Oceans From Here

Art Almanac - - Art In Australia - Naomi Rid­dle

‘Wa­ter is some­thing you can­not hold’, writes the poet Anne Car­son, and in its nat­u­ral state, wa­ter rup­tures lin­ear time – it is an el­e­ment al­ways on the cusp of trans­for­ma­tion, cy­cling be­tween ice, liq­uid, steam, and vapour. ‘Oceans From Here’, cu­rated by Al­li­son Hol­land, is the sec­ond it­er­a­tion of a two-part ex­hi­bi­tion at the Aus­tralian Cen­tre for Pho­tog­ra­phy, and takes the el­e­ment of wa­ter as its defin­ing fea­ture. Bring­ing to­gether the work of Chris Ben­nie, Dean Cross, Emma Hamil­ton, Honey Long and Prue Stent, Kai Wasikowski, and John Young Zerunge, the show con­sid­ers the el­e­ment’s mul­ti­plic­i­ties, and the ways in which hu­mans are bound to its move­ments and cy­cles.

As much as this it­er­a­tion takes up the meta­phys­i­cal, sa­cred and cul­tural prop­er­ties of wa­ter, what unites the works on view is a fo­cus on its vis­ceral and tan­gi­ble af­fects: the bod­ies that oc­cupy the works (whether hu­man bod­ies or bod­ies of wa­ter) are sub­sumed, in­un­dated, im­mersed, melted, ex­creted, and ex­pelled. The slow drips, the rip­ples, the rushes of cur­rents, and the splashes of waves can be phys­i­cally felt when ap­pre­hend­ing these works – it is an in­stinc­tive know­ing in the feel­ing of sat­u­ra­tion even when re­main­ing dry.

Long and Stent’s Nep­tune’s Neck­lace (2018) de­picts a crouch­ing fig­ure in a small ocean rock pool. It is un­clear whether the body is tip­ping for­ward, wel­com­ing a drop into wa­ter, or emerg­ing from it. The form is shrouded in a wet-soaked sheet that clings heav­ily, en­velop­ing and suck­er­ing onto the skin. Se­duc­tive in its tac­til­ity, the im­age is equally un­canny in its pre­sen­ta­tion of an am­phibi­ous hu­man form.

Cross’ Un­ti­tled trip­tych (Look­ing West, Ochred and Life pre­server) (2015) records the artist sym­bol­i­cally re­turn­ing to Coun­try. Made up of a col­lec­tion of Po­laroids, Cross is de­picted del­i­cately ap­ply­ing and re­mov­ing ochre to his half-emerged body. ‘My an­ces­tors are Salt­wa­ter peo­ple,’ writes Cross ‘and it is salt wa­ter that con­nects me to them.’ When view­ing these im­ages, we be­come wit­nesses to the act of im­mer­sion, the point of com­mu­nion be­tween Cross, his fam­ily, and the land­scape. In Mood Swings (2017), Chris Ben­nie con­sid­ers our psy­cho­log­i­cal re­sponses to tides and lu­nar forces, and how our emo­tional peaks and troughs are of­ten de­ter­mined by the con­cealed grav­i­ta­tional pull of a body of wa­ter.

Hamil­ton, Wasikowski and Young Zerunge’s works are deal­ing in the doc­u­men­ta­tion of ice – how wa­ter marks out the planet’s ge­ogra­phies, how it re­peat­edly pushes against and erodes the bound­aries of earth and rock. Hamil­ton frames the hori­zon of the Arc­tic seas, whilst Young Zerunge pho­tographs the float­ing bod­ies of Antarc­tica’s ice­bergs. Wasikowski’s Real­tree se­ries (2017-18) takes the re­ced­ing glaciers in the South Is­land of New Zealand as its start­ing point. Here Wasikowsi has hy­dro-graph­i­cally printed im­ages of the glaciers onto syn­thetic plants, be­fore

re-pho­tograph­ing an as­sem­blage of these plants in the stu­dio. The ‘nat­u­ral­ness’ of the ini­tial land­scape is de­ferred by this process of ar­ti­fi­cial trans­po­si­tion, and an un­touched Ro­man­tic sub­lime is ex­posed as false.

If there is a ghost or a haunting pres­ence in this ex­hi­bi­tion – and, if we are to be­lieve Roland Barthes, there is al­ways an ap­pari­tion when we are deal­ing with pho­tog­ra­phy and the im­age – it is in the re­al­i­sa­tion that our nat­u­ral re­la­tion­ship with wa­ter will, very soon, no longer hold. In­deed, the ex­hi­bi­tion is ap­pear­ing at a time when we are acutely aware of a lack, rather than abun­dance, of wa­ter; the rou­tines of pre­cip­i­ta­tion now dis­rupted (New South Wales is en­tirely in drought, and cli­mate-in­duced dry spells are set to con­tinue). The ex­hi­bi­tion be­comes al­most a lament, a mon­u­ment to a type of el­e­men­tal sta­bil­ity that is rapidly dis­ap­pear­ing un­der eco­log­i­cal stress. Im­ages of ice and pools and oceans and streams be­come less of a com­fort, and more of a po­ten­tial threat.

‘Oceans From Here’ re­minds us of the cen­tral­ity of wa­ter, and how its rhythms and flows are in­stru­men­tal in the sus­te­nance of life – but if wa­ter has al­ways been un­sta­ble in its abil­ity to mu­tate from solid ice to liq­uid, the ef­fects of cli­mate change have pushed this in­sta­bil­ity to the ex­treme, mov­ing it from a slow drip to flood.

Naomi Rid­dle is a writer based in Syd­ney, and the found­ing edi­tor of the on­line arts pub­li­ca­tion ‘Run­ning Dog’.

Aus­tralian Cen­tre for Pho­tog­ra­phy Un­til 20 Oc­to­ber, 2018 Syd­ney

Honey Long and Prue Stent, Nep­tune’s Neck­lace, 2018

© the artists

Cour­tesy the artists, ARC ONE Gallery, Mel­bourne and Aus­tralian Cen­tre for Pho­tog­ra­phy, Syd­ney

John Young Zerunge, An­cient wa­ters II, 2018, colour inks on Museo Sil­ver Rag pa­per

© the artist

Cour­tesy the artist, ARC ONE Gallery, Mel­bourne, Olsen Gallery, Syd­ney and Aus­tralian Cen­tre for Pho­tog­ra­phy, Syd­ney

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.