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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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