Photo Book Review, Reviews

Canberra Re-Seen Photobook

Photography Book Review

Canberra Re-Seen | Various Artists

Three new independently published photo-books were recently launched in Canberra at Photo Access, all examining the city of Canberra as a place of social, cultural and political significance. Each photographer, in all the books, explores their personal relationship to the city, as well as considering its wider, public meaning as a national capital city.

Canberra Re-Seen, by multiple artists, curated by Wouter Van de Voorde (currently acting Director of Photo Access), was an exhibition in 2021 that explored the idea of the city as a community of people, a built environment, and a physical landscape and the book selects and interweaves works from the project. I reviewed the exhibition at the time on this blog here.

Developed in collaboration with Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG), the project brought together sixteen artists to create new work responding to three of Canberra’s landmark photographers – Marzena Wasikowska, Edward (Ted) Richards and Ian North – all part of the CMAG collection. Just one image by each of those photographers are also included in this book.

The words accompanying the images throughout this book provide much information – historical background about the city, the project and the three landmark photographers; and the sixteen artists wrote their own words about their individual approaches and images.

Inspired by Wasikowska’s interest in capturing the human qualities of Canberra, one of the project groups explored the idea that a city is best understood through its people. They had the added benefit of Wasikowska herself leading their workshop. The book’s images from this group include Andrea Bryant’s marvellous portrait of her neighbour Maria, Eva Schroeder’s superb Metamorphosis  – a triptych portrayal of a Canberran transitioning from one gender to another, and Louise Maurer’s extraordinary Weetangera II – a composite speaking to the importance of diminishing green spaces and native ecosystems across Canberra. Each of those named images can be seen in my previous review of the exhibition, so here is just one of them.

Maria Straykova

A second collective, led by Van de Voorde, investigated Richards’ interest in documenting the character of Canberra’s little-known places. They shot on 35mm film and created darkroom prints in response to Richards’ dramatic black and white style. Amongst their creations are Annette Fisher’s delightful Abstracts, and Tessa Ivison’s strong cityscapes – interestingly titled Pastoral. Sari Sutton, inspired by the playful use of lines and geometry in Richard’s Dancing in the Mall, 1964 found her own and used them effectively in her Civic Stripes series. Again, each of those images was included in my review of the previous exhibition, and so, here is just one of them.

Annette Fisher, 4 Abstracts, 2021

Working with documentary photographer David Hempenstall, the third group explored the ideas of North’s early 1980s images of Canberra suburbs – vistas both bleak and beautiful. Peter Larmour took 3D images of landscapes. His Southern Anaglyph (dye sublimation on aluminium) was worthy of close examination when exhibited. Unfortunately, it can only be represented in two dimensions in this book. A very strong contribution is Beata Tworek’s series of excellent collages, which respond to North’s innovative and optimistic colour treatment of deserted streetscapes with austere monochromes reflecting disdain for their lack of individuality. Grant Winkler’s That Sinking Feeling is very much about the bush landscape disappearing as new suburbs creep over it, replaced by homes and other buildings sitting heavily on the scraped earth with what remains of nature being “moulded and manicured” and no longer particularly natural.

Once again, the mentioned images made by this group are in my review of the exhibition, but here is one of them.

Ambivalent collage 6 – Beata Tworek

Translated into this book, Canberra Re-Seen selects and interweaves work from across that broader project, drawing together digital and darkroom works to generate a simultaneously affectionate and challenging look at the city of Canberra and what it means to live in it today. Photo Access staff member Caitlin Seymour-King has done a fine job of designing the book. It is much more than a catalogue of the 2021 exhibition. It is a book to study and return to regularly as the city of Canberra continues to develop and change.

The book can be purchased at Photo Access.

This review is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here. Another version was published in the Canberra Times on 7/5/22 here as part of a combined review of this and the other two books launched at the same time.

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Photo Book Review, Reviews

EDGE

Photography Book Review

EDGE | Kayla Adams

EDGE, by Kayla Adams, is one of three independently published photo-books about Canberra recently launched. As do the other two, this book explores the author’s personal relationship to the city.

The book looks at the urban and built environment of the Woden town centre through the idea of Edge City. I was not previously familiar with the term but learned that it originated in the United States for a concentration of business, shopping, and entertainment outside a traditional downtown or central business district, in what had previously been a suburban residential or rural area.

The term was popularised by the 1991 book Edge City: Life on the New Frontier by Joel Garreau. He argued that the edge city has become the standard form of urban growth worldwide, representing a 20th-century urban form unlike that of the 19th-century central downtown.

So, it is an urban planning phenomenon where new, separate cities spring up around older, established ones. Is that what Woden town centre is – or is becoming? Adams says, rather than it “springing up”, Canberra chose the edge city form consciously. Whether that is so or not, certainly the city has been changing in recent years and continues to do so.

Adams has approached her exploration by focussing on the Lovett Tower, that 93-metre-tall building in Woden’s town centre which once was the city’s tallest building. Current redevelopment plans would see it grow from 24 to 28 storeys and again become the tallest building. Another developer’s plans could see a similar height building nearby. Whatever changes are made to existing buildings and regardless of new additions in the area, this photobook is timely. The views featured in it inevitably will change or be completely lost. The iconic tower may no longer be easily noticed from surrounding suburbs.

Lyons house study & Lovett Tower 2, 2018 – Kayla Adam

All the images in EDGE were shot between 2018 and 2021. They are a mixture of black and white and colour photographs. Around half show the Lovett Tower. There it is – glimpsed through  trees, through the mesh of a structure in a decaying parcel of land, and above the rooftops of suburbia during both day and night.

Lovett Tower and trees at Lyons apartments, 2020 – Kayla Adams

Other images include views from Mount Taylor, the demolition of the Lyons apartments directly across from the Town Centre, and an assortment of pieces of the surrounding suburbia. The Pitch’n’Putt, which also has closed, is another featured subject.

Woden Pitch’n’Putt & Lovett Tower 2, 2018 – Kayla Adams

People themselves are not seen in the works, but the artist’s presence as author is nevertheless evident.  It is not a book simply to be flicked through. Time should be taken to examine and consider each image, looking at their compositions and thinking about why Adams chose their locations and contents. Doing so, viewers will notice details that reveal changes during the short period of years in which they were taken. Through her distinctive use of viewpoints, Adams draws the viewer irresistibly into the process of seeing, creating an intimate complicity between artist, image and audience.

As the years pass by, this book will become akin to a time capsule. Be they planned extensions to existing places or organically born structures in and around the Town Centre, changes will bring with them new identities and notions of place. Who knows what buildings will be demolished or remade? What new features will appear where – and will they replace or add to those currently part of this town centre? Today’s youngsters starting out on their life journey’s and regularly vising the town centre may even be intrigued by this book when it becomes a historical document showing what their part of the city once looked like.

The book can be purchased at Photo Access.

This review is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here. Another version was published in the Canberra Times on 7.5.22 here as part of a combined review of this and the other two books launched at the same time.

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Photo Book Review, Reviews

Lifetime Book 1. Coming of age

Photography Book Review

Lifetime Book 1. Coming of age | Greg Dickins

There have been various photo-books published about Canberra. Heide Smith published five of them about the city and its people between 1983 and 2012. Col Ellis published one in 2014 – providing tips and tricks for aspiring photographers, as well as creating a memento for expatriates and visitors. And I provided all the images for a 1990 book introducing Canberra to thousands of visitors shown around by local tourism company Hire-A-Guide.

However, I doubt that three independent photo-books about the city have previously been launched simultaneously. But now we have three which all examine Canberra as a place of social, cultural and political significance. Each explores the personal relationships of their photographers to the city. Each also looks at the national capital’s wider, public meaning.

One of them, Life-Time Book 1. Coming of age, is the first in a planned series of five photo-books by Greg Dickins. It catalogues his life in Canberra between 1967 and 1973, focussing on his experiences of childhood, school, university student revelry and family intimacy –  against the backdrop of anti-Vietnam War protests and rallies to establish an Aboriginal embassy. His planned later books will cover the years to 1987, after he left Canberra.

Dickins has spent his working life as a journalist and media consultant but has always had a passion for photography. He picked up a 35mm SLR camera as a teenager in the late 1960s – that time of great social, political and cultural change. Since then he has maintained a permanent darkroom, working mostly in black & white.

As a record of Canberra the way it looked and felt fifty years ago, this volume reveals something of the extent to which the city has evolved and changed through time. In his introduction, Dickins identifies his first dilemma as author of a book of photographs – “What do I have to say?” His response was that he needed to narrate a story linking the pictures and explaining their inclusion. So, he shows us what he saw and hopes we will see his take on what his images mean – or meant at the time.

So, how well has the author achieved his purpose? The childhood section includes some delightful images of youngsters doing the types of things all children do – playing with balloons – and something home-made, rolling about together on the ground, and painting at kindergarten.

Jane, Tricia & friend, June 1973 – Greg Dickins

They are also shown gesturing, laughing, and even looking like Winston Churchill. Some adults also make appearances with the children. These photos clearly represent what childhood meant for the majority of kids in Canberra at that period.

Dickins then moves on to school years. He shows us school-age children playing in the Cotter River, waiting for the school bus, in marching girl outfits, together on a sandy beach, and enjoying Canberra Day.

Di, Paul, Kyle & Judy, Casuarina Sands, November 1967 – Greg Dickins

Perhaps of greatest interest are the strong images of schoolchildren participating in an anti-Vietnam War march and rally in September 1970. Are their counterparts protesting today aware their counterparts did the same?

Next the book explores university student years – speakers’ corner (who remembers that?), rugby, drama (including a nude poetess and a production of Marat Sade), the first on-campus condom vending machine, Bush Week activities and conscription notice burning. Plus a 1972 march to establish the Aboriginal Embassy and, again, an anti-Vietnam War march and rally. A number of well-known people appear, including two political leaders. There are some great historical shots here.

March to establish the Aboriginal Embassy, July 1972 – Greg Dickins

The final three images about family neatly close off what Dickins wanted to say. He has successfully narrated his story.

The book can be purchased at Photo Access or online at https://au.blurb.com/b/11093552-life-time-book-1-coming-of-age-large-12×12.

This review is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here. Another version was published in the Canberra Times on 7/5/22 here as part of a combined review of this and the other two books launched at the same time.

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

Between Hope and Despair – Natasha Fijn, Eating Wild Weeds – Alex Flannery, Archive Apparitions – Elisa deCourcy

Photography Exhibition Review

At Photo Access | 21 April – 21 May 2022

In this suite of exhibitions, three artists explore the possibilities of cross-cultural and/or intergenerational communication through the photographic medium.

Dr Natasha Fijn is an ethnographic researcher and observational filmmaker. In combination with text, observational films and photo essays form an integral part of her creative research output.

In the aftermath of the 2020 Plumwood Mountain bushfires, Fijn shows her observations of temperate Australian forest recovering alongside her grandfather Jan Reinder Fijn’s record of the liberation of Nazi-occupied Maastricht in 1945. Each set of images in Between Hope and Despair documents a place immediately following a time of crisis. So, we see burnt trees and a destroyed shed at Plumwood, and a destroyed bridge at Maastricht.

Natasha Fijn, Burnt trees with water meadow beyond, Plumwood Mountain, 2020
Natasha Fijn, Destroyed Shed, Plumwood Mountain, 2020
Jan Reinder Fijn, A sad picture the destroyed St Servatias Bridge, 1944

Both Fijns have employed the art of critical, participant observation in the documentation of their respective landscapes. The two documented times are separated by seventy-five years, but are connected by an intergenerational sense of urgency, through attention to their environments. The juxtapositions effectively reveal that both the old and recent events were indeed crises.

An Australian of Irish descent, Alex Flannery’s aim is to create photos that are both documents of the moment and also of things meaningful to him. Ouyang Yu is a contemporary Chinese-Australian poet and prose-writer. Operating in two languages and closely, caustically interrogating Australia’s cultural identity and diversity, Yu’s work is seen as matching a strident political voice with a tightly tuned lyrical self.

Eating Wild Weeds is a collaboration between Flannery and Yu. Together, they consider the complexities of cross-cultural understanding. Flannery’s images paired with Yu’s poetry investigate seeing, knowing and experiencing life in another country, engaging questions of visitation, migration, communication and being part of a multi-national family.

Flannery shows us interesting everyday scenes that he saw in the Chinese cities of Xiangyang and Wuhan during 2019.

Alex Flannery, Laddermen and Mao, 2019
Alex Flannery, sun and man in the street, 2019
Alex Flannery, river and jumping board, 2019

Yu’s displayed poetry needs to be read and considered. To illustrate, I share the concluding words of his I Love Sleep – “I love sleep … correct me if I am wrong … for in sleep I am equal to anyone … Without a fight.”

Dr Elisa deCourcy is currently an Australian Research Council fellow, working on a project about the first fifteen years of photographic practice in the Australian colonies. For Archive Apparitions, she collaborated with historic processes photographer, Craig Tuffin, who is among one of a dozen artists working with the historic daguerreotype process internationally, and with James Tylor.

In this work, deCourcy reactivates the daguerreotype process, as practised in the 1840s, to tell new stories of migration, environmentalism, family, and photography’s role as a container of memory. The work continues conversations around colonisation, race, femininity, work and mobility, and photographic custodianship that began in the mid-nineteenth-century photography studio.

Cased daguerreotypes are among the oldest extant photographic images in (Australian) gallery, library and museum collections. These tiny, pocket-sized photographs in cases look quite foreign to us today. Their mirror-like surfaces make their subjects appear ethereal and otherworldly, but they are often sharp images often rich in detail.

Elisa deCourcy and Craig Tuffin, Konrad, 2021 – detail

In the mid-nineteenth century, both settler-colonists and First Nations people brought objects to the photography studio: books, letters from loved ones, cloaks, shields, heirlooms and even other photographs to narrate their personal biographies and relationships to family, kin and Country outside the frame.

The visual narratives constructed in this contemporary series gesture to engagements with the past. However, instead of objects, here are portraits of currently living people, who have various personal and professional relationships with historic colonial Australian photography, narrated through historic portrait devices. How appropriate that one of the subjects is Helen Ennis, who specialises in Australian photographic history.

Elisa deCourcy and Craig Tuffin, Helen, 2021, sixth-plate, cased, daguerreotype

This review was published (albeit without the final sentence) in print version of The Canberra Times of 2/5/22 and online (also without the final sentence) here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Reviews

SELECTED SUBURBAN WORKS – WILLIAM BROADHURST – FANTASY COLLISION – GABRIELLE HALL-LOMAX, REVERBERATION TIME – JAMIE HLADKY

Review of Photography, Mixed Media Exhibition

At Photo Access, 10 March – 9 April 2022

These three solo shows have been described as each sharing a fascination with the strange. They are said to probe notions that have long intrigued photographers in numerous ways, demonstrating the diversity of contemporary photo-media.

One show, William Broadhurst’s Selected Suburban Works, imbues everyday scenes with a sense of mystery through abstraction. He presents a series of fleeting encounters shot in south-west Sydney.

The majority of Broadhurst’s works convey a powerful sense of movement and, if you like, blur – causing the detail of the content to be strangely abstracted whilst, sometimes, revealing almost ghost-like shapes and figures.

William Broadhurst, Untitled#6, 2021

There are other works where particular content is more obvious – the moon is a clear presence in two works, in one seemingly hovering over a field of suburban lights.

Another work includes a person pushing a shopping trolley near the top of a hill. Others reveal a young person near a post and two youngsters alongside a soccer goal – doing precisely what is unclear in both images.

William Broadhurst, Untitled#5, 2021

Yet another work features a shirtless man (the artist?) working with a whipper snipper, although what it is cutting is out of the frame leaving us to imagine it. Perhaps the image I enjoyed most includes, it seems, a blurred reclining kangaroo surveying suburbia from a nearby hill.

William Broadhurst, Untitled#1, 2021

A second show, Gabrielle Hall-Lomax’s Fantasy Collision, integrates paint and digital manipulation techniques into layered photographic images. The works draw some attention to how human activity has transformed our Australian eco-systems. Expanding on environmental photography traditions – often used as a tool to raise awareness and educate us humans about the impact we cause on the environment – Hall-Lomax integrates paint and digital manipulation techniques into her works to reflect on the interconnectedness of nature – the body and the psyche are unified.

One work is titled Slip – whereas I saw a leap.

Gabrielle Hall-Lomax, Slip

Another titled Bushfires did not speak to me of that phenomenon – but is a lovely image, nonetheless. These are reminders, perhaps, that titles are unimportant to many artists and exhibition visitors. Whatever our views about that, these are fine images.

Gabrielle Hall-Lomax, Bushfires, 2021

Yet another is titled Rituals – it shows four modest-sized, standing stones amongst the mist – an acknowledgement of Stonehenge perhaps?

Gabrielle Hall-Lomax, Rituals

And Touching the sun is a sublime work that deserves lengthy contemplation – for me, the most interesting piece in the suite of three exhibitions.

The exhibition catalogue says the third show, Jamie Hladky’s Reverberation Time, “uses flash to explore places that have been reclaimed by nature after human occupation, illuminating the power of natural forces and our futile attempts to corral them.” Hladky himself has told me that the work is not so much about decay, or nature reclaiming, as he’s seen written. For him, his imagery is about “the irrelevant brevity of our short endeavours and our moments of self-absorbed pride.”

The titles of Hladky’s works reveal only where the images were taken. Around half are of decaying building interiors and half of cave and mining tunnel interiors.

Jamie Hladky, Gilgandra NSW, 2021
Jamie Hladky, Yarrangobilly NSW (1), 2021

One shot of the exterior of a neat and clean motel located in a desert area initially seemed out of place. Asked about it, Hladky told me he sees it as the first image in the series to pull the rest of them indoors – demonstrating that it is always good to have opportunities to discuss works with their authors!

In addition to viewing the three exhibitions, reading the delightful “essays” in their catalogues is a definite must, especially The House by Paddy Julian and A Cloak Stands in a Bore Hole, Arms Extended by Simon Eales.

This review was published in The Canberra Times of 4/4/22 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Reviews

Times gone, days lost and you

Photography Exhibition Review | Times gone, days lost and you

Ali Nasseri | Suki & Hugh Gallery, Bungendore | Until 20 March 2022

Times gone, days lost and you is an exhibition of large format photographic images by Sydney-based photographer Ali Nasseri. In this show he has taken inspiration from his own patch – the ocean at Bondi. The images are large and vivid in colour. Each image is complemented with Nasseri’s poetry.

Whilst Nasseri uses digital cameras for commercial jobs, he much prefers film for his art and his experience working with analogue photographic techniques is extensive. Here, he has shot on Kodak Gold 400 film using lead weighted underwater cameras in housings, set up so they float on the surface – held in his hands whilst he paddles around breathing through a snorkel.

Speaking with Nasseri, I learned he had experienced difficulty finding underwater cameras that could be serviced when something went wrong – such as being jammed, saltwater leaking into housings, or light leaking into the camera body. But nothing deterred him. Indeed, accepting what happens and even making the “faults” be important features of his imagery clearly reveals his way of working.

Some works are from double exposed negatives while others are made from two negatives being “sandwiched” together highlighting the unexpected and unique results that working with film can offer.

The large prints on exhibition have been created by rephotographing the film negatives with a 1:1 macro digital lens. That has brought out detail of the 35mm film’s grain – like enlarging it under a microscope. And detail is what the works are all about – we are invited to look right into each image to see what is in it. Yes, grain! But also overlays, light leaks, softness – and more grain!

Each print is accompanied by a small, suspended sheet of paper on which Nasseri has typed poetry. Yes, typed – on a manual typewriter. Imperfections have been corrected on the fly. When he has made typographical errors, he has simply gone back and overtyped them with horizontal lines. Sometimes he has omitted to leave a space between each line, but that does not concern him. And it should not concern us either. These are simply similar “faults” to those in the images. No whiteout liquid has covered them up. You will need to visit the gallery to enjoy those typos, but here is one sample to whet your appetite.

Poetry accompanying image “Take me with you”

The artist says tapping away on a typewriter creating his poetry is like shooting on 35mm film to create his images. His “arranged” words accompany his images in a random emotive way. Just another way of adding to the message.

So, why poetry? Nasseri has found that people look at an image then read the accompanying poetry. The words trap into their conscious minds. Gallery visitors look at images for longer, then the art forms within their brains. There are words about love, romance, seduction and flirting. Along with words about the moon, sea, orbits and tides.

Between the moon and the sea, 2021 © Ali Nasseri

In the poetry accompanying Drift and wonder I particularly appreciated “The furthest thing from the truth is tomorrow.”

Drift and wonder, 2022 © Ali Nasseri

And accompanying Everything is unique, who could argue with “everything can be identified by how it’s different.”

Everything is unique, 2022 © Ali Nasseri

Both musicians and visual artists would surely relate to some words in Space between breaths – “the notes that weren’t played, the black between, where mystery lies, look between the dots.”

Space between breaths, 2022 © Ali Nasseri

Brett Whitely once said “Art should astonish, transmute, transfix. One must work at the tissue between truth and paranoia.” Those words are often quoted by other artists who create mysterious abstracts. Nasseri’s works here are in many respects mysterious, but they are not unfathomable. In a sense they explore the divide between truth and falsity. Certainly they provide much food for thought.

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

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Reviews

Where Lakes Once Had Water

Review of exhibition of Audio-Visual Art

Where Lakes Once Had Water | Sonia Leber and David Chesworth

Drill Hall Gallery | Until 10 April 2022

Where Lakes once Had Water (2020) is a video that runs for 28:14 minutes. Whether gallery visitors see it from start to finish depends on whether they manage to arrive as it commences to play. I arrived around 7 minutes into it, so stayed to see the missed opening scenes after viewing all the rest of the video.

In 2018 and 2019, Melbourne/Naarm-based artists Sonia Leber and David Chesworth travelled with a team of Earth and environmental scientists investigating changes in climate, landscape and ecology in the Northern Territory over millennia. Their resultant video channels this experience, in which Indigenous rangers, Elders and community members collaborate with scientists in spectacular yet challenging environments.

Leber and Chesworth are known for their distinctive video, sound and architecture-based installations that are audible as much as visible. Their works are speculative and archaeological, often involving communities and elaborated from research in places undergoing social, technological or local geological transformation. The works emerge from reality but exist significantly in the realm of the imaginary, hinting at unseen forces and non-human perspectives.

Presented across two screens, this immersive long-form video is a journey encompassing audio-visual realms, scientific endeavour and traditional Indigenous knowledge, stories and custodianship – an amalgamation of efforts to understand this ancient land.

Where Lakes Once Had Water was filmed on the lands and waters of the Mudburra, Marlinja, Jingili, Elliot, Jawoyn and Larrakia communities, with additional filming and editing on Barkindji, Dharawal, Djabugay, Yidinji and Wurundjeri Country. In partnership with Bundanon, it is the first of four art commissions by The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH), which works across disciplinary boundaries, and seeks to garner broad perspectives of the past in order to engage new audiences with the story of ‘epic Australia.’ The aim is to engage artists with aspects of research – to make new work that responds to, questions, and interprets the research for broader audiences.

From fieldwork in deserts to microscopic work in laboratories, scientists sought evidence of Earth’s forces over long-term cycles of wet and dry. Many of those forces – wind, temperature, long-term aridification and tectonic movement – were invisible to the human eye or lay beyond human timescales.

Sonia_Leber_David_Chesworth_Where_Lakes_Once_Had_Water_video still 01b

Leber and Chesworth say their project “tests the hypothesis that the Earth is experienced and understood through different but interconnected ontologies. These ways of being, seeing, sensing, listening and thinking can align with art, Indigenous thought, science, ancient and modern cultures, the non-human, and somewhere in between.”

The video introduces Ray Dimakarri Dixon calling to ancestral spirits to watch over Country as scientists excavate the red earth of once-submerged lake beds. The fieldwork is observed by non-human cohabitants, as ecologies of birds, termites, flies and vegetation continue their own struggles of survival. Across the ancient shorelines, everyone is receptive to the signs, signals and rhythms of the land and water.

Sonia_Leber_David_Chesworth_Where_Lakes_Once_Had_Water_video still 07, with Ray Dimakarri Dixon

There are few spoken words – essentially only Auntie Susan Kingston, appropriately using Indigenous language. There are, however, numerous other sounds employed. Was that a created xylophone I saw and heard? Were sounds recorded by microphones and other recording devices scanning termite hills part of the soundtrack I listened to?

Sonia_Leber_David_Chesworth_Where_Lakes_Once_Had_Water_video still 08, with Auntie Susan Kingston and Aara Welz

There is so much to see in this video. Dry landscapes, grains, gorges and ants. Core samples, bottled water, laboratories, measurements, analysis. Geological explorations, erosion, dirt roads, fishing. Cattle, a road freight train. I could go on and on.

Sonia_Leber_David_Chesworth_Where_Lakes_Once_Had_Water_video still 02
Sonia_Leber_David_Chesworth_Where_Lakes_Once_Had_Water_video still 03b
Sonia_Leber_David_Chesworth_Where_Lakes_Once_Had_Water_video still 04b, detail

It is wonderful to see art used to educate artists and art lovers about biodiversity and heritage research and, hopefully, gain at least a little more understanding of these places where lakes once had water.

This review was published on page 37 of The Canberra Times of 7/3/22 here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Reviews

Mixed Signals

Review of Visual Art Exhibition | Mixed Signals | Jess Cochrane | aMBUSH Gallery | Until 20 March 2022

Jess Cochrane is an Australian contemporary visual artist. Canberra is her hometown. She has been based in London for a few years now but has recently returned to Canberra for a brief time. She created new large-scale multidisciplinary pieces specifically for this solo exhibition, Mixed Signals. A well-known Canberra dairy product even features in one of the pieces.

Canberra Milk © Jess Cochrane (2022)

Cochrane’s work questions the relationship between society, consumerism and pop culture. Her focus is on feminine beauty, illustrated through the application of paint over photographic images. She paints highly gestural and expressive marks over the surface of glossy photographic portraits. This approach seeks to reflect our relationship to imagery and, particularly, to our own self-image.

The artist reflects upon insecurity and perfectionism in the modern age. Connecting the history of art, design and advertising, she plays on the idea of pop culture and its roots that are planted in both displaying and disguising parts of ourselves.

It is a body of work that explores themes around desire and semiotics through digital photography, which Cochrane styles in an editorial manner then embellishes with rough, gestural mark-making using acrylic paint to provide the element of subversion she has become known for. These are portraits featuring her friends, acquaintances and people she admires. By including recognisable elements and iconography that reference popular culture and identity, Cochrane reveals the reflective creative spirit that pervades her work.

Two artworks titled Carbs, and Guilt and Pleasure, feature the model cradling and holding substantial quantities of sweet pastries. Another with the title Gluten Free had me thinking “something for everyone” until I realised it includes even more of the same baker’s confectionery. Whether the goodies were gluten free or not, I’d be sure they were not sugar free.

Guilt And Pleasure © Jess Cochrane (2021-2022)
Gluten Free © Jess Cochrane (2021-2022)

Another work has cherries on a model’s ear, in her hands, against a breast obscuring the nipple, in the crotch area and on the fabric where she is seated. The boots she is wearing are painted over in red. The model has a dreamy, wistful look. What was she thinking whilst her photographic portrait was being taken?

Boots feature in various images. Indeed one work is titled Gucci Boots. They appear to be from that company’s latest collection, designed by Alessandro Michele, the Italian fashion designer who is its creative director.

Fresh figs feature in more than one work, opened to reveal the pink/red flesh inside – some held by the model, others scattered around her feet. And there are shucked oysters. Again, some being held by – and others scattered around – the model.

In one work, I’m the Pearl, a dark-skinned beauty wearing a beautiful necklace holds an opened oyster “containing” a pearl. A heart shape has been painted around the oyster. The model’s eyes, her full lips – indeed everything about her – shout to us that she is a pearl.

This use of cherries, figs and oysters is all very sensual. And the seductiveness is added to by Cochrane’s use of her paints – for example, by drawing attention to a breast and nipple by painting an enlarged outline of the same around them.

Of course, sensuality is also the condition of being pleasing or fulfilling to the senses. And that is very much what the artist is seeking to do – and achieving – with all her works. They dazzle with their sensuality, their colours.

Open © Jess Cochrane (2021-2022)

This exhibition is a powerful interrogation of our aspirational and perfection-seeking modern-day culture. It’s a collection of artworks unafraid to probe the historical conditioning of society, especially in the context of femininity, and ask the question ‘What do we perceive as beautiful and what is grotesque?’

This review was published in The Canberra Times on 5/3/22 here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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VIEW2022

Photomedia Exhibition Review

VIEW2022 | Annette Fisher, Catherine Feint, Fiona Bowring, Greg Stoodley, Isaac Kairouz, Izaak Bink, Jemima Camper, Tom Campbell, Wendy Dawes, Xueqin Yi

Photo Access | 4 February – 5 March 2022

This show features emerging, or re-emerging, contemporary photographers. Technically, an emerging artist – no matter how old or how long they’ve been at their chosen medium – has not yet been recognised by major critics, galleries and museums. More generally, the term tends to be used when artists have been practising for less than 10 years, haven’t been acquired by a gallery, and have a low profile in the art market. A re-emerging artist is one whose career was interrupted by circumstances and is now resuming. I understand one of these exhibitors is 80. Yes, artists can emerge at any age.

Ten photographers, each producing works in their own distinctive styles, using diverse materials and exploring many subjects. You might appreciate different artists/works than those that stand out for me. I am confident, however, that every gallery visitor will find delight here and enjoy contemplating all exhibits.

Accompanied by a video showing demolition, Annette Fisher’s powerful Demolition print captures light coming from the rubble, surprisingly revealing beauty in the site.

Demolition, 2021 – Annette Fisher

Greg Stoodley’s two Small Worlds prints delightfully reflect on how animals, in this case a cat, may be real supports during lengthy periods spent at home.

Cat TV, 2021 – Greg Stoodley

Isaac Kairouz’s Hek! BIDEO installation includes video, collage and painting. Each element needs to be explored individually, whilst the whole wonderful installation also needs to be contemplated in the context of the ways a person’s various social identities come together.

GolDen sHowASs, 2020 – Isaac Kairouz

Catherine Feint’s Childhood Home is a set of monochrome film shots of the house in which she grew up. The twist though is that they are actually photographs of her created cardboard models of the house. The quality of the shots is such that I did not realise that until reading the catalogue.

Figure 4 – Catherine Feint

Suspension, by Wendy Dawes, also took me by surprise. The catalogue refers to the rotoscope technique and drawing on suspension files. I know of rotoscoping, but it did not occur to me that the reference to suspension files meant just that – two artworks have been created on those ugly holders that we suspend in filing cabinets to hold documents. A much more creative use!

Suspension Trampoline, 2021 – Wendy Dawes

Jemima Campey’s two related video works explore the growing use of scripted and performed apologies, designed to minimise damage to the person’s “brand”. We can all quickly bring to mind certain politicians.

Still from digital video Crocodile Tears, 2021 – Jemima Campey

Tom Campbell’s split-screen video work tells two simultaneous stories, investigating the impact of border closures on our connections with places and family. I had to view this a few times to take in all the words on each screen but doing so reinforced the message.

Still from split-screen video – not that hill as a site of dominion 2021, Tom Campbell

Fiona Bowring’s Spoonville is another quality print of a whimsical feature. Having seen this work previously on social media (as well as other folk’s images of other Spoonville installations) reduced its impact for me.

Spoonville-7719, Fiona Bowring

Xueqin Yi’s Plants Chant images resulted from using her camera to escape boredom and, so, becoming intensely interested in and gaining comfort from observing plants. There is much more than just plants in the images though, as she has included their, sometimes odd, surrounds.

Untitled, 2018 – Xueqin Yi

The catalogue says Izaak Bink’s I want you, because I can’t have you uses found images to draw attention to the exaggerated masculinity gay men can be forced to emulate – and forces us to ask, “whose place is it to decode this work?” Whilst not feeling any need to ask such a question, I nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed the graphic style of these two works.

Ride Em Cowboy – Izaak Bink

Thoughtfully curated by Wouter van de Voorde, this exhibition explores alternative processes and offers fresh perspectives on current issues, from early-career artists.

This review was published in the Canberra Times on 14/2/22 here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Reviews

NOX – a record of things passing by night

Exhibition Review: Visual Art

NOX – a record of things passing by night

Judith Nangala Crispin, Stephen Harrison and Victoria Royds

Grainger Gallery | 27 January – 13 February 2022

Wamboin resident Judith Nangala Crispin describes herself as “a Canberra-based poet and visual artist, with a background in music.” What an understatement! She has been highly successful in each field, has been an Honorary Creative Arts Fellow at the National Library, and currently is Artist in Residence at Musica Viva.

She is also a photographer who has developed her own alternative process, Lumachrome Glass Printing, with which she now makes extraordinarily beautiful and artistic images of roadkill – “a threnody for fallen rabbits, birds, spiders and other beings with whom we share this planet”. A threnody is a lyric poem of mourning.

The image titles reveal something of Crispin’s poetry talents. For example, She remembered running, baby in pouch, the burrow nearly visible, birds lifting from the water tank at the first rifle’s crack– so cold in the long grass, day drops night, and the joey stills. In the winter sky over Braidwood, Enid finds her baby again, 2021. A loving description of a wombat mother and her frozen joey, respectful burying them.

She remembered running, baby in pouch, the burrow nearly visible, birds lifting from the water tank at the first rifle’s crack– so cold in the long grass, day drops night, and the joey stills. In the winter sky over Braidwood, Enid finds her baby again, 2021 © Judith Nangala Crispin

Wondering what Crispin’s works have to do with photography when no camera was involved? Photography can be defined as the art or process of producing images by the action of radiant energy and especially light on a sensitive surface. No requirement to use a camera.

Crispin’s earliest Lumachrome glass prints in 2018 were made simply as expanded sunprints, on black and white fibre paper, coated with her own emulsions, and left to expose under glass for between 12 and 36 hours. Her practice has evolved to use complex layers of glass and chemistry to control the colours and textures. She says the works are the result of genuine collaboration with the landscape, literally constructed from light, earth and flesh. She loves that the technique makes dead animals and birds seem alive again. It is light alone that manifests these colours and shapes; not paint or anything that can be completely controlled.

For finer detail, Crispin uses chemigram variants, painting compounds like selenium or copper chloride directly onto feathers, scales or fur. Her process is adapted for each work. She might paint an animal’s blood into the image during exposure. Ochres, seeds, sticks and other materials are sourced where the animal or bird was found. If maggots and flies appear, their tracks are incorporated into the work. These 2020 prints clearly show her process has developed splendidly.

Juliette, who had once been a gosling, explodes in stars over Braidwood, on her way to becoming a sun, 2021 © Judith Nangala Crispin
On the curve of a desert track, a motorcycle hums in sand, wheels spinning, stars lifting from yinirnti and bloodwood trees. And Ned is flying through the night’s vast, along the sky-roads of sparrowhawks, 2021 © Judith Nangala Crispin

Her work draws on ideas and stories gathered over many years, while tracing her family’s Bpangerang-Gunaikurnai ancestry. It is wonderfully accompanied in this exhibition by sculptural pieces from two other local artists – Stephen Harrison (Murrumbateman artist – sculptures, paintings, drawings) and Victoria Royds (Braidwood visual artist/sculptor – and a Holistic Carbon Farmer.)

Speaking at the opening, Crispin referred to Royds as the Queen of regenerative farming, and to a project she is working on with Harrison as a regenerative road bearing witness to the animals and other wildlife that were killed on the path between Canberra and the coast during the 2019/20 fires. This exhibition, in many ways, is the first step along the road. Crispin suggests everything beautiful in the world is so because it is transitory, and the exhibition allows us to witness the miracle of things before they are gone. By chance but nevertheless appropriately, this exhibition opened in the same week as other events in Canberra celebrated caring for country.

Out out, brief candle, 2021_Bronze, concrete, ceramic, wooden box – Stephen Harrison (IMAGE SUPPLIED)
Where Three Dreams Cross_Bronze – Victoria Royds (IMAGE SUPPLIED)

There is insufficient space here to describe the sculptural pieces adequately. But I must say that they are quality works by two skilled artists, well worth looking at and thinking about. So please visit this exhibition.

This review was first published in The Canberra Times of 5/2/22 here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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