Pre­view: The Na­tional, by Melissa Pesa

Artist Profile - - CONTENTS -

IN­TER­NA­TIONAL SHOW­CASES for con­tem­po­rary art are now so pro­lific, and fre­quent, that they risk falling into the “block­buster” trap of be­com­ing a fran­chise. As bi­en­ni­als roll out the red car­pet ev­ery two years – man­aged by a mix of pub­lic art mu­se­ums, gov­ern­ment agen­cies and phil­an­thropic sup­port­ers – city mar­ket­ing, cul­tural tourism and ur­ban re­gen­er­a­tion take cen­tre stage in a bid to draw crowds in the thou­sands, serv­ing its host city a cul­tural menu hid­den with eco­nom­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal trans fats; the un­wanted cel­lulite dim­pling the skin of the art world. The com­mis­sion­ing of large-scale art­works and in­stal­la­tions has given rise to a type of “fes­ti­val art”, mon­u­men­tally scaled, elab­o­rately pro­duced and veer­ing to­wards the spec­tac­u­lar. Con­se­quently, the pub­lic craves an equal, if not fuller plate each bi­en­nial, and to ac­com­mo­date this hunger, artis­tic ap­pre­ci­a­tion and recog­ni­tion can be jeop­ar­dised for mon­e­tary and civic gain. In 2010, an Ac­cess Eco­nom­ics study recorded a sig­nif­i­cant boost of $63.9 mil­lion in the Australian econ­omy by the Bi­en­nale of Syd­ney alone. Forth­com­ing fund­ing cuts sug­gest that only a small por­tion of the sur­plus will make it back into the arts. In the last 18 months, there has been a mas­sive desta­bil­i­sa­tion of the Australian arts sec­tor, with or­gan­i­sa­tions and artists left with in­di­ges­tion caused by grant and pro­gram dis­rup­tions. In des­per­ate need of a gas­trec­tomy, the arts sec­tor has a new prac­ti­tioner aim­ing to re­lieve some of the pain, putting the fo­cus back on the sup­port and pro­mo­tion of cul­tural arts and its raw in­gre­di­ent – the artist. The Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Car­riage­works and the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art Aus­tralia (MCA) present The Na­tional: New Australian Art, a sin­gle cu­rated pro­gram across three venues, de­liv­er­ing what Michael Brand, Di­rec­tor, AGNSW, calls “a shared, con­trolled vi­sion”. These three premier cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions aim to con­nect their re­sid­ing precincts – The Do­main, Red­fern and Cir­cu­lar Quay – to form the only large-scale re­cur­ring ex­hi­bi­tion in the city fo­cused solely on con­tem­po­rary Australian art; shar­ing the ex­ist­ing ob­jec­tive of the Ade­laide Bi­en­nial of Australian Art and the Tar­raWarra Bi­en­nial. In an at­tempt to quash any ri­valry con­cerns, El­iz­a­beth Ann Macgre­gor, Di­rec­tor MCA, as­sures, “This is in no way in­tended as a com­peti­tor.” Rather The Na­tional acts as a coun­ter­part to these bi­en­nals (par­tic­u­larly the Bi­en­nale of Syd­ney and the Ade­laide Bi­en­nial) oc­cur­ring ev­ery al­ter­nat­ing year over a sixyear pe­riod: in 2017, 2019 and 2021. How­ever, this sched­ule, and the avoid­ance of the terms “bi­en­nale” or “bi­en­nial” in their name, does not en­tirely safe­guard them from any fric­tion. In fact, the other “b” word might come into play. Yes, that one. These in­sti­tu­tions are ma­jor venues for the Bi­en­nale of Syd­ney, which is re­garded as one of the world’s lead­ing art events along­side the Venice Bi­en­nale and Doc­u­menta; and now they’ve de­cided to mar­i­nate in the suc­cess­ful juices of a 43-year-old en­ter­prise, sea­soned by par­tial fund­ing from the controversial Cat­a­lyst pro­gram. But is it a dish well served? The Na­tional em­u­lates the now de­funct Australian Perp­secta, a bi­en­nial ex­hi­bi­tion at the AGNSW sur­vey­ing Australian con­tem­po­rary art, ini­ti­ated by cu­ra­tor Ber­nice Mur­phy in 1981. Al­ter­nat­ing with the Bi­en­nale of Syd­ney, it pro­vided a reg­u­lar show­case of con­tem­po­rary art for the pub­lic. In 1997 and 1999, Per­specta ex­panded from the AGNSW to ex­hibit in a num­ber of venues across Syd­ney, in­clud­ing the MCA, the Ca­sula Pow­er­house Arts Cen­tre in Liver­pool, Artspace, Syd­ney, and the Australian Cen­tre for Pho­tog­ra­phy; each dis­play­ing its own sep­a­rately cu­rated ex­hi­bi­tion and ad­dress­ing an over­ar­ch­ing theme en­cour­ag­ing dis­cur­sive prop­a­ga­tion. By ap­pro­pri­at­ing this model, The Na­tional of­fers a new gen­er­a­tion a fresh take on cur­rent fun­da­men­tal ques­tions and is­sues in Australian art while en­cour­ag­ing and pro­mot­ing its rich­ness and di­ver­sity at this par­tic­u­lar mo­ment in time. “What do we need to do right now? What is the ba­sic thing that we in Syd­ney can do to really pro­file ex­cit­ing, in­ter­est­ing and in­no­va­tive con­tem­po­rary Australian art?” These were the ques­tions posed by Macgre­gor at the bi­en­nale’s launch in April last year. In a time when artist op­por­tu­ni­ties are scarce, The Na­tional should re­ceive a warm wel­come by both art prac­ti­tion­ers and au­di­ences. “The project’s artis­tic em­pha­sis will be on pro­fil­ing new work and en­abling in­no­va­tive new com­mis­sions over six years – pro­vid­ing sub­stan­tial op­por­tu­ni­ties for pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment, ex­po­sure and ca­reer sus­tain­abil­ity for our na­tion’s liv­ing artists,” says Macgre­gor. The Na­tional highlights the con­tri­bu­tions of emerg­ing, mid-ca­reer and es­tab­lished Australian artists liv­ing at home and abroad, with a strong fo­cus on In­dige­nous artists. The 2017 edi­tion will present works in a range of medi­ums in­clud­ing paint­ing, video, sculp­ture, in­stal­la­tion, draw­ing and per­for­mance. Cu­ra­tors are An­neke Jaspers, Cu­ra­tor Con­tem­po­rary Art AGNSW, and

01 Archie Moore, Kami­laroi Na­tion, 2016, polyester, ny­lon, zinc-plated al­loy, 180 x 180cm, pho­to­graph Sofia Free­man 02 Archie Moore, In­cha­lachee Na­tion, 2014, sewn li­nen flag 03 Ronnie van Hout, To Love and be Loved in Re­turn, in­stal­la­tion view, 2014, Dar­ren Knight Gallery, Syd­ney

The Na­tional o ers a new gen­er­a­tion a fresh take on cur­rent ques­tions and is­sues in Australian art while en­cour­ag­ing and pro­mot­ing its rich­ness and di­ver­sity.

Wayne Tun­ni­cliffe, Head Cu­ra­tor Australian Art AGNSW; Lisa Hav­i­lah, Di­rec­tor, Car­riage­works and Nina Miall, Cu­ra­tor, Car­riage­works; and Blair French, Di­rec­tor, Cu­ra­to­rial & Dig­i­tal, MCA. Each in­sti­tu­tion will ex­hibit works con­nected to a spe­cific theme, re­flect­ing di­verse sub­jects from a cul­tural, po­lit­i­cal and so­cial perspective. This year the sub­text em­bed­ded across all three sites is iden­tity; both in­di­vid­ual and col­lec­tive, real and imag­ined. Artists ex­am­ine how struc­tures of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion shape and are shaped by ques­tions of ex­pe­ri­ence, knowl­edge, his­tory and power. “Un­der­pin­ning all these works”, says Miall, is “… a con­tem­po­rary Aus­tralia with multi-cen­tred iden­ti­ties which cel­e­brate the un­cer­tainty, the am­bi­gu­ity and dif­fer­ence that de­fines be­long­ing, both now and in the fu­ture.” The AGNSW of­fers new read­ings of the present and fu­ture through mar­ginal nar­ra­tives and con­tested his­to­ries de­vel­oped from archival or field re­search, un­der­pinned by so­cial en­gage­ment. Berlin-based Australian artist Alex Mar­ti­nis Roe’s cur­rent projects fo­cus on fem­i­nist his­to­ries and fos­ter­ing re­la­tions be­tween dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions as a way of imag­in­ing and re­al­is­ing fem­i­nist fu­tures. Roe’s work for The Na­tional is part of a se­ries of six film per­for­mances ti­tled ‘To Be­come Two’. A the­ory-prac­tice his­tory project, the work traces a par­tic­u­lar ge­neal­ogy of po­lit­i­cal prac­tice among a num­ber of dif­fer­ent fem­i­nist com­mu­ni­ties in Europe and Aus­tralia, and con­sid­ers their preva­lence in the present con­text. Roe’s new work draws on in­ten­sive re­search to build a nar­ra­tive about the re­mark­able en­gage­ment with French fem­i­nist and post-struc­tural­ist phi­los­o­phy in Syd­ney in the 1970s and 1980s. The MCA deals with key con­cerns through time, drag­ging his­tory to the present with re­cur­ring images and prac­tices seen in the paint­ings of North­ern Ter­ri­tory artist Karen Mills. Ex­plor­ing iden­tity, con­nec­tion and dis­con­nec­tion with cul­ture, ge­ol­ogy and Australian his­tory, par­tic­u­larly in the East Kim­ber­ley, Mills uses a range of paint me­dia in­clud­ing nat­u­ral ochre and dry pig­ment, to create lay­ered, tex­tured sur­faces to de­pict “lyri­cal land­scapes of me­mory”; of jour­ney and the ex­pe­ri­ence of dif­fer­ent places. Car­riage­works fo­cuses on the flu­id­ity of iden­tity, ad­dress­ing the frac­tures and con­tin­gen­cies of Australian iden­tity, ex­am­in­ing the self in the con­text of his­tory. Its cen­ter­piece is a flag in­stal­la­tion, ‘United Na­tions’, by Bris­bane-based In­dige­nous artist Archie Moore, who draws at­ten­tion to the cul­tural and so­cial as­sump­tions on which con­tem­po­rary Australian so­ci­ety is built. The work re­sponds to sur­veyor and an­thro­pol­o­gist RH Mathews’ flawed 1900 map con­structed from ig­no­rance, falsely iden­ti­fy­ing the Abo­rig­i­nal na­tions. More than a cen­tury later, Moore’s art­works fo­cus

on past in­ac­cu­ra­cies and in­jus­tices against In­dige­nous Aus­tralians, to present cor­rected his­to­ries. His art­works mas­quer­ade as flags, de­void of any of­fi­cial flag pro­to­col. “They are once again ‘false flags’ in­tended by Moore to be an am­bigu­ous con­tra­dic­tory,” says Miall, “to raise ques­tions of au­then­tic­ity and to re­flect his own frag­mented per­sonal iden­tity.” The con­cept of iden­tity is im­plicit in its name. The Na­tional: New Australian Art is a well-bal­anced, nu­tri­tional recourse for a grow­ing yet un­der­funded arts com­mu­nity. Its fresh take on in­no­va­tion, col­lab­o­ra­tion and pre­sen­ta­tion of Australian artists and the com­plex­ity of iden­tity within a mul­ti­cul­tural land­scape sets the ta­ble for art to be cre­ated and fully con­sumed.

This year the sub­text em­bed­ded across all three sites – MCA, Car­riage­works and AGNSW – is iden­tity; both in­di­vid­ual and col­lec­tive, real and imag­ined.

EX­HI­BI­TION The Na­tional 2017: New Australian Art Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art Aus­tralia, 30 March – 18 June, 2017 Car­riage­works, 30 March to 25 June, 2017 Art Gallery of New South Wales, 30 March – 16 July, 2017

04 Gun­ybi Ganam­barr, Coast­line of Grindall Bay, 2016, nat­u­ral pig­ments and sand on in­cised bark, 112 x 43cm 05 Karen Mills, Sturt Creek, 2013, dry pig­ments and ochre on li­nen, 25 x 25cm 06 Dr Michael Brand, Di­rec­tor, Art Gallery of New South Wales, El­iz­a­beth Ann Macgre­gor OBE, Di­rec­tor, Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art Aus­tralia and Lisa Hav­i­lah, Di­rec­tor, Car­riage­works, pho­tog­ra­pher Ken Lean­fore 07 Khaled Sab­sabi, Guerilla, 2014, acrylic, wa­ter­colour and gouache on pho­to­graphs, 10 x 14cm Courtesy the artists, The Com­mer­cial, Syd­ney; Dar­ren Knight Gallery, Syd­ney; Al­cas­ton Gallery, Melbourne; Car­riage­works, Syd­ney; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Syd­ney; and the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art Aus­tralia.

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