous peo­ple be­hind the colo­nial lens,” an ap­proach the artist la­bels, an “es­sen­tial­ist and ex­is­ten­tial­ist po­si­tion­al­ity.” As such, Rhall ques­tions how Indige­nous voices and cul­tural ob­jects are en­gaged with in con­tem­po­rary so­ci­ety, while reimag­in­ing the phys­i­cal and con­cep­tual lim­its of what can be said to be pho­tog­ra­phy.

Dianne Jones is an emerg­ing multi-dis­ci­plinary artist based in Mel­bourne. She is a PhD can­di­date at the Vic­to­rian Col­lege of the Arts. The vis­ual re­search project she is un­der­tak­ing as part of her stud­ies is the source of her work in ‘Tell’. Jones is re­search­ing his­tor­i­cal colo­nial ar­chives, scour­ing such records for men­tions of a spe­cific cold case mur­der. By do­ing so the artist draws at­ten­tion to the “fic­tional or the imag­i­nary in his­tory” and aims to “un­cover the truth that hasn’t been told or has been ob­scured by these records.” The his­tor­i­cal record is up­ended and called into ques­tion through pho­tog­ra­phy – the very medium that we, naively, trust to truth­fully cap­ture light and life.

With a large part of Bal­larat, its foot­print and peo­ple, be­ing ab­sorbed into the Bi­en­nale’s sphere of ac­tiv­ity, the poignant and chal­leng­ing sto­ries in ‘Tell’ are an op­por­tu­nity to con­tem­plate his­tory while con­sid­er­ing how to­geth­er­ness within Aus­tralia might be ac­com­plished be­yond the ex­hi­bi­tion it­self. Clark hopes au­di­ences will en­gage with the sto­ries and the com­plex pho­to­graphic prac­tices these artists rep­re­sent: “I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant that these sto­ries are told and un­der­stood, and that we can come to­gether and un­der­stand to­gether, and that peo­ple get a new ap­pre­ci­a­tion of pho­tog­ra­phy and what pho­tog­ra­phy can be.”

Bal­larat In­ter­na­tional Foto Bi­en­nale The Min­ing Ex­change Un­til 17 Septem­ber, 2017 Vic­to­ria

Bindi Cole, Fer­til­ity 1, 2017, pig­ment print on rag pa­per, 80 x 120cm Courtesy the artist and Bal­larat In­ter­na­tional Foto Bi­en­nale, Vic­to­ria

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