Habitat: Ways of living

Visual Art Exhibition Review

Various Artists: Alex Asch, Burchill/McCamley, Miriam Charlie, Sean Davey, David Flanagan, Michal Glikson, Tina Havelock Stevens, Katie Hayne, Mikhaila Jurkiewicz, Waratah Lahy, Hardy Lohse, Catherine O’Donnell, David Paterson, Alan Patterson, Patrice Riboust, Natalie Rosin, Khaled Sabsabi, James Tylor (Possum)

CMAG | Habitat: Ways of living | Until 26 June

This important and well-constructed exhibition examines high-rise, upmarket apartments, suburban settings and places that have collapsed. In Canberra, elsewhere in Australia, and overseas.

In her catalogue foreword, Rowan Henderson makes the point that ‘Home’ is a value-laden word. Very true – for the fortunate, homes are where we feel secure. Others are less fortunate, even suffering the domestic violence issues currently filling so much media.

David Paterson exhibits photographic images of densely packed high-rise apartment blocks in Hong Kong and Singapore. They are wonderful geometric compositions. Look for birds in flight passing across the buildings.

David PATERSON
Singapore apartments, 2019
inkjet print, courtesy of the artist

In intimately scaled watercolours (and gouache) on paper, Waratah Lahy illustrates the recent transformation of Canberra’s inner north, from older residences on large blocks, to townhouses and apartments.

Hardy Lohse’s photographs of the Currong Flats being demolished pose questions. What are our memories and responses?

Hardy LOHSE
Currong Apartments, 2016
inkjet print, courtesy of the artist

Katie Hayne’s engagement with demolition of mid-century public housing is depicted in her video, Stuart Flats, going, 2019. She also evokes this disappearing side of Canberra in two small oil on board paintings.

David Flanagan’s photographs are about green fields’ real estate projects near Canberra’s northern boundary, and include one featuring a billboard proclaiming, ‘FULL OF POSSIBILITY’.

David FLANAGAN
Untitled # 21, from ‘Move up to the views’ series, 2015
chromogenic colour photograph

Alex Asch explores the suburban life of Canberrans in his installation, Suburban Block, 2020. The catalogue suggests a visual association with children’s building blocks. They reminded me of black houses I’ve seen in coastal areas of Kent, England.

With charcoal on paper artworks, Catherine O’Donnell focuses on suburban landscapes and houses from her youth. And she shows a linear analysis of composition in a graphic depiction of the Sirius Building in Sydney. There also is a watercolour and ink sketch, Sirius public housing apartments, 1978 – 79, bearing Alan Patterson’s signature.

Catherine O’DONNELL
Sirius, 2018, charcoal on paper
Courtesy of the artist and May Space

Patrice Riboust spent many hours studying various forms of historical architecture. Using those as source material, he produced highly detailed sketches of imaginary structures – ink and marker on tracing paper.

Natalie Rosin contributes impressive ceramic sculptures reflecting brutalist buildings observed during a residency in Poland.

Janet Burchill and Jennifer McCamley used old colour film to photograph Berlin locations being used by Turkish immigrants as places of refuge and informal socialising. The resulting work, Freiland, 1992, consists of a series of nineteen discrete but sequential images. Some of the film stock used had been compromised prior to use, infusing some of the images with an unearthly blue, or harsh red cast.

The 2006 Lebanon War severely damaged civilian infrastructure in central Beirut. Khaled Sabsabi has painted over his photographic images creating a frieze-like series.

Miriam Charlie is a Yanyuwa/Garrwa woman living in Borroloola, a community in the Northern Territory. Her photographic series, No country, no home, 2015, documents the living conditions of her friends and relatives there.

One work by James Tylor (Possum), Unresettling (Stone footing for dome hut), 2016, is a simulacrum of the stone foundations for an Aboriginal domestic shelter. These phantom structures are physically created by the artist’s hand and translated via the camera’s aperture.

None of us need reminding that calamitous bushfires were experienced over the 2019-20 summer in nearby forests. Sean Davey’s photographs nevertheless are a poignant reminder.

Sean DAVEY
Untitled (Little Bombay Road, Bombay NSW) 2019
pigment print on Ilford cotton paper, Courtesy of the artist

Flame is also an important element of Michal Glikson’s video, Jhumpiri: Coming down, 2014 – 2019, set in one family’s makeshift structure on the streets of Lahore, Pakistan.

Tina Havelock Stevens shows stills adapted from her video, Drum Detroit, 2011, revealing urban decay.

Tina HAVELOCK STEVENS
Skull House, from the Drum Detroit series 2011 – 13
video still, chromogenic colour photograph, metallic
Courtesy of the artist

Mikhaila Jurkiewicz often uses large format negatives in her photography, requiring her subjects to remain still during protracted sittings. The results somehow  reminiscent of daguerreotypes.

This review is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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At the point of a singular horizon

Photomedia Exhibition Review

Ren Gregorčič | At the point of a singular horizon

M16 Artspace | Until 4 April

This modest exhibition features a new body of video and image-based work by artist and researcher Ren Gregorčič “interrogating the interface of digitally mediated expressions of structurally mediated environments”. Modest only in the sense that it comprises just a 2:33 minutes video, two digital prints of texture map images – and a catalogue. Not ordinary, unimposing or, for that matter, inexpensive – although much less costly than was recently achieved with a non-fungible token (NFT), another form of digital asset.

Gregorčič is an artist working in the field of sculpture and spatial practice. He explores how various mechanisms are expressed in architecture, infrastructure, urban planning and nature-management. He often combines artistic, philosophic and social research to produce creative outputs.

Here, Gregorčič explores a 3D reconstruction of a garden plot within an internal concrete courtyard of a converted high school building in Canberra. He used photogrammetry, a computational method that constructs 3D digital geometry from photographic data. The 3D rendering produced the video, showing a simulated light source passing across the surface of the digital object at different angles.

The texture maps (images that are applied to surfaces of 3D models to give them colour and detail) are also outcomes of the photogrammetric process. From a top-down view, the digital reconstruction seems complete and cohesive; from other angles, it appears distorted and broken. This structural/aesthetic quality is a result of the software used seeking to make a complete object from incomplete data.

Ren Gregorčič, At the point of a singular horizon (Texture Map No. 5), 2020-21. Digital print

Reference photographs used to produce the digital reconstruction were taken at sunset, fixing native shadows onto the 3D object’s surface. In the video work, a light source simulating the sun moving across the sky has been used to illuminate the digital object. This produced subtle moments where the fixed and projected shadows overlap as the garden plot fades in and out of view.

Despite the few works on display, this is an exhibition worthy of your time, studying the texture maps closely and watching the video again and again, properly taking everything in. In the video, I found I was viewing collages, assembled by the digital processes. Gaps appeared at times, seemingly placing irregularly shaped black holes amongst the green leaves, weeds, rocks and much more. Watching it was a seductive experience.

Ren Gregorčič, At the point of a singular horizon (video still), 2021 -Image 1
Ren Gregorčič, At the point of a singular horizon (video still), 2021 -Image 2
Ren Gregorčič, At the point of a singular horizon (video still), 2021 -Image 7

An excellent catalogue essay by Eryk Salvaggio (an artist and researcher from the USA) describes the body of work as “A total portrait without omissions”. That is an interesting concept to consider. How difficult it would be to create such a portrait of a person. How could we reveal absolutely everything about any one person in a portrait? It would need to be a complex portrait combining many images. Even then it is difficult to imagine there being nothing about the subject that was not revealed.

I recalled reading an article with the same “total portrait without omissions” title years ago. The author, who had been struggling with editing images for a book, wrote about how she could structure text in her head, seeing it somewhat like a 3D form, but struggled to do the same with imagery for a book. That resonates with me. Salvaggio also writes “The once theoretical concept of a life lived through screens moved from cyberpunk fiction to lived experience for much of the world in 2020.” Those of us who have immersed ourselves in Zoom and similar systems all know what he is saying. Just one more thought to consider whilst viewing Gregorčič’s video in this intriguing show.

This review was published by the Canberra Times on 29/3/21 here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Mervyn Bishop, the exhibition

Photography Review

Mervyn Bishop | Mervyn Bishop, the exhibition

National Film and Sound Archives | Until 1 August 2021

This exhibition is drawn from the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) collection and Mervyn Bishop’s private archive; and enriched by sound and moving images from the NFSA. It features iconic photographs that derive from his career as a photojournalist, alongside personal images of family and friends and intimate portraits of members of the Aboriginal community.

H. Thomas, C. Dixon, K. Smith ACT from the Mervyn Bishop archive 1976 35mm colour slide 2.5 x 3.5 cm National Art Archive|Art Gallery of New South Wales © Mervyn Bishop Photo: AGNSW

There are also images of Bishop by other photographers, cameras from his personal collection, sound and moving image about him, and other videos providing context. So, it is not simply an exhibition of the artist’s imagery. It is an exhibition about the artist, one of Australia’s most prolific and influential photographers, who has significantly influenced our collective understanding of Australia’s history.

Bishop himself has said: ‘Photography has been my life, my passion for 60 years: the art and technique, the stories I’ve witnessed and captured. I’m glad to be able to share my life’s work with the public’.

Born and raised in Brewarrina, Bishop was encouraged by his mother to take his first photograph. After witnessing the ‘magic’ of the developing process, he became passionate about photography. In 1963 he successfully applied for a four-year cadetship at The Sydney Morning Herald and became Australia’s first Aboriginal press photographer. In 1971 he won the News Photographer of the Year Award with his front-page photograph, Life and Death Dash, 1971.

There is no need for me to assess the quality of Bishop’s images; others have recognised his skills many times over many years. I will simply say that his body of work is amongst the most significant by any Australian photographer.

Inevitably displayed is the iconic image from 1975 when the (then) Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, poured a handful of earth back into the hand of Vincent Lingiari, Gurindji elder and traditional landowner. This image became an icon of the land rights movement and Australian photography.

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory 1975, printed 1999 type R3 photograph 30.5 x 30.5 cm image; 33.9 x 33.9 cm sheet Art Gallery of New South Wales Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991 © Mervyn Bishop/ Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Photo: AGNSW

But there is so much more. A wonderful shot of womenfolk at Bowraville includes Aunty Elaine Kelly wearing a cloth nappy around her face to ease toothache pain. Women attending a home management course at Yuendumu are portrayed sensitively in a fine moody image. Another of a woman balancing precariously on a wooden plank, holding a pot of water over a submerged cord supplying electricity to neighbours is a moving portrayal of living conditions for Aboriginal people in 1988.

There are important documentary images of well-known and important people, including Lois O’Donoghue and Oodgeroo Noonuccal. Other featured people include Roslyn Watson, one of the first Aboriginal ballerinas, and June Barker, an Aboriginal educator and story keeper.

Lois O’Donoghue CBA, AM, and Oodgeroo Noonuccal 1974, printed 2008 gelatin silver photograph 30 x 30.4 cm image; 40.4 x 50.6 cm sheet Art Gallery of New South Wales Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008 © Mervyn Bishop Photo: AGNSW
Roslyn Watson 1973, printed 2008 gelatin silver photograph 40 x 30 cm sheet Art Gallery of New South Wales Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008 © Mervyn Bishop Photo: AGNSW

And there are other more simple or gentle portrayals, such as Bob with his tiny catch at Shoalhaven Heads. An early work from 1966 portrays two of the photographer’s cousins when he visited Gundawera, a property near Brewarrina, where his grandfather, father and uncle once worked. It tenderly portrays a special and fun moment on a boat. It is a precious memory for Bishop, just as our old family photos are precious for each of us.

Cousins, Ralph and Jim, Brewarrina 1966, printed 2008 gelatin silver photograph 30 x 40 cm sheet Art Gallery of New South Wales Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008 © Mervyn Bishop Photo: AGNSW

We are shown an excellent film about Bishop, directed by Warwick Thornton. And a home movie dating from c1957-8 of Bishop with fellow altar boys and Brothers at Brewarrina’s Christchurch, Church of England.

And when you have explored and taken in all of that, you can sit down and watch a curated slideshow of images from Bishop’s personal archive of over 8000 photos, taken during his 60 years of taking them. Like most photographers of his generation, he liked to host ‘slide nights’ for family, friends and neighbours. They were most fortunate people.

This review was first published by the Canberra Times here. It is also published on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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L’homme et son environment & Preying for Modesty (Meatheads)

Photography Review

Babacar Traore | L’homme et son environment

Katrina Stamatopoulos |

Photo Access | Until 3 April 2021

These two separate exhibitons are quite different, but are connected as they each address issues of human consumption.

Babacar Traore (aka Doli), a photomedia artist based in Dakar, Senegal, explores waste or, if you prefer, refuse. He searches through the streets where he lives and takes snapshots of discarded rubbish. Then he digitally reworks the snaps, giving them new life and presenting us with his original vision reflecting life as it is. The exhibition is aptly titled (in English) The Man/Humankind and his/its Environment.

Traore refers to himself as a neighbourhood photographer who is interested in the arts. He expresses himself through various mediums, including photography, painting, installations, performance art and writing. A video tells us (in French with English subtitles) that Dakar is a very lively and vibrant place of over three million people, of which Traore is a witness. He refers to writing poetry through his photographs, as he tries to present an original vision reflecting life there.

A catalogue tells us that the five works displayed by Traore are ‘photography and digital paint painted on photographic paper’. In her catalogue essay, Jennifer Houdrouge explains that Traore ‘decomposes the scene in 5 sequences similarly to mythological narrative structure: dusk, early morning, zenith, afternoon and dawn’.

Each artwork is incredibly vibrant. They are full of colours, dots, and compositional geometric and circular lines – added by a lengthy digital painting process. Contemplating them, we can amost hear the sounds of the Dakar sreets even though we have never been there.

Babcar Traore, Aube, 2018, photo paper
Babcar Traore, Petit-Matin, 2018, photo paper
Babcar Traore, Zenith, 2018, photo paper

In other parts of the gallery, Katrina Stamatopoulos, a Greek-Australian artist based in London shows us thirteen large hand-painted emulsion works on a traditional printmaking paper, along with a three-part video filmed at a number of farm locations in NSW. These works are all about our relationship with the animals we eat. Stamatopoulos invites us to meet the meat as it were – see the livestock that is killed for most of us to consume. This exhibition is also aptly titled, Preying for Modesty (Meatheads).

The black and white prints are not artworks that I would display in my home. I found them confronting, no doubt as intended. They feature reincarnated packaged cuts of meat as human heads. The packaged cuts were sourced from big chain supermarkets, local grocers and farmers’ markets. In other words it is just what we might purchase ourselves.

Katrina Stamatopoulos, 1.80 (From Meatheads), 2020,
black and white handprint on emulsion coated
Katrina Stamatopoulos, Meatheads #1, 2020,
black and white handprint on emulsion coated paper
Katrina Stamatopoulos, Meatheads #4, 2020,
black and white handprint on emulsion coated paper

For some, the exhibited video also may be confronting as it shows farmers carefully butchering animals they raised themselves. Having spent some years of my childhood and youth living on farms and observing such practices, I did not find the video uncomfortable. Nevertheless, it raises questions that need to be considered.

Benjamin Carey’s catalogue essay suggests we ‘might look down and ponder our own hands and feet’ and ‘that, but for colour, texture, and heartbeats per minute, our material is the same, our blood and skin and sinew the same, and our captivity in fields between birth, barcode and beloved care…the same’. I’m not sure that I would go quite that far but, currently being on an enforced diet that has eliminated most meat, I am probably less inclined at present to consider such a comparison than you might be.

I would sum up this exhibition by quoting from a promotion for a scheduled artist in conversation event relating to it – ‘Just like a burp, connected ideas need a release’. So, I would suggest these two exhibitions are connected ideas released for your consideration.

This review was published in the Canbera Times on 13/3/21 here. It also was published on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Otherwise Arbitrary Moments, Passing Time 2020, & Works from the Gallery’s Permanent Collection

Photography & Photomedia Exhibition Review

David Ryrie | Otherwise Arbitrary Moments

Tamara Dean | Passing Time, 2020

Katthy Cavaliere, Henri Mallard, Jackie Ranken, Cathy Laudenbach, Jon Lewis | Works from the Gallery’s Permanent Collection

Goulburn Regional Art Gallery | Until 3 April 2021

David Ryrie’s Otherwise Arbitrary Moments is the ‘main feature’. This new work is his first major solo at the Gallery. In it, he pairs seemingly ordinary encounters with the question of human scale.

Ryrie considers a photograph to be ‘a document which, like any other, can be objective, flawed, loved, hated – a translation of sorts by the photographer, open to interpretation by the viewer, evidence of a moment in time, real or imagined.’

The titles are sometimes obvious and other times enigmatic. An image which includes a sign saying ‘Town Water’ was clearly simple to title. Another showing inflatables at a swimming pool has the title ‘Empathy, No.1’ The look on the face of one inflatable in the pool seems to be conveying empathy for another inflatable stranded upside down and out of the water. An illuminated globe-shaped lightshade is more mysteriously titled ‘Cacophony’.

David Ryrie, Ball Games 2019 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
David Ryrie, Drowning No.4, 2019 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
David Ryrie, Empathy No.1 2019 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
David Ryrie, Interruption 2018 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
David Ryrie, Perfect 2019 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery

In the catalogue we read ‘these works offer new details and revelations at each viewing’. They certainly have something to say. It was great to explore and personally interpret them. Thinking about the titles added to my enjoyment.

A much smaller Gallery 2 is where you stand and, for just over 12 minutes, immerse yourself in Tamara Dean’s single channel video work entitled ‘Passing Time, 2020’. Dean’s practice explores our connection to nature and rites of passage in contemporary life. Her unique understanding of light and landscape reveals sensual pieces that invite contemplation.

This video work references Dean’s experience of self-isolation on her property during the pandemic last year. It starts with an image of the sun seen through leaves suspended from trees. And, because it repeats itself backwards on a loop, it concludes with the same sun.

Between the start and finish of the video, we see many aspects of nature. I noticed reflections of the sky on the surface of water, with occasional birds flying or circling in that sky, whilst unknown things landed on the water’s surface creating circular ripples. I saw fast flowing water, blurred and also clearly focussed. I saw a spider, a lily, wind blown trees and grasses, and either mist or smoke floating by. Part of me longed to hear the sounds accompanying this mesmerising imagery.

Still from Tamara Dean, Passing Time, 2020, single channel moving image work, 12’ 2”. Editing by Jonnie Leahy. Tamara Dean is represented by Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin. Photo by Silversalt. Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery.
Still from Tamara Dean, Passing Time, 2020, single channel moving image work, 12’ 2”. Editing by Jonnie Leahy. Tamara Dean is represented by Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin. Photo by Silversalt. Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery.
Still from Tamara Dean, Passing Time, 2020, single channel moving image work, 12’ 2”. Editing by Jonnie Leahy. Tamara Dean is represented by Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin. Photo by Silversalt. Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery.

Last, but not least, there is The Window – literally “a window” into the Gallery’s permanent collection, showcasing works selected by a Guest Curator – this time Stephen Hartup, a photographer based in Tarago, working across large format film and producing silver gelatin prints. He considers photography to be ‘at its best when it is an intense visual language which does not require a dense, complex shield of written language to explain or justify it.’ He has some of his own works in the Gallery’s permanent collection but here presents material by other photographers.

The Window, curated by Stephen Hartup

Hartup has selected five interesting works. The first (top left) is Katthy Cavaliere’s Gaze of the Masked Philosopher, 2004 – showing the view out across the wool stores and sale yards through the eyes of Goulburn’s Big Merino when it was in its original location.

Then (top centre) there is an untitled print (2011) from original stereo half negative made by Henri Mallard. It depicts a worker during construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Jackie Ranken (top right) is represented with her intriguing Aerial Abstract #4 – of the Millennium drought-damaged landscape.

Cathy Laudenbach’s Girl Running (bottom left), a pigment print on archival bamboo paper, successfully causes us to think about the potential scariness of a forest, particularly the Belanglo State Forest.

Finally (bottom right), The Window contains Jon Lewis’s Aussie Soldier in Ainaro Hospital Ruins, 2012, which shows a locally painted Jesus Christ, surprisingly not destroyed by the rampage of the militias.

A version of this review was published in the Canberra Times of 6/3/21 here. The review is also published on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Self Reflection

Roughly every quarter, I write a piece for the APS Focus page in Australian Photography magazine. This is a modified version of my latest piece, published in the March 2021 issue now in newsagencies. A few words in the final two paragraphs have been varied following rule changes relating to the MCPP.

As published:

I first joined a photographic club in 1977 and the APS in 1986 and have learned an enormous amount about photography during the years since. Most importantly, I am still learning – as I believe we all should. In recent years I have been closely involved with two areas within APS – the Contemporary Group (CG) and the Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize (MCPP).

I chair the CG, edit its monthly online magazine and administer its Friends group on Facebook. I learn from each and every image I see, and from the discussions that take place about them on social media. Recently we have conducted some Zoom sessions for interested CG members and, just last night, we shared a few images in such a session and had interesting conversations about them. The newest CG members learned from that – so too did those who have been involved for many years.

The MCPP is now in its third year. Again, I have learned a lot from seeing which entries were selected as finalists in 2019 and 2020, and which were not. Of course, different judges might select different finalists and winners. Anyone who has ever attended a club judging or entered an international competition knows that. More importantly, if they listen to judges’ comments, or read adjudicators remarks, or carefully read available artist statements and study individual works, they will have learned.

A requirement to submit a concept statement with each entry in the MCPP challenges some photographers, but we should all see it as another way of learning. If we cannot describe what we were seeking to reveal through our image, then how did we manage to create an image relating to our concept?

So, are you entering in 2021? I hope you are and that you have some great images and words illustrating some excellent concepts to submit. I also hope you will be amongst the finalists and, maybe, even take home the $10,000 prizemoney. Most importantly, I hope you learn something from developing concepts, creating images to illustrate them and writing your associated concept statements.

I managed to have one of my entries selected as a finalist in 2020. As I prepare my entries for other such competitions (not the MCPP as management of it have been ruled ineligible now) I will look again at works previously entered and others of mine that haven’t made the cut. I will also look more at other past entries, such as the one by Roger Skinner below. I will be seeking to learn again.

20190918 Roos Songlines © Roger Skinner

Those of who become finalists in the 2021 MCPP will have their prints displayed for seven weeks during July and August at the Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre (MRAC). This is a significant move to an art gallery within the Museums and Galleries of NSW network, allowing scope for interaction with other galleries in that network. The acquired annual MCPP winners will go into this regional gallery’s permanent collection, adding a great deal of prestige for the winning artists.

Entries close on Friday 23 April at 11PM AEST via https://www.a-p-s.org.au/ or https://myphotoclub.com.au/.

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