Infection and intolerance: Xenophobic imaginings in the art of Jes Fan

Jes Fan with his installation for ‘NIRIN’, the 22nd Biennale of Sydney at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA), Sydney, 2020; image courtesy the artist and the MCA, Sydney; ? the artist; photo: Ken Leanfore

Jes Fan with his installation for ‘NIRIN’, the 22nd Biennale of Sydney at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA), Sydney, 2020; image courtesy the artist and the MCA, Sydney; ? the artist; photo: Ken Leanfore

Throughout the nineteenth century, the Australian Government embarked on a number of anti-Chinese and anti-immigration policies. The nation was pathologised and its white, pure, uncontaminated body was at threat from invasive diseases from the unknown East. But with the rise of social constructivist theories regarding race, it seemed that identity was no longer determined by biological essentialism. This year, however, COVID-19 has engendered the rise of Sinophobic attacks as the virus has become racialised. 

Jes Fan’s installation as part of this year’s Biennale of Sydney at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (while temporarily closed) is a reminder that the western world’s contemporary fear of contamination and infection is intertwined with centuries of fears of penetration – metastasised and manifested in the biological.

Two of his sculptures, Form begets Function and Function begets Form (both 2020), see glass globules hanging precariously off corners or delicately balancing off thin rails of wooden structures, creating a sense of anxiety. Meanwhile, the sculpture bases are reminiscent of a liquid spill leaking onto the floor, evoking the fear that accompanies what cannot be controlled or contained. The glass parts have been injected with urine, testosterone, estrogen, blood, semen and melanin. Fan recognises that these fluids are highly political, including melanin which is the primary determinant of skin colour and which, in turn, is used to construct racial categories. 

Indeed, Fan’s investigation of the group of natural pigments is extended and developed in the single-channel video Xenophoria (2020), which is projected onto the entirety of the back wall of the gallery and documents the search for and extraction of melanin. Close-up and microscopic shots reveal the dissection of squids, with their ink sacs being emptied, along with fungi being scraped by a scalpel. Most significantly, these shots of scientific experiments in the laboratory are interspersed with close-ups of medical paintings by Lam Qua (1801 – 1860), who was one of the first Chinese artists to be displayed in Europe and North America. From the 1830s, Qua was commissioned to paint portraits of patients at a Canton hospital depicting their distorted bodies. The first images received of the Chinese by the Chinese in the West portrayed malformed disfigured individuals with bulbous tumours. 

The inclusion of these art-historical referents exposes the precedents of racism and the historical narrative of disease associated with Asia. COVID-19 and its societal responses draw on deeply rooted anxieties and a distrust that is embedded in the molecular.

Soo-Min Shim, Sydney 

Remembering James Mollison: A flair for collection-building

James Mollison AO and former prime minister Gough Whitlam with Jackson Pollock’s  Blue poles  (1952); ? Pollock-Krasner Foundation, ARS/Copyright Agency

James Mollison AO and former prime minister Gough Whitlam with Jackson Pollock’s Blue poles (1952); ? Pollock-Krasner Foundation, ARS/Copyright Agency

It’s been almost 40 years since Her Majesty the Queen opened what was then the Australian National Gallery in October 1982, with a remit ‘to present art from anywhere in the world, from an Australian viewpoint, to the people of Australia’, under the diligent leadership of the late James Mollison, who passed away in January this year. Daniel Thomas, one of Mollison’s early hires and a highly influential Australian art-world figure in his own right, fondly remembers his former mentor in xổ số bình định ngày, looking back over the details of Mollison’s long life and his enduring presence at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA), where he is best remembered for a flair for ‘collection-building [that] remains unmatched, in both excellence and diversity’.

Mollison’s untimely death deprived him of the opportunity to celebrate the fourth successful decade of the institution to which he dedicated a large portion of his life. It also cut short his experience of a global crisis that, in January, seemed confined to one city in China but now, just three months later, has become one of the gravest threats to our current world order that many of us are likely to witness in our lifetimes. 

Although the doors of the gallery may be closed for the foreseeable future, the range of online resources available on their website offers unprecedented access to their collections and public programming, from virtual tours to lecture recordings, scholarly articles to learning resources for students of the arts. Mollison began his career as an educator, training at Melbourne Teachers’ College and working in a succession of schools throughout the 1950s, and Thomas recalls that ‘he remained an enthusiastic and occasionally cruel mentor to swarms of junior staff’ during his tenure at the NGA. He would undoubtedly have been proud of the leadership and innovation that the current custodians of his beloved gallery have shown in these unstable and uncertain times.

Dr Alex Burchmore, Publication Manager

Freedom and horror: et al. and Newell Harry at Yuill/Crowley

Newell Harry,  (Untitled) Nimoa and Me: Kiriwina Notes , 2015–16, installation view, ‘575 / TWO PROJECTS: et al. and Newell Harry’, Yuill/Crowley, Sydney, 2020; courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

Newell Harry, (Untitled) Nimoa and Me: Kiriwina Notes, 2015–16, installation view, ‘575 / TWO PROJECTS: et al. and Newell Harry’, Yuill/Crowley, Sydney, 2020; courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

In these days of germophobia, of latex gloves and cashless transactions, the idea of ‘shelling out cash’ can fill us with horror. All those unknown fingertips spreading a network of possible contamination! Indeed, if the COVID-19 crisis has told us anything, it is that the very systems that have unleashed our global interconnectedness – international travel and currency exchange – have also allowed safe passage for the coronavirus.

Art, of course, is another system of exchange, and the idea of walking into a gallery at the moment, either for the purpose of viewing or purchase, can also fill us with horror. Yet that is exactly what I did last Saturday, making an appointment to see the latest show at Yuill/Crowley in Sydney. For much of the visit I was the only member of public in the gallery: just me facing a line of black-and-white photographs and a wall of blankets punctuated by a plinth of shells and, at the back of the room, a small video work.

Viewing art (under controlled circumstances of course) is one of the most perfect activities for social isolation, not unlike the playing of tennis. Observing a respectful distance while remaining alert to things that lob or spin unexpectedly is all part of the game. With the duet of works by et al. and Newell Harry that has been so carefully curated by Ewen McDonald, it was difficult at first to determine the rules. The photographs were by Harry, and they depict episodic scenes of Pacific Island life, framed with typed diary entries, pidgin-style, continuing the Sydney artist’s fascination with the poetic mashing of Melanesian culture. Across from the photographs were et al.’s blankets, scribbled with words like ‘STOLEN’ and roughly hung with black tape and entombed behind clear plastic.

The plinth of shells offered a clue – one of the objects of exchange in the elaborate gift ceremonies of the Trobriand Islands off the east coast of Papua New Guinea. Here Harry found himself on a research trip in 2015, contemplating the uselessness of his credit card. In the Trobriand Islands, shell money is not used as barter in a western sense of commodity, but is passed along in a chain of giving, always returning to the original owner in a circular kind of dance. Harry’s resulting work (Untitled) Nimoa and Me: Kiriwina Notes (2015–16) finds something freeing in this shedding of materialism, and in a wordplay that forever hovers in-between.

Helping unpack the freighted emotion of et al.’s blankets was the New Zealand artists’ accompanying video here and now! (2020). To interior scenes of the Berlin-Hohensch?nhausen Memorial, the Gertrude Stein story about a father instructing his son about the cruelty of collecting butterflies could be heard. The story ends with the father going against his own advice and killing a moth to impress his son. Cruelty and kindness are not that far removed, Stein seems to say.

As is the case with et al.’s blankets. These, in fact, refer to those given to Aboriginal mission children in centuries past, and here inscribed with quotations from the 1997 report into the Stolen Generations, Bringing Them Home. These felted palimpsests record yet another system of exchange, but one cruelly and tragically unequal. It is a contagion made visible, and a reminder why art should not be quarantined but experienced in the flesh, to unmask our horrors, and to free us too.

Michael Fitzgerald, Sydney

Art Monthly and the Australia Council

300 covers: ART MONTHLY in Australia 1987 – 2017 , exhibition installation view, Foyer Gallery, ANU School of Art & Design, Canberra, 7–17 June 2017; photo: Aishah Kenton

300 covers: ART MONTHLY in Australia 1987 – 2017, exhibition installation view, Foyer Gallery, ANU School of Art & Design, Canberra, 7–17 June 2017; photo: Aishah Kenton

In these extraordinarily difficult times for Australian publishing, we stand in solidarity with our colleagues Artlink Magazine, Australian Book Review, Eyeline Publishing, The Lifted Brow and Overland Literary Journal in expressing disappointment at the recent outcomes of the Australia Council’s organisational funding for 2021–24.

Like these other important cultural titles (with a combined 243-year publishing history), Art Monthly’s Four Year Funding was not renewed.

While we congratulate the 95 national arts organisations who were successful, and appreciate the incredibly difficult decision faced by the Visual Arts Peers, this collective withdrawal of government support for Australian arts publishing at this critical juncture needs to be fully acknowledged and reflected on by all.

What does this mean for Art Monthly? While having received Australia Council support for much of our 33 years, we remain resilient (in spirit) and nimble. We continue to explore new partnerships and will soon reveal plans for a revised print schedule for 2020 as we absorb the impacts of this funding decision on top of the devastating effects of the coronavirus.

In some good news, Art Monthly was successful in having its smaller amount of VACS Priority Organisation Funding renewed for 2021–24, and we look forward to updating our loyal readers, subscribers and supporters in the coming weeks.

Stay home (subscribing to Art Monthly) and stay safe,   

Ann Stephen, Chair

Michael Fitzgerald, Editor

Turning inwards, and outwards: Galleries in the time of coronavirus

With galleries and museums around Australia forced to close their doors to ensure the health of staff, volunteers and visitors, opportunities to enjoy and support the arts seem to have been dramatically reduced, almost overnight. The appreciation of art might be the last thing on many minds right now but, as United Kingdom-based arts educator Louis Netter observed in a recent piece for The Conversation, our mutual confinement compels us to turn ‘inward, to the vast inner space of our thoughts and imagination’, a space in which artists have for centuries served as our most faithful navigators. A recognition of this need has prompted artists, curators and gallery owners across the country to explore new platforms for their insights into our shared human condition, demonstrating clearly that, although the doors of our homes and businesses may be closed, those of our imagination remain defiantly open.

At Raft Artspace in Alice Springs, a selection of works from Mimili Maku Arts celebrating family, home and community can be viewed on the gallery’s website or enjoyed in situ in a video tour shared to their Instagram. From the ruddy tones of Judy Martin’s Ngayuku Mamaku Ngura (My Father’s Country) to the vivid, pulsating polychrome palette of Linda Puna’s Ngayuku Ngura (My Home), these paintings offer a reassuring reminder of the support and creative inspiration that this arts centre in the Everard Ranges provides, even in times of global crisis. Solander Gallery in Wellington have made works by New Zealand-based artist Jacqueline Aust available to browse and purchase online. Aust’s fascination with the experience of displacement and her respectful engagement with the aesthetics of calligraphy, inspired by a recent trip to Japan that coincided with a devastating typhoon, reinforce the pressing need to empathise with the suffering of others as prejudice and paranoia infect the world.

A new series of photographic works by Lisa Reihana, another renowned New Zealand artist, are available to view and purchase on the website of the newly opened Gallery Sally Dan-Cuthbert in Sydney. Drawn from her immersive three-dimensional film Nomads of the Sea, Reihana’s empowering images weave together history and fiction in a manner that followers of her work will recognise as an extension of ideas explored in her first major video in Pursuit of Venus [infected], available to watch on the artist’s website. Nomads of the Sea is also featured in this year’s Sydney Biennale, currently developing a range of ‘digital activations and experiences’.

Fans of Melbourne-based artist Jan Murray’s technicolour portraits of stylish jackets, shirts and dresses, their ‘optically dazzling designs of black-and-white polka dots, green and pink chevron weaves, and red and white zigzagged stripes … set against eye-popping backgrounds in citrus and neon tones’, in the words of AMA regular Chloé Wolifson, can browse her paintings in all their glory on the Charles Nodrum Gallery’s website. Those who’d like to learn more about Murray’s work will enjoy an extended essay by art historian Helen McDonald, also available online.

The AMA team is working to expand online accessibility in response to our current global circumstances – digital subscriptions (including access to an archive of back issues from March 2008 to March 2020) are available as always for purchase on our website, and we’ll continue to bring you our coverage of the latest events and exhibitions on this blog, proudly open access. Keep an eye on our new Twitter profile and our Facebook page for more updates!

Dr Alex Burchmore, Publication Manager

April issue's letter from the editor

Simon Denny,  Amazon Worker Cage Patent (US 9,280,157 B2: ‘System for transporting personal within an active workspace’, 2016) with King Island Brown Thornbill renders , 2019, installation view, ‘Mine’, Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Hobart, 2019–20; photo: Jesse Hunniford, MONA

Simon Denny, Amazon Worker Cage Patent (US 9,280,157 B2: ‘System for transporting personal within an active workspace’, 2016) with King Island Brown Thornbill renders, 2019, installation view, ‘Mine’, Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Hobart, 2019–20; photo: Jesse Hunniford, MONA

When writer Sophia Halloway interviewed artist eX de Medici in her Canberra studio in late January, the air around our nation’s capital was still filled with bushfire smoke, and the sense of alarm at our climate emergency extraordinarily intense. De Medici told Halloway how the biggest long-term threat is apathy: ‘slowly, slowly, then all at once.’

Two months on, and our national attention has already moved on to another health emergency, and summer seems a long time ago now.

If a thematic thread can be found in this April edition, it is the refusal by artists to look away from the complicated issues around the impacts of climate change. In her review of the ‘Water’ show at the Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, Rebecca Blake notes how, through the artworks on display, ‘we are made to viscerally feel the physical shifts in the environment that are slowly but surely spilling over to impact each individual’. While in his essay on Simon Denny’s ‘Mine’ exhibition at the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Oscar Capezio writes how ‘there is uncertainty about the place of art in a time of climate crisis, particularly its ability to affect real change or sustain our concern towards engagement’.

While proofreading this April edition, it struck me how writers have become important mediators in this growing art discourse around the environment, and it is also interesting to note that Halloway, Blake and Capezio are all emerging alumni of the ANCA Critic-in-Residence (CiR) program, which has allowed Art Monthly Australasia to respond more actively to the artistic concerns that impact on our national psyche here in Canberra.

Our thanks go to artsACT for once again generously supporting our partnership with the ANCA CiR program, and to all the artists and writers who continue to act against apathy. 

Michael Fitzgerald, Editor

April issue and art in the age of coronavirus

Keith Haring preparing an artwork on the Waterwall of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), Melbourne, 1984; image courtesy the NGV, Melbourne; photo: Geoffrey Burke

Keith Haring preparing an artwork on the Waterwall of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), Melbourne, 1984; image courtesy the NGV, Melbourne; photo: Geoffrey Burke

In our age of coronavirus, art takes on a heightened role in communicating and connecting audiences – whether through online encounters, or through the written, published word.

With Art Monthly Australasia’s coming April issue, our cover story ‘That distant galaxy: Haring and Basquiat in the 1980s’ reminds us of the creative legacy of another health emergency, while elsewhere in the magazine we witness a range of artists responding to the complex issues around climate change. Again and again we see art’s ability to reflect, enlighten and expand our understanding of a world in tumultuous change and flux.

Art Monthly would also like to take the opportunity to assure all our loyal readers and followers that we will keep you connected and informed in the coming weeks and months with special content responsive to the current health crisis, and with new initiatives in print and online. Stay tuned and keep safe.

Michael Fitzgerald, Editor

Voices of survival: ‘Rite of Passage’ at QUT Art Museum

Jenna Lee, un/bound passage , 2019, installation detail, ‘Rite of Passage’, QUT Art Museum, Brisbane, 2020; hand-dyed and folded paper installation from pages of  The Voyages of Captain Cook  (Ladybird Books), with video projection; courtesy the artist; photo: Louis Lim

Jenna Lee,un/bound passage, 2019, installation detail, ‘Rite of Passage’, QUT Art Museum, Brisbane, 2020; hand-dyed and folded paper installation from pages of The Voyages of Captain Cook (Ladybird Books), with video projection; courtesy the artist; photo: Louis Lim

With its many anxieties and tragedies, it is possible to forget that the year 2020 also marks the 250-year anniversary of this land’s biggest disruptor of all – that of colonisation. It is from this legacy of environmental and cultural destruction that there emerges the contemporary autobiographical survival stories of the 11 strong Aboriginal women who are showcased in ‘Rite of Passage’ at Brisbane’s QUT Art Museum (until 10 May). Here their art defines them as powerful voices of their families and ancestors.

Jenna Lee looked to her vintage copy of The Voyages of Captain Cook by English children’s publisher Ladybird Books to respond to the whitewashed mainstream narrative of first contact. un/bound passage (2019), a paper and projection installation by Lee, creates an ocean of small boats folded from the pages of the book as an exercise in deconstruction and translation of the past.

For Nici Cumpston, landscapes are a defining relationship. Her large-scale photographic images of bleached bare tree trunks standing amid dry riverbeds in the Murray-Darling basin are tragic reminders of a massive ongoing environmental failure. As a descendant of the Barkandji people of these waterways, Cumpston describes in the exhibition catalogue that ‘we rely on them to sustain us physically, emotionally and spiritually’. Inseparable from her country, the artist captures and beautifully renders Ringbarked II, Nookamka Lake (2011–14) in subtle greens, blues and browns.

Karla Dickens’s mixed-media sculptures of vulva-shaped leather saddles express the physical and sexual subjugation of Aboriginal women. Featuring rusted chains and a dinner bell wrapped around a gaping orifice stuffed with empty tin cans, Dickens’s Workhorse III (2015) speaks of the women and girls in her family who had duties to be ‘useful ... on farms and homes by both day and night’ to quote the artist’s description.

Together, these artists observe the painful transition of a thriving pre-colonial civilisation into being forced subjects of the Commonwealth, in an exhibition provocatively titled by curator Shannon Brett as a ‘rite of passage’. This term is elaborated on in Brett’s curatorial essay as the artists’ Aboriginal rites as carriers of their families’ stories, but the proposition also equates the rite of passage with a ‘change for this nation’. If white Australia can truly reconcile and amend for deeply entrenched systems of rape, slaughter and dispossession – the three listed in order on Judy Watson’s butcher’s apron series flag 1 (1994) – perhaps the nation can undergo a difficult process to reach a new stage of maturity. 

Emily Wakeling, Brisbane

Gods and monsters: ‘Japan supernatural’ at AGNSW

Japan supernatural , exhibition installation view with the work of Takashi Murakami, Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney, 2019–20; artworks ? the artist; photo: Jenni Carter, AGNSW

Japan supernatural, exhibition installation view with the work of Takashi Murakami, Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney, 2019–20; artworks ? the artist; photo: Jenni Carter, AGNSW

Summer in Japan is largely an occasion for the underworld, when ancestors’ spirits are closest to the living realm, and goose bump-inducing ghost and monster stories help cooling off during hot humid nights. ‘Japan supernatural’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (until 8 March), on show over Sydney’s own summertime, offers a richness of yōkai (monsters and spirits) and yūrei (ghosts) from the Japanese visual arts field from the eighteenth century until now and ranging in genre from bawdy comedy to terrifying horror. 

The exhibition begins with Toriyama Sekien’s handscroll Night procession of the hundred demons (1772-81), presented as a seminal representation of yōkai that influenced centuries of artists to come, with further scrolls, theatrical masks, netsuke and woodblock prints demonstrating how the exciting visual potential of ghosts and monsters became a fixture of the Edo period (1603–1868) and beyond. Room after room of tree spirits, river-dwelling kappa, large-nosed tengu, merry shapeshifting tanuki, mountain crones, blood-drenched women in childbirth and sinister foxes follow Sekien’s codification. Likewise, visual consistency is evident in the pale and legless yūrei hanging scrolls and prints.

Contemporary works are woven through the exhibits, with Miwa Yanagi’s ‘Fairy Tale’ photographic series (2004–05) freshly contextualised within the tradition of yōkai crones. Chiho Aoshima, who has been making nature and death cute since the late 1990s, presents large-eyed tree spirits and musical gravestones. In contrast, the gothic splendour of Nihonga-style painter Fuyuko Matsui’s expressions of human decay can be read as part of the maternal yōkai convention. 

A 25 metre-long work by Takashi Murakami, In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow (2014), shares room with nineteenth-century woodblock prints. Made for his self-described ‘debts’ to Edo masters, Murakami’s work connects to his forebears to thrill viewers with bold imagery of skulls, immortals and giants, while his towering blue and red ogres of Embodiment of ‘A’  and Embodiment of ‘Um’ (both 2014) deliver a large dose of kitsch.

Emily Wakeling, Sydney

For the full article, see Art Monthly’s forthcoming April 2020 issue.

History afoot: The sixth Singapore Biennale, ‘Every Step in the Right Direction’

Hera Büyükta???yan,  A Study on Endless Archipelagos , 2017–19, installation detail, National Gallery Singapore, 2019–20; cement, bronze and wood, dimensions variable; courtesy the artist and Green Art Gallery, Dubai; photo: Singapore Art Museum

Hera Büyükta???yan, A Study on Endless Archipelagos, 2017–19, installation detail, National Gallery Singapore, 2019–20; cement, bronze and wood, dimensions variable; courtesy the artist and Green Art Gallery, Dubai; photo: Singapore Art Museum

In Singapore, which architect Rem Koolhaas has described as ‘pure intention … a unique ecology of the contemporary … an apotheosis of urban renewal,’ history lurks just below the shiny new surfaces, waiting for artists to coax it out. Indeed, history, and its many multiple readings, is the subject of Artistic Director Patrick Flores’s current Singapore Biennale, ‘Every Step in the Right Direction’ (until 22 March).

From the six-member curatorium’s dense and eclectic offerings, centred mainly at the National Gallery and Gillman Barracks, Flores’s more personal excavations of late twentieth century Filipino art rang out most strongly, particularly in the works of Alfonso Ossorio (1916–1990) and Carlos Villa (1936–2013), and their visceral assemblages of bone, blood and feather. Their rich materiality found a contemporary echo in new commissions by Manila-born Lani Maestro and Istanbul-based Hera Büyükta???yan, with both employing the translucent oyster shells from Capiz in the central islands of the Philippines, creating poetic windows and thresholds to navigate through.

Büyükta???yan’s accompanying suite of cement and ceramic fragments balanced on tiny bronze feet pointed to the Biennale’s other preoccupation: walking. Inspired by the 1930s Filipina revolutionary Salud Algabre, who said that ‘no uprising fails – each one is a step in the right direction’, the Biennale’s title invoked walking as both a physical and radical act akin to the experiencing of art, and answered best by senior Singaporean artist Amanda Heng. In her ‘Let’s Walk’ series, and documented here, the action is performed with a heeled shoe placed doggedly in the mouth, and navigated by a handheld mirror, going sometimes backwards, and in a group, moving tentatively by touch and sight – a powerful metaphor for how art, and biennales like this, can meaningfully occupy space and time.

Michael Fitzgerald, Singapore

For the full article, see
Art Monthly’s forthcoming March 2020 issue.


Soft power: ‘Antipodean Stories’ in Milan

AUSTRALIA. Antipodean Stories , exhibition installation view, Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea (PAC), Milan, 2019–20, with the work of Patricia Piccinini, Fiona Hall, Judy Watson and Jill Orr; image courtesy the artists and PAC, Milan; photo: Nico Covre Vulcano

AUSTRALIA. Antipodean Stories, exhibition installation view, Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea (PAC), Milan, 2019–20, with the work of Patricia Piccinini, Fiona Hall, Judy Watson and Jill Orr; image courtesy the artists and PAC, Milan; photo: Nico Covre Vulcano

Milan is one of Europe’s most vibrant cities, and the Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea is its centrally located contemporary art space. Its annual program includes solo projects by major Italian and international artists – Tania Bruguera is upcoming – and in recent years has focused on a series of exhibitions of contemporary art from specific nations. It is in this context that the current exhibition ‘AUSTRALIA. Antipodean Stories’ (until 9 February) is presented to Italian audiences.

Guest curator Eugenio Viola has invited 32 artists and collectives, of different cultural backgrounds, interests and experience to participate: Vernon Ah Kee, Tony Albert, Khadim Ali, Brook Andrew, Richard Bell, Daniel Boyd, Maria Fernanda Cardoso, Barbara Cleveland, Destiny Deacon, Hayden Fowler, Marco Fusinato, Agatha Gothe-Snape, Julie Gough, Fiona Hall, Dale Harding, Nicholas Mangan, Angelica Mesiti, Archie Moore, Callum Morton, Tom Nicholson (with Greg Lehman), Jill Orr, Mike Parr, Patricia Piccinini, Stuart Ringholt, Khaled Sabsabi, Yhonnie Scarce, Soda_Jerk, Dr Christian Thompson AO, James Tylor, Judy Watson, Jason Wing and Nyapanyapa Yunupingu. Viola worked with many of these artists while he was Senior Curator at Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, and he travelled widely during his two years based in Australia. He is now Chief Curator at the Modern Art Museum of Bogotá in Colombia.

‘Antipodean Stories’ does not present an overriding theme or statement; rather, Viola’s curatorial approach encourages conversations between works and meaningful juxtapositions. He is interested in practices that reflect the diversity of cultural, political and social perspectives in Australia, informed by current thinking and everyday realities. The exhibition assembles a strong representation of artists whose works examine a range of concerns such as race, identity, gender and class; colonisation and its legacies; national issues of history, knowledge and agency; and contested stories and suppressed narratives. Many of the artists critically engage with social and political issues; others draw more broadly on conceptual, linguistic and performative approaches. The exhibition unfolds with meaningful connections from room to room. Several works were made specifically for Milan, and the program includes performances by Fusinato, Parr and Ringholt, screenings of Soda_Jerk’s TERROR NULLIUS (2018), workshops, talks and roundtable discussions. A major publication features photographic documentation of the installations and performances.

Here, artists of all disciplines lead the critical inquiry, enlisting their individual circumstances, histories and intellectual rigour in the service of cultural provocation. ‘Antipodean Stories’ reflects on themes that invariably relate to an Australian context; yet in times of international ‘soft power’ – including artist projects that specifically address the state of society and the world – the exhibition transcends the local and resonates globally.

Judith Blackall is an independent curator and writer. She contributed a catalogue essay for ‘AUSTRALIA. Antipodean Stories’ and travelled to Milan for the exhibition installation and opening.

Resonance: Fiona Foley at the National Art School

Fiona Foley: Who are these strangers and where are they going? , exhibition installation view, National Art School (NAS), Sydney, 2020; image courtesy NAS, Sydney; photo: Peter Morgan

Fiona Foley: Who are these strangers and where are they going?, exhibition installation view, National Art School (NAS), Sydney, 2020; image courtesy NAS, Sydney; photo: Peter Morgan

Fiona Foley’s last survey exhibition to be seen in Sydney was in 2009–10 with ‘Forbidden’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. A decade later, ‘Who are these strangers and where are they going?’ at the National Art School (until 8 February) includes her most recent work that describes the depth of her interest in Queensland’s vexed histories and their control of Aboriginal people, as well as photographic series and installations since 1984. Her largest series of photographs, ‘Horror Has A Face’ (2017), acknowledges her family connection to the Bogimbah Mission (on K’gari/Fraser Island). It tells the story of the failure of this colonial intervention, exposing the power imbalances that existed between Aboriginal people and their ‘protectors’, and the role of opium in enslaving the Aboriginal population.

‘Who are these strangers …?’ premiered at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale last year. It was shown in Ballarat’s historic mining hall, a building with high warehouse ceilings and small anterooms along the side. More works are presented in Sydney, with a smaller footprint that in many ways tightens its delivery.

It opens with Foley’s new film Out of the Sea Like Cloud (2019), which tells the first contact story between Badtjala people on K’gari/Fraser Island who witnessed the passage of Captain Cook’s Endeavour past Takky Wooroo/Indian Head. The film segues into a colonial opium den, then conducts the lead character through a dreamlike passage where he wakes on K’gari to reclaim his place, innocence and sanity. The words of the song echo the film’s hypnotic mix of reality and fantasy throughout the exhibition spaces, with works that discuss opium on the ground level, and those more focused on identity and racism upstairs.

It is the (literally) shifting ground (with corn, carpets and oyster shells on the floor) of what curator Djon Mundine refers to as Foley’s ‘memory, truth and consciousness’ that is most evident in the exhibition. While it highlights the consistent conceptual core of Foley’s art, the soundtrack of the film gives the work an emotional resonance which is hard to resist. Her ongoing challenge to the ways in which Aboriginal people have been represented, and wresting back control to narrate a different story (drawn from Queensland’s archives) build powerfully. Foley’s ‘Badtjala Woman’ photographic series of 1994, featuring herself in the guise of one of her ancestors, is a reminder of how well she has delivered a resonant image – always.

Louise Martin-Chew, Sydney


Symphonic: Robert Klippel at TarraWarra

ASSEMBLED: The Art of Robert Klippel , exhibition installation view, TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville, 2019–20; courtesy the Robert Klippel Estate, represented by Annette Larkin Fine Art, Sydney, and Galerie Gmurzynska, Zurich; ? Andrew Klippel; photo: Andrew Curtis

ASSEMBLED: The Art of Robert Klippel, exhibition installation view, TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville, 2019–20; courtesy the Robert Klippel Estate, represented by Annette Larkin Fine Art, Sydney, and Galerie Gmurzynska, Zurich; ? Andrew Klippel; photo: Andrew Curtis

Stepping into ‘ASSEMBLED’, the current survey of Robert Klippel’s vast range of sculptures, drawings and collages at TarraWarra Museum of Art in Melbourne’s Yarra Valley, is a bit like walking into a concert hall with the orchestra playing at full pitch. There are the deep booms of the timpani and the smaller lighter notes of flute and triangle, with the overall rhythm and movement of the piece pushing through space with all the power of a steam train – to unashamedly mix metaphors in the same way as Klippel would mix found objects with the industrial processes that had long ago first breathed life into them. Tiny clothes peg-like sculptures of twisted metal and multicoloured wire are lined up in vitrines, casting faint shadows like a faux army of miniature terracotta warriors. Contrast them with the monumental sculptures assembled from found objects, and parts of other objects, often silhouetted against the rolling green Healesville landscape outside that, under blue skies, presses in for a closer look through the large plate-glass windows, high as a double-decker bus.

These ‘Great Wood Sculptures’ – as Geoffrey Legge, co-founder of Watters Gallery in Sydney and longtime friend of the artist, calls them – really dominate TarraWarra’s lofty gallery spaces. They astonish. Legge likens Klippel’s vocabulary of forms to Shakespeare. Deborah Edwards is another big fan. She curated Klippel’s major exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2002 (he died in June of the previous year). In her biographical notes for the catalogue essay we discover much of the backstory to his personal grammar, syntax and Shakespearean breadth: there is his childhood in Sydney’s Potts Point with its daily changing landscape of merchant and naval vessels; and his early training and employment in the wool industry (his family had a textile business). Later, after working on a minesweeper during the Second World War, he lived and worked in London (befriending James Gleeson), Paris (he came to know André Breton and the remaining circle of surrealists) and New York (also inspiring a generation of students at the Minneapolis School of Art).

Klippel was 42 before he had his first solo exhibition in Sydney at Clunes Gallery, returning to Australia in 1962 with a container of 19 ‘junk metal’ sculptures. Eventually, over the following decades, his output would total over 1200 sculptures and countless drawings and collages. When I view these at TarraWarra, I am reminded by turns of Luna Park fairgrounds and the inspirational sculptures of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. Klippel, however, went beyond the experiments of this seminal twentieth-century artist when he declared in 1945: ‘sculpture must be revolutionised without the figure.’

Kirsty Grant, the formidable curator of this exhibition, has for my money created one of the highlights of the 2020 season so far, taking us deeper into the experimentation and the craft that went into Klippel’s late twentieth-century sunburst of creativity.

Peter Hill, Healesville


A significant Streeton rediscovery: 'The Grand Canal' (1908)

Arthur Streeton,  The Grand Canal,  1908, oil on canvas, 93 x 169cm (36.61 x 66.54in); private collection; photo: Glen Watson

Arthur Streeton, The Grand Canal, 1908, oil on canvas, 93 x 169cm (36.61 x 66.54in); private collection; photo: Glen Watson

The Grand Canal (1908) by Arthur Streeton (1867–1943) has remained in one family’s ownership for over a century, mostly out of public circulation, and not featured in major Streeton publications. Until now, the provenance of the picture, its date and title, have been unresolved.

The rediscovery and identification of this picture is made all the more remarkable by the work being one of Streeton’s larger and more important paintings. His Venetian series is leading in his oeuvre, and this work is core among the Venetian paintings, in both scale and accomplishment. Streeton honeymooned in Venice in May 1908, and visited again in October of that year. Of 85 catalogue entries in 1908, when most of Streeton’s Venetian works were painted, 78 works are Venetian scenes.

The view in this painting is similar to that in paintings by Canaletto and other greats, including Canaletto’s The Grand Canal looking South from Ca’ Foscari to the Carità (c. 1726–27). On 8 October 1908, in a letter to Baldwin Spencer, Streeton wrote: ‘… I’ve painted on 66x36 from the top of Palazzo Foscari – commanding a fine view of the Grand Canal.’ (See Ann Galbally and Anne Gray, Letters from Smike: The Letters of Arthur Streeton 1890–1943, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1989, p. 114.) The stretcher size corresponds exactly to the newly identified work.

This research unearthing The Grand Canal (1908) is timely: informing the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) of the existence of the work has seen its inclusion in their forthcoming exhibition ‘Streeton’, which opens in September 2020. AGNSW Director Michael Brand describes it as ‘the most important painting in the selection of Venetian subject works from 1908’. The painting was last shown at AGNSW for the ‘Loan Exhibition of the Works of Arthur Streeton’ in 1931–32. Since then, it appears not to have shown until 2016 and 2018, in exhibitions curated by the writer. It was not included in the ‘Arthur Streeton Memorial Exhibition’ of 1944, where up to 11 of 135 Streeton artworks exhibited were Venetian scenes.

Publication of this finding brings the painting to public attention now in late 2019 following two other Streeton paintings having re-emerged into circulation in the past five years. In 2016, And the Sunlight Clasps the Earth (1895) was rediscovered in a private collection in Tasmania after around 120 years out of view, and Ariadne (1895) was largely unseen in a private collection in Sydney for 70 years until its 2014 sale.

The painting is no. 346 in The Arthur Streeton Catalogue of 1935, one of two major Grand Canal works listed. The picture can be so identified principally through a visual record of the alternate Grand Canal picture, no. 365, owned by Robert Mond of Sussex (1867–1938) which was printed in the 1919 publication The Art of Arthur Streeton and titled The Grand Canal Venice (exhibited in 1908 at the New English Art Club). Arthur Sydney Baillieu (father of artist Sunday Reed) is established as the owner of The Grand Canal (1908) both with the purchase confirmation that I have found through Streeton’s letters (Baillieu acquired the work from the Victorian Artists Society exhibition ‘Mr Streeton’s pictures’ in June 1914 – see Galbally and Gray, p. 133), and by the painting’s exhibition at AGNSW in 1931–32 as I have discovered from a label on the painting’s verso.

There are no large Grand Canal works documented by Streeton in 1927, when a smaller picture Grand Canal, Venice was painted – it is near identical pictorially to The Grand Canal (1908) – or indeed at any time between 1908 and 1935 when his catalogue of works was published.

For the reasons outlined, I attribute this artwork as being Streeton’s The Grand Canal (1908), catalogue entry no. 346 in The Arthur Streeton Catalogue of 1935. The painting has reached the current owner via Arthur’s sister Amy Adelaide Shackell, passing by descent within the family.

Dr Sarah Schmidt is an Australian public gallery director and curator who manages public and cultural diplomacy for the Australian Embassy, Beijing. She was previously Director of Hamilton Gallery and Deputy Director of the Art Gallery of Ballarat. This is an edited excerpt from an essay to appear in a forthcoming edition of Art Monthly Australasia.

Sweet and sour: Anne Wallace’s ‘Strange Ways’ at QUT Art Museum

Anne Wallace: Strange Ways , exhibition installation view, QUT Art Museum, Brisbane, 2019; image courtesy QUT Art Museum, Brisbane; photo: Carl Warner

Anne Wallace: Strange Ways, exhibition installation view, QUT Art Museum, Brisbane, 2019; image courtesy QUT Art Museum, Brisbane; photo: Carl Warner

‘Strange Ways’ surveys nearly three decades of Anne Wallace’s compelling, unnerving paintings. The exhibition is the first substantial presentation of the artist’s work in her hometown since ‘Private Rooms’ at the former Brisbane City Gallery (now Museum of Brisbane) in 2000.

Wallace’s practice is remarkable for its singular commitment to figurative painting. Although informed by the artist’s ongoing engagement with cinema, literature and music, her paintings actively resist a conventional narrative reading. Using her considerable technical skill, Wallace draws viewers into seductive images of alienation, ennui and trauma, withholding just enough information for us to fully apprehend the image.

The exhibition brings together around 80 paintings and works on paper, including rarely seen early works, most notably Sour the Boiling Honey (1991), a formative example of Wallace’s oeuvre. Painted when she was 21 years old, a staged tableau unfolds across three large panels depicting adolescent boys and girls at play by the sea, with the androgynous central figure representing the artist herself.

It is fascinating to view Wallace’s early works, concerned with adolescent experience, alongside subsequent ones, which are often focused on a solitary (adult) female figure, her back turned or avoiding the viewer’s gaze, set inside airless interiors characterised by their unusual treatment of perspective and lack of extraneous detail. Wallace reflected on this ambiguity in an essay published in Recent Paintings (Arts Queensland, 1999): ‘What I like about representational painting is the fact that an image can be trapped forever and, if there is a sufficient lack of information, it will never go back or forward or yield up its story.’

Curator Vanessa Van Ooyen has sensibly avoided a chronological or didactic display, opting instead for thoughtful juxtapositions that emphasise the consistent trajectory of Wallace’s practice, eliciting gradual developments in style and content. Pleasure Garden (2019), a recent counterpoint to Sour the Boiling Honey, depicts another group of androgynous youths, languidly sunbathing in a fertile garden. In this and other recent works, Wallace zooms out from the tightly cropped scenes of her earlier paintings, the previously dominant figures now subordinate to the overall composition.

Some viewers may find the lack of artwork and expanded labels frustrating, given the significance of Wallace’s titles and their intertextual references which provide a valuable entry point for her paintings. This criticism is offset, however, by the substantial exhibition publication featuring newly commissioned texts on Wallace’s work by Gillian Brown, Francis Plagne and Van Ooyen.

QUT Art Museum is to be commended for its commitment to presenting focused survey exhibitions of mid-career Australian artists. On view until 23 February, ‘Strange Ways’ represents a rare opportunity for Brisbane audiences to see a comprehensive survey of Wallace’s work. The exhibition will then tour to the Art Gallery of Ballarat and Adelaide’s Samstag Museum of Art during 2020.

Hamish Sawyer, Brisbane

Remote control: Simon Denny’s ‘Mine’ at MONA

Simon Denny: Mine , exhibition installation view, Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Hobart, 2019; image courtesy MONA, Hobart; photo: MONA/Jesse Hunniford

Simon Denny: Mine, exhibition installation view, Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Hobart, 2019; image courtesy MONA, Hobart; photo: MONA/Jesse Hunniford

‘Mine’, Simon Denny’s current exhibition project at the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, attempts to represent the mostly unseen, planetary-scale processes of extraction – the plundering, accumulation, enclosure and colonial expropriation of natural resources which are fundamental to the interests of modern capitalism. In our increasingly decentred and dematerialised world, it is difficult to comprehend the scale and specificity of these processes, let alone grasp the ways in which they are naturalised and licensed to cut through patterns of human cooperation and social activity. Compared to our little lives and devices, the seemingly disparate networks of extraction are so immensely huge and their combined impact so vast and abstract, that they resist easy representation. The unrelenting dynamic of these anthropogenic processes have led us to the climatic mess we are currently in. Yet glimmering in the corner of Denny’s ‘Mine’ is the faint insistence that such complex systems-thinking now empowers us to begin reckoning with the devastation caused through this voracious process of extracting value from the natural world.

Denny’s research practice has involved interacting with the new breed of global business entrepreneurs, or people engaged in critical work investigating how these new technologies interface with our lives and affect our relations. Typically, he adopts the rhetoric and aesthetics offered up by these subjects and institutions, as a kind of ambivalent performance, appropriating the innovations of disciplines outside of art and espoused by these new tech industries. While Denny has deployed familiar tactics of immersion in ‘Mine’ – activating, implicating and putting people in different relationships to the material he is working with – his framing of the project in the media and in person signals a more definitive position than he had previously presented. This more straightforward enactment, however, is haunted by ghosts of his earlier techno-libertarian ‘fanboy’ days. It is as if the contradictions engendered by his previous indifference remain unresolved – despite the clear politicisation of content and an obvious change in the artist’s attitude.

Indeed, if Denny’s dystopian Disneyland holds up a mirror to a violently destructive industry in order to reflect the depressing commercial and sociopolitical realities of our time, the mirror also excludes or deflects. In both entertaining and implicating his audience to manifest certain behaviours, Denny manages to divert the critical attention away from his strategy of ‘remote control’ – meaning his authority to situate people in a scripted relation to spatial power. This strategy emphasises the prescribed patterns of action and invisible layers of interactivity which, deep within MONA’s ‘Mine’, are effectively putting us to work. The additional augmented-reality layer (a virtual double space) creates an eerie experience of art where the line between entertainment and exploitation blurs to a point of alarm.

Oscar Capezio, Hobart

This is an edited excerpt from an essay to appear in a forthcoming edition of Art Monthly Australasia; ‘Simon Denny: Mine’ is currently on view at Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art until 13 April 2020.

Between art and life: The 8th Korea Artist Prize

Jewyo Rhii,  Love Your Depot , 2019, installation view, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, 2019; ? Jewyo Rhii; photo: Alex Burchmore

Jewyo Rhii, Love Your Depot, 2019, installation view, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, 2019; ? Jewyo Rhii; photo: Alex Burchmore

After travelling to Singapore this June for ‘Awakenings: Art in Society 1960s–1990s’, I received an invitation in October to the equally spectacular ‘The Square: Art and Society in Korea 1900–2019’, at Seoul’s National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA). This was my first encounter with an art scene perhaps unfamiliar for many readers in Australia, but remarkable in depth and diversity.

A highlight of my stay was the MMCA’s exhibition of works shortlisted for the 8th Korea Artist Prize (on view until 1 March 2020), awarded on 28 November to Jewyo Rhii. Although little known outside Korea, this is one of the most prestigious honours an artist in that country can attain. Rhii was chosen ahead of the three other finalists selected in March – all women at the height of their careers with international reputations for interrogating artistic, social and cultural issues of global significance.

Love Your Depot (2019), Rhii’s prize-winning installation, offers a solution to the precarious working conditions she has endured throughout her career, travelling constantly in search of opportunity while entrusting her work to storage facilities that can’t guarantee security or consistency. Despite the endemic scale of this issue, it often remains hidden behind gallery walls with other under-acknowledged aspects of the industry, from marketing and sales to conservation and disposal. Rhii exposes these after-lives of the work of art in a cavernous ‘laboratory’ that can serve as a storage space, public forum or broadcasting studio, flexibly adapting to suit participating artists. Shelves and stacks filled with paintings and sculpture are the most engaging aspect of the installation, calling to mind the trend for ‘open storage’ sweeping South Korea’s arts sector and used to great effect at the MMCA branch in Cheongju, and the nearby National Palace Museum.

The other finalists adopt a more eclectic perspective on social issues. Birdsong entices viewers to enter Young In Hong’s To Paint the Portrait of a Bird (2019): a caged passage between two austere chambers, on the walls of which birds projected in silhouette tower over bare, twisted branches, their magnified size and shadowed anonymity blurring the boundary between spectator and spectacle. Embroidered textiles arranged to resemble a Confucian ancestral shrine introduce a note of domesticity – rather than a family patriarch, however, the central hanging is adorned with yet more birds, perched on the limbs of a stunted tree, as if seeking solidarity in their shared confinement.

A comparable reclamation of patriarchal space is enacted by Hyesoo Park, whose project unfolds like a social experiment, with the artist as chief investigator. The first stage of her work involved the distribution of a survey built around the question, ‘Who is your “we”?’, to which almost all participants responded ‘family’, even while naming friends and lovers as their most trusted companions. Park cites this contradiction as evidence for her guiding hypothesis: that traditional family bonds are declining in South Korea but have been artificially prolonged as a state mechanism for social control. Like Young, she exposes inequalities and stereotypes masked by Confucian emphasis on ‘family harmony’, noting the pressure felt by women to marry and have children. Her Perfect Family, a satirical reimagining of state-sanctioned initiatives, proposes a market-driven solution, questioning whether domestic bliss can be sold as a package deal.

Ayoung Kim has chosen, like Rhii, to focus on the hidden social crises produced by constant motion and precarity, though her attention to their impact on human relationships suggests closer parallels with Park’s work. For Tricksters’ Plot (2019), Kim has added further conceptual complexity to her Porosity Valley video project, first shown at the 2017 Melbourne Festival. Shocked by the detention of those seeking asylum in Australia, she draws a comparison with the prejudice faced by Yemeni refugees on Jeju Island, south of the Korean Peninsula. Her disorienting digital installation cites a range of sources, from Mongolian folktales to Octavia E. Butler’s techno-feminist novels, to complicate the stereotype of refugees as a threat to the status quo by highlighting their social invisibility and, above all, their essential humanity.

Rhii, Young, Park and Kim take very different approaches to their chosen subjects, testing the boundaries of artistic practice, but are united by their desire for broader relevance beyond the museum and their attention to some of the most pressing issues of our time: gender inequality, shifts in family structure, the precocity of a life in motion, and the prejudice and paranoia of refugee politics. Despite the unfamiliarity of their names for many in Australia, their work transcends national borders.

Alex Burchmore, Seoul

In the receiving seat: Lee Mingwei’s 'Sonic Blossom'

Lee Mingwei,  Sonic Blossom , 2013– , performance view, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2019; photo: Saul Steed; ? Lee Mingwei

Lee Mingwei, Sonic Blossom, 2013– , performance view, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2019; photo: Saul Steed; ? Lee Mingwei

Sonic Blossom (2013– ) continues Taiwanese-American artist Lee Mingwei’s interest in the economy of gift exchange between strangers. As an international artist raised in Asia and living and working between North America and Europe, Mingwei’s gentle, poetic practice enacts gestures of connection in a way that reflects a powerful desire to belong – to traditions, cultures, places and to others.

As with many of the art projects he has conceived and undertaken in a career spanning over 20 years, the artist has drawn on personal history – time spent at his mother’s bedside during a bout of serious illness and convalescence, listening to Austrian late classical composer Franz Schubert’s Lieder (song for voice and piano). The experience brought forth a memory of his mother frequently playing Schubert’s music while Lee was a child.

Love, fragility and the impermanence of life hover over the performative encounters of Sonic Blossom. In the gallery, visitors are invited to take a seat in a single chair positioned in the centre of the space. A singer – there are several who rotate during the course of the day – stands at a distance of several metres and, facing the seated person, sings their heart out.

Originally created for the opening of Seoul’s National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in 2013, Sonic Blossom has since played to audiences from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Centre Pompidou in Paris and Museum MACAN in Jakarta.

For the Adelaide iteration curated by Director Rhana Devenport for the Art Gallery of South Australia (presented with support from the OzAsia Festival and Contemporary Collectors, until 1 December), Lee has commissioned Japanese-Australian fashion designer Akira Isogawa to create a costume for the singers. The resulting piece is a deconstructed ceremonial, architectural and intriguing garment that recalls the majesty of mayoral robes.

Like all gift exchanges, acts of generosity are not without tension and the acknowledgment of mutual obligation. Will the seated visitor, now the object of the collected gaze, display gratitude or pleasure or will they squirm in discomfort? Will they enjoy the gift or resent the attention?

I was present for two Lieders, including the participation of a young father holding a baby. Those of us present were enchanted by the baby held on a lap in this colonial building filled with the sound of a clear, strong, sonorous voice. Singer to seated guest, gallery visitor to state institution: it was a gift well received.

Anna Zagala, Adelaide

Making sunshine: Jim Lambie’s ‘Wild Is The Wind’ at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

Jim Lambie: Wild Is The Wind , exhibition installation view, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; image courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; photo: Luis Power

Jim Lambie: Wild Is The Wind, exhibition installation view, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; image courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; photo: Luis Power

For Australian audiences who might have last encountered Jim Lambie’s work with Zobop (1999– ) – the space- and mind-warping floor installation made from pulsating lines of rainbow-coloured vinyl tape reconfigured at the MCA for Juliana Engberg’s 2014 Biennale of Sydney – the Scottish artist’s latest show at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in Sydney is a quieter, more spontaneous affair.

‘I made this yesterday,’ says Lambie on the eve of the opening of ‘Wild Is The Wind’ (on view until 23 November). Suspended from the ceiling by a string of op-shop beads is a railway sleeper, hovering above the floor at pillow height. It is ‘this deep sleep moment’, the artist explains of the central work, around which the exhibition revolves as a kind of intriguing dreamscape.

Along a high wooden beam overhead, Lambie has arrayed a line of jam jars stuffed with wads of old T-shirt fabric, resembling little pots of paint as if awaiting the artist’s brush or imagination to be dipped into. Around the walls are grids of reconfigured doors, some tequila sunrise-hued, others as if turned from the light, and in between burst sprays of coloured sunglass lenses welded into metal constellations. Lambie, who trained at the Glasgow School of Art in the early 1990s, seems to be deconstructing the optical process of perception, delineating spectacle into simpler, sparer notes. When taken together, he hopes that audiences will gain ‘a new perspective on the space’.

In keeping with his background as a deejay, Lambie has called the exhibition after the song most recently covered by David Bowie on his 1976 album Station to Station, and a sense of musical improvisation is very much alive in the show. Sitting on a small white shelf is a bunch of carrots, dripping orange paint onto the wall and floor – a single gesture also performed on the eve of the show’s opening. ‘It’s about being here and now,’ he says, his thick Glaswegian accent punctuating the air.

Beyond the Sydney show, Lambie’s career continues to buzz. He is included in Tate Liverpool’s current survey of op art, bringing Zobop into psychedelic communion with work by seminal figures like Bridget Riley, Jesús Rafael Soto and Victor Vasarely: ‘It’s nice to be in such esteemed company.’ And there are projects coming up in Dunedin and Tokyo.

But apart from a brief stint in New York early last decade, Glasgow continues to be Lambie’s artistic muse. ‘You know, the weather’s so bad that I guess the reason there’s such a vibrant music and art and literature scene is that you have to make your own sunshine,’ he says only half-jokingly. ‘So there might be an element of truth in that.’ Right now in Sydney, the Glaswegian sun strobes more softly.

Michael Fitzgerald, Sydney

Other ways of seeing: Ella Dreyfus’s ‘Under Twenty-Seven’ at Bondi Pavilion Gallery

Under Twenty-Seven , exhibition installation view, Watt Space Gallery, University of Newcastle, May 2019; image courtesy the artist

Under Twenty-Seven, exhibition installation view, Watt Space Gallery, University of Newcastle, May 2019; image courtesy the artist

Ella Dreyfus’s powerful and yet subtle artworks ask us to think about what is at stake in the gaze of the adult viewer when confronted with the spectacle of boys growing into young men. She asks us to pause and think about not only what we see, but what we want to see.

Images of children and young people are highly politically charged these days. We are living through a long-deserved reckoning about the sexual and physical abuse of minors. We are witnessing a calling to account of some of our most revered institutions and authority figures.

This reckoning has created a climate of enormous anxiety around images of children, as Dreyfus knows all too well. A high watermark of this alarm was in 2008 when artist Bill Henson was accused of paedophilic instincts for his hauntingly staged images of young people on the cusp of puberty. Even though she only photographed her young male subjects naked from the waist up, Dreyfus has also dealt with a host of strong emotional reactions to her portraits: from last-minute parental sanctions on exhibiting them to public commentary.

Throughout her oeuvre Dreyfus has challenged the lens through which we see bodies and asks us to reflect on why certain ones are either invisible or actively censored. As Jacqueline Millner suggested in her 2005 catalogue essay for ‘Under Twelve’, the first suite of works in Dreyfus’s current series, it is the relationship between subject and object that goes to the heart of the trouble that animates concerns over images of children and young people. Are they subjects or objects of our gaze? What is the relationship between our desire to protect and our impulse to control?

What this remarkable new suite of works presents us with is the opportunity to reflect on the evolution of the young men who originally sat for these images 14 years ago and, in turn, to reflect on our own subjectivity as viewers. The changes in the bodies and the gazes of the subjects of the portraits are not only striking but strikingly different. It is tempting to read across them in a linear fashion: to use the changes in their gazes and poses as evidence of a particular relationship to emergent masculinity. But that would be to fix them in our imagined world of the transition from child to adult. And that is exactly what Dreyfus asks us to consider.

Images have a capacity to remind us as much about what we can’t see as what we do. Photographs are always framed in multiple ways: by the photographer’s lens, by cropping or digital alteration or by the subjective gaze of the viewer. What Dreyfus asks us to notice in these quietly eloquent portraits is precisely this. She reminds us that when we look, there are always other ways of seeing and that, ultimately, it is impossible to fix the object of our vision with our gaze.

Catharine Lumby, Sydney

This text originally appeared as part of a longer essay accompanying Ella Dreyfus’s exhibition ‘Under Twenty-Seven’, currently on view at Sydney’s Bondi Pavilion Gallery until 3 November.