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exhibitions

critical writing, exhibitions, photography

The National: New Australian Art 2017

May 23, 2017

The National: New Australian Art  exhibition is impressive. It is spread across three of Sydney’s major art institutions (the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) and Carriageworks), and it  claims to provide a  major focus on Australian art of our time. ‘Our time’, presumably, is  the contemporary postindustrial era of digital media, global capitalism,  mass entertainment,  constant flux, culture of excess,  and the proliferation of screens. This is  a time  of a  profound shift in orientation and sensibility as 21st-century Australia seeks to reimagine itself and to secure its identity within an increasingly globalised and interconnected world.

This inter-institutional project of contemporary art continues Sydney’s claim to be the country’s leading centre of contemporary art. This  claim  had been  previously based on the Sydney Biennale, and then  the Australian Perspecta series  from  1981 to  1999  at the AGNSW.  The National in  Sydney–Australia’s global city–is a six year initiative, with  three editions  in 2017, 2019 and 2021,  and it  will profile a mix of emerging, mid-career and established artists from around the country and practising overseas.The websites of the above  three institutions say that the new and recently commissioned works encompasses a diverse range of mediums, including painting, video, sculpture, installation, drawing and performance.

There is no photography was  my immediate reaction. This is confirmed by going though all the artists exhibiting in 2017.  No  photographers or photo artists. The closest is video art.   Photography, one can infer,  is not a part of contemporary art in post colonial Australia.   Neither are artists working in South Australia. Or Tasmania for that matter. So why these exclusion? Do  photographers and  the contemporary artists in the two excluded states  lack intellectual sophistication, critical nous  and the requisite  knowledge of art history?

Mt Lyell open mine, Queenstown

The exclusion  of photography from this exhibition of contemporary art  suggests the obsolescence of photography. It is outmoded, like the juke box.

My understanding of contemporary  art—the works exhibited at international Biennali  or Documenta — is that it refers to that  period frequently characterised by an inherently decentred, cosmopolitan, digitalised and globalised world order. In Australia it would be the post conceptual art after the Australian  Bicentennial in 1988,  and in situating  itself reflexively within the  contemporary,  it  is  art  in which formerly peripheral Indigenous and Australian art now has a key role to play. There are  different forms of artistic agency – aesthetic, poetic, social, political—  in the present,  multiple perspectives on contemporary life in Australia as a country, nation and state, the emergence of repressed histories,  an archival impulse, and the turn away from medium specificities.

The   question is, given the importance of digital images  on the internet,  why are art photographers not seen as a part of the networking of mainstream contemporary art?  This is  one  that explores the fault lines in  any fixed notion of Australian national identity,   the  different issues of contemporary life,  and  the ruins of modernity?  It’s a puzzle, especially when you see this kind of Photography Festival; a puzzle that suggests the obsolescence of photography.  Continue Reading…

black + white, Indigenous, roadtrip

The Lumen Seed: Adelaide book launch

March 10, 2017

I will be  helping  Paul Atkins to launch  Judith Crispin’s  recent  book,  The Lumen Seed, at Atkins Photo Lab  gallery on Friday, the 17th March at 6pm. The launch will consist of an exhibition of some of Judith’s prints from the book, some background images made whilst we were at Lajamanu in the Tanami Desert in 2016,  and a conversation between Judith and myself about the book. The conversation will link photography in the form of a book  to contemporary  issues in the Humanities.Some of my snaps from the 2016 trip to Lajamanu will be amongst  the  background images.

The Lumen Seed raises  issues  for me about taking photography within remote Indigenous communities.  I only took  a few photos whilst at Lajamanu on this  trip,  as I felt like a cultural tourist,  and I was uncomfortable in that role. I  also wanted to avoid  viewing Warlpirri people at Lajamanu through the eyes of both  colonial anthropology and the eyes of 21st century ecology.

Tin, Lajamanu

Classical Anthropology  used photography as visual evidence for scientific (anthropological and ethnographic) research, and it historically worked with a  colonial gaze that had its  roots in the  evolutionary conception of primitivism (lowly race compared to western culture as the  pinnacle of civilisation ) in the  Darwinism of the colonial past. This colonial gaze viewed  indigenous people as objects,  whilst modern ecology, faced with  the massive loss of life-support systems, reverses the evolutionary model and constructs  Aboriginal primitivism  by seeing  indigenous people as close to Nature in  contrast to the present white Australian (corrupted) civilisation that is hostile to nature. Indigenous people are constructed as iving peacefully in tune with the nature  and preserving their ancient, “natural” wisdom.

The  photographs I  had in  the back of my mind  were those in  Spencer and Gillen’s early work in central Australia –ie., their photographs of ritual  performances (ceremonies) of   the Arrernte people of the McDonnell Ranges. These were done  the late 19th century and they  formed the basis for their Native Tribes of Central Australia (1899) book.

Aboriginal people, in this text, were  seen as dehumanized “survivals” from an early stage of social development. The inference was that Aboriginal traditions will not adapt and survive in changed forms, but rather will be misunderstood, trampled on and destined to disappear.  Since survival was believed impossible, it was  important to document  the ‘dying race’ of the ‘childhood of man’. A close study of Aborigines, whose demise was only a matter of time,   could provide an insight into the very origins of humankind.

Continue Reading…

architecture, exhibitions, topographics

Weltraum

July 22, 2016

The 2016 Shimmer Photographic Biennale will take place in the City of Onkaparinga in Adelaide, South Australia between 2 September and 2 October. Shimmer at the Magpie Springs  gallery is Weltraum.

Weltraum itself refers to world (Welt) and space (Raum). Literally translated it means ‘world room’. As an photo-based exhibition Weltraum refers to worlds or spaces waiting to be explored and opened up by Australian photo artists. The exhibiting  photo-artists  in Weltraum are Judith Crispin, Jeff Moorfoot, Stuart Murdoch, Gilbert Roe, Gary Sauer-Thompson and  Beverley Southcott.

The curatorial idea behind Weltraum is based around photo-media artists working on long term projects over a couple of years. This slow photography develops critical and poetic insights. The exhibition presents some work in progress from 6 projects,  some of which includes lens-based film based photography.

The image below is a behind the camera  shoot of Gary Sauer-Thompson photoshoot along the  Mallee Highway  for his silo project. Several images from this project —in black and white and colour— will  be featured in Weltraum:

silo, Galah, Mallee, Victoria

silo, Galah, Mallee, Victoria

Philosophically speaking the curatorial idea underpinning the work in progress  of long term projects   is that of a qualitative multiplicity. Multiplicity originates from a folding or twisting of simple elements. Like a sand dune, a multiplicity is in constant flux, though it attains some consistency for a short or long duration. Qualitative  multiplicities  differ in kind from one another, and their   porous boundaries suggests  ways in which things creatively evolve to form new and surprising assemblages. Qualitative multiplicities are associated with poetics, painting,  writing etc.  Continue Reading…

digital, exhibitions, mobile phone

on cameraphone photography: Skrambled Eggs 6

December 16, 2015

Scrambled Eggs has  been an annual photographic exhibition in Adelaide for the last six years,   and the  2015  exhibition  of  iPhoneography or more correctly, mobile phone photography, is back in the form  of Skrambled Eggs 6 at the  De La Liff  Gallery in Rundle Place in Adelaide’s  Rundle Mall until January 15.

The  ethos of the Skrambled Eggs  collective is  that you don’t need the latest,  expensive professional gear to make  photographs,  since  it’s all about working with what equipment that you have with you at the time. It’s an ethos  that I  wholeheartedly concur with. It shift’s the emphasis from gear acquisition syndrome to the imagery and what it means for us.

Alice Healy, Underwater

Alice Healy, Underwater

The work on show in the   Skrambled Eggs 6 exhibition is what happens when you put a trained,   professional eye  of the  members of the photographic industry in Adelaide behind  the camera of a mobile phone.  The  cameraphone is deemed to be a viable creative option,  and the  show highlights that photos  produced by a modern camera-phone with a designer’s eye is quite different to the world of a mass  of low-quality, self-serving images  that was used by the early critics of mobile phone photography to trash  it as kitsch,  decry it as the cult of the amateur and  dismiss the imagery as not photography, properly so called.

Firstly, Skrambled Eggs 6 is not a curated exhibition. It is a collection of two dozen,  mostly industry-based photographers,   who have a number of images each in their own  allocated space . I looks as if they were given free reign by the organisers with respect to the work.  What unites the  diversity of images and approaches (abstract, experimental, street, landscape, urbanscape etc ) is the view that the camera does not make the photographer.  It’s not what gear you’ve got, it’s the way you use it. The emphasis  is on the trained professional eye.

‘Professional’ is left undefined, but it conventionally refers to a profession and  to the qualities that are attributed to this profession. Usually professions are identified by their organizational structure (in this case the SA branch of AIPP) that ensures that certain standards of quality and expertise are upheld. Judging from the exhibition the inference is that a photographic profession is a  loosely defined collection of individuals who earn money by taking and selling images.

The work of Kate Burns (Atkins) shows the emphasis  of  the trained professional (designer’s) eye.  The large black and white toned images made while driving through North America on  a recent trip in the US have an emotional edge that references, and contributes to,  the Australian Romantic tradition’s representation of mystery and darkness and our attraction to, and fear of,   dark places.   The work is distinctly local,  and  its  contestatory embrace of  internationalism breaks with the provincialist bind that both continues to define Adelaide and South Australia and  identifies  Romanticism with the sublime of nature as wilderness.    The representation of a sense of desolation and foreboding with respect to  the US in Burn’s images also have  traces of  the world-wide shift from modern to contemporary art.

Kate Atkins, Overhead

Kate Atkins, Overhead

This work shifts Australian Romanticism away from a   melancholic yearning  or a nostalgia for communion with nature to on that acts as a critique of contemporary  US society from an Australian perspective.

Mobile phone photography has  definitely come of age,  and  its current intersection with social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr) has taken photography into new territory. Mobile phone photography is essentially  a networked camera in that mobile phones are the central  device that has a networked output and audience  for the work. The web is becoming more visual and the easiest stories to consume, create or share aren’t text based. They’re photo based.

The social form of photography is where we are now,  and  no doubt the image quality will continue to improve as well as the interconnectivity with the newer mobile phone models. Apple’s marketing for the iPhone  for instance, really pushes the capabilities of its camera and the  good  quality of pictures it produces.  In the rapidly approaching, mobile-first world mobile devices are the new glossy magazines; text-ridden sites are boring, black and white newspapers.  Continue Reading…