Exhibition Review, Reviews

Windows – Looking in & looking out

Review of Photography Exhibition

Windows – Looking in & looking out | Susan Henderson

Manning Clark House | 13 May to 8 June

Opening hours: Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays 11.00 am to 2.00pm

Canberra photographer Susan Henderson is exhibiting a selection of her work over the last two decades. It follows her interest in light and the camera’s capacity to capture a composition moment in time where light reflected or refracted, or a subject through a window creates a mood or memory. The selection of work comes from a wide geography. Some places are iconic and immediately identifiable, others recall the spirit of the moment.

What is a window? Is it that transparent panel on an envelope containing a bill? Is it a framed area on a display screen? Is it an opening in our home or office wall or our car? Are windows necessarily fitted with glass so we can see through them? Or should they be open so that we can hear sounds through them or feel the breeze? What difference, if any, does it make if there is a curtain or some other covering?

In her explorations here, Henderson is sometimes looking out through the glass of a window and other times showing us reflections. Some images are quite composed, others emphasise the shattering effect COVID had. A couple of double exposures record the atmosphere in Canberra City during COVID lockdown, emphasising chaos and disruption.

Some of the locations portrayed are immediately recognisable – the entrance to the National Gallery of Victoria, and New York’s One World Trade Center. Others are less recognisable, depending how well the viewer knows cities such as Paris and Madrid. You may not even recognise some Canberra locations because what is included provides no real clues.

This a modest selection of Henderson’s large body work during the years from 2006 to 2022. Early works are, perhaps, more straight forward. Later ones reveal that her interest has evolved from the directly representational to exploration of how the camera can capture unique moments in time.

In 2012, she visited Madrid and captured an image through a window of its citizens in the central area.  Bus shelters wait for passengers. Some pedestrians cross a road whilst others just stand around. The colours are subdued – in large part almost sepia. There is much to ponder.

5 p.m. Paseo del Prado – 2012 © Susan Henderson

In 2018, the window was closer – Melbourne’s much-loved glass panel where water flows over its surface creating a magnet for children (and many adults) to touch and peer into – and, of course, to photograph. Observing a young child passing the other side of the window, Henderson saw a metaphor for fleeting youth.

Fleeting Youth – 2016 © Susan Henderson

In 2018, she was again overseas. She visited the memorial plaza in Lower Manhattan where the World Trade Center twin towers once stood. The new tower, One World Trade, had just been completed and soared majestically above the precinct. Looking at the reflections in the glass towers she saw a haunting vision of New York. 

New York, New York – 2018 © Susan Henderson

Then came COVID. Like various other photographers, me included, Henderson wandered through deserted streets and shuttered businesses seeing and creating images. Finding some inverted stools in a closed business, she saw them as emblematic – a traditional distress signal in a flag and representational of the deserted restaurant. This is what photography is about – not just looking but seeing.

Lockdown – Canberra City 2020 © Susan Henderson

As Sydney emerged from its final COVID lockdown, Henderson was there and saw, in some “unbalanced” reflections, a symbolic representation of the impact the lockdown had had on that city. Looking at her capture later, she realised there was no human presence whatsoever.

Beyond Covid , Sydney 2022 © Susan Henderson

Henderson says she likes her images to speak for themselves and also to leave details that the viewer can explore and return to over time. That they most certainly do, so she is delivering what she has said.

This review was first published by The Canberra Times on page 11 of Panorama on 20/5/23. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Exhibition Review, Reviews

Between Presumption and Melancholy, Huon, The Grand Scheme

Review of Photography, Videography Exhibition

Between Presumption and Melancholy | Toni Hassan

Huon | Noah Thompson

The Grand Scheme | Chris Round

Photo Access | 27 Apr – 10 Jun

These three exhibitions set out to explore environment and climate threats – two by looking at physical changes made by humans and the third at impacts on particular people.

Toni Hassan is a social practice visual artist, Walkley Award-winning journalist, and Adjunct Research Fellow of the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture. Between Presumption and Melancholy shows three multimedia artworks from her video series Body and Breath: Remembering Black Summer, 2021-23.

Three women share personal experiences of Australia’s Black Summer of 2019-20. Against the background of an Australian flag in a smoke-free azure sky, Rhian Williams, a volunteer firefighter takes us right into those times of fear. The visual is projected on a translucent curtain that moves such that the flag ripples.

Toni-Hassan, Video still, 2021, Body and Breath-Remembering-Black Summer – 1

Moving water and moving plane propellors are backgrounds as Sarah Bachelard, a Canberra-based priest and theologian speaks “It was supposed to be Epiphany, … coming of the light….We actually changed the hymn we were going to sing, which was ‘Here in this place a new light is shining’ because, it was just, how could you sing that?”

Toni-Hassan, Video still, 2021, Body and Breath-Remembering-Black Summer – 2

Luminous and liquid light circles draw us in as Tess Horwitz, the late Canberra artist who created the Bushfire memorial at Mt Stromlo, speaks of “a journey from painful memory and the reality of the day of the fire” and “strength of community and shared experience and on to a very gradual sense of healing and regeneration.” We share in her dream.

Toni-Hassan, Video still, 2021, Body and Breath-Remembering-Black Summer – 3

How should we respond emotionally? Have we had a cathartic experience? Have we engaged our own grief regarding environmental changes? Hassan also has a book that includes transcripts of these three plus a further ten interviews.

Noah Thompson seeks to shed light on the continuing conflict between environmental preservation and industrial development in Huon. His large high quality framed inkjet prints are mostly untitled. He has taken inspiration from the destruction of the 2500-year-old Lea Tree – by supporters of the Gordon-below-Franklin project in 1989.

The images are intended to explore continuing tensions between conservation and development. Some are more successful than others. An image of the Lea Tree showing its vandals photographed before their “Fuck You Green Cunts” message painted on the tree’s still burning remains is powerful. Mt Lyell, 2020 presents a severe and disturbing reminder of that mine’s impact.

Noah Thompson, Mt Lyell, 2020

Chris Round has documented The Grand Scheme – the Snowy Hydro. His inkjet prints, also large and high quality, are images taken during the period 2016-2022. They do not include anything from the years before or during construction. They do provide clear evidence as to why he is an award-winning landscape photographer. Round has a book of these and other images available for purchase.

Chris Round, Intake Tower, 2017

Round has expressed some opinions about hydroelectricity, both positive and negative, and argues for a balanced approach. He has “not tried to politicise environmental energy issues” and wonders whether his “approach might be too sedate”. He describes it as aiming to capture captivating and intriguing images and suggests that passing judgement would risk stifling conversations. I am not convinced and confess disappointment with the content of the works displayed.

Having first visited the Scheme and the area in 1958 and many times since, did I unfairly expect more? During the exhibition opening, a comment was made that it was refreshing to see straight photography on the gallery walls. Whilst, perhaps, it has become less common to see such works at this venue, I would question why that is necessarily “refreshing”. More contemporary artworks would have challenged me and stimulated greater consideration of the important issues these three shows were meant to present to us.

This review was first published by The Canberra Times on 13/5/23 – on page 10 of Panorama and online here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Exhibition Review, Reviews

THE MIRROR Angles of Resistance

Review of Exhibition of Photomontage, Acrylics on canvas

THE MIRROR Angles of Resistance | PETER MALONEY

CCAS Lakeside | 15 April – 3 June 2023

THE MIRROR Angles of Resistance is said to examine Canberra-based artist Peter Maloney’s practice from the perspective of his gay/queer sexuality for the first time in his 40-year career. (In 2018 Drill Hall Gallery did survey his work from the preceding 30 years.)

This show exhibits multiple examples of Maloney’s forms of expression – completed works, informal sketches and studies sourced directly from his studio. It provides a revealing account of his working method.

The curator, and artist’s partner, Mark Bayly has written “Maloney has produced a polymorphous body of work across multiple media, including collage, painting, photography, performance, sound and video. As a painter, his early commitment to gestural abstraction has given way to a practice of genre-defying bafflement. I suggest this, because in examining Maloney’s series of works over the past twenty years, I propose that they can best be mentally assembled and appreciated – as a puzzle – in the form of a funfair hall of mirrors.”

And there we have it – a puzzle to be solved. Walking around the gallery, exploring item by item, I was astounded by the variety and diversity. I found myself studying particular pieces for lengthy periods for a host of different reasons. In some cases it was to read then re-read text, as we might do with parts of a book or quality article – perhaps searching for meanings, perhaps revelling in the beauty of the words. A work titled The Rapping Nun fascinated me with its references to Borley Rectory – famous for being described as “the most haunted house in England”.

Then there were the wall cases containing items we would love to pick up and hold and explore closely. And two copies of his monogram Fugitive Text we can pick up. And various complex mixed media pieces such as ‘Untitled (dune dream)’, 2005 – collage, photomontage, acrylic paint graphite and watercolour on paper –  which can be thoroughly examined.

Peter Maloney – ‘Untitled (lies that life is black and white)’, 2018 (photomontage on mountboard)

There are numerous collages using black-and-white photographs (many of naked men) and portions of text from newspapers. There is painted text and works on paper incorporating text. The use of text clearly is important to Maloney and his art practice. It is also about him – his desires, who he is, his connections to others in his community.

‘Berghain, 10am’, 2014-20 (screen print and acrylic paint on canvas stitched to cotton stretcher) – courtesy of the artist – photograph by David Paterson

One work created on celluloid film shows two portraits side by side. Is it the same person? Identical twins? Unrelated look-alikes? Its title Michael: doppelganger perhaps hints at the most unlikely latter possibility. Whatever the story, we are drawn in to look and think – the artist is expressing his feelings and emotions.

Another work I Was Never Lost, 2014 had me intrigued for a variety of reasons. Why did it include the words “Schauen sie schnell! Eine kleine sterneschnuppe”, which translate to “Take a quick look! A small shooting star”? Why did it have a ghostlike figure and an apparent likeness of Ned Kelly on either side of an image of a naked man? What is it all about? This is today’s art at its best – challenging, intriguing, always pushing the definition, sometimes even bizarre or nonsensical.

‘I was never lost, says Maloney’, 2014 (photo transfer, acrylic paint, beeswax, ochre on canvas) – courtesy of the artist – photograph by David Paterson

Maloney has developed an eclectic and highly personal art style. Nowhere is that more evident than in Electroclash, 2002-12 which comprises sixteen pieces in various media, including paint on canvas, plywood, B/W photographs, phototransfer and collage on paper, and even an electric lead.

‘Electroclash’, 2002-12 (16 elements in various media, including acrylic paint on canvas, plywood, electric lead, B/W photographs, phototransfer and collage on paper) – courtesy of the artist – photograph by David Paterson

There are B/W and colourful large canvases – The Honey, 2010, Red Hot Hill Flattener, 2014 and Applause, 2002.

Peter Maloney – ‘The Honey’, 2010 (acrylic on canvas)
Peter Maloney – ‘Red Hot Hill Flattener’, 2014 (acrylic on canvas)

And, wonderfully, a work titled Untitled (Greg in the studio), 2012 which is a photocopy of a photograph of a distressed photocopy (which, presumably, was of a photograph).

This review was first published in The Canberra Times on page 11 of Panorama and online on 6/5/23 here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Exhibition Review, Reviews

Whether World & From the Series ‘Light Jelly Sweet’

Review of Moving image work: Whether World by Susan Bruce and Animation, paintings, and photographs: From the Series ‘Light Jelly Sweet’ by Henry Hu

M16 Artspace | 14 April – 7 May 2023

Whether World is by Susan Bruce, a moving image artist who describes the exhibition as a moving image work which considers whether the natural world (including trees, fungi, and aquatic life) communicates with humans and how humans communicate with the natural world. She questions how weather is experienced by our bodies and how we are changing everything through our activity.

Bruce is exhibiting in Canberra for the first time, so I turned to her website for background. Her practice also includes experimental short films, collage, drawings, prints and artist books. She is inspired by the textural qualities of film and the interrelationship between digital and analogue media.

Susan Bruce, Whether World (detail), 2022. Image still. Image courtesy of the artist (1)

Writing about this show, Bruce shares “I am between two worlds. In one, I can see humans are crawling on the brown earth, butterflies are communicating with humans. Seeds are growing above the ground as well as underground. To me, trees are more valuable than diamonds. In my world, I float amongst the clouds, smell flowers, and swim underwater like a squid. I am free, and I am not ‘earth bound’.” Those charming words were a most useful backdrop to my viewing of her artwork.

Susan Bruce, Whether World (detail), 2022. Image still. Image courtesy of the artist (2)

Without those words I would have seen fish, birds, gorillas and, yes, humans. I’d have seen the earth, underwater scenes and trees. I’d have noticed the drawings on her collages. But the backdrop helps us appreciate how Bruce sees people communicating with flowers and bees, and them communicating right back. She sees pigs in all their size and pinkness walking around us. She is saying to us that humans and non-humans co-exist, that humans are no longer at the top of the chain.

Susan Bruce, Whether World (detail), 2022. Image still. Image courtesy of the artist (3)

Serendipitously, I viewed this exhibition the day after seeing the new documentary movie Giants, which is about some giants of Tasmanian ecological activism – former Greens leader Bob Brown and tall trees. Two days running, I found myself considering the same questions – how do we humans co-exist with all other forms of life on this planet? Where do we fit in the great scheme of living things? Have we any right to impact on the places where other life forms reside? That movie and this exhibition both successfully examine such questions.

From the Series ‘Light Jelly Sweet’, is new work by Henry Hu. Again, not previously familiar with this artist’s work, I went to his website. He began his practice using modern technological tools and easily accessible digital software creating artwork that engaged aspects of digital art and graphic design.

Later, Hu worked to incorporate digital creations into tangible forms. This delivered mixed-media paintings, lens-based works and computer-generated animation. What we see here are “testaments of existence as imagined, invented, remembered, and observed.”

The artist has limited his tonal palette within each pleasing photograph and each mixed-media work – combining a multi-layered technique of paint pours with sand, gravel, twig, leaf, grass and wood. He describes this as a delicate manipulation of material that traces the ambiguity of nostalgia.

Henry Hu, the flint #38, 2022. pigment inkjet on cotton rag.38 x 26 cm Image courtesy of the Artist

There also are two pieces of abstract computer-generated animation conceived as an extension and companion to the static work. Sadly they’re displayed on small tablets with soundtracks accessed through tiny headphones. Turning on the tablets and locating the animations may defeat some.

Henry Hu, Velvet Fall (still image), 2023. Image courtesy of the Artist (1)
Henry Hu, Velvet Fall (still image), 2023. Image courtesy of the Artist (2)

I would have liked Hu’s excellent text about the series Light Jelly Sweet – on his website at https://henryhhu.com/works-two#ljs – to be displayed in the gallery. Here’s a taste: “Burning sun. Open air. Nature. The fields. The woods. A birch. A pine. An oak. Shades. Shadows. Clouds overhead. Streams beneath. They are gifts for a child. How unguarded we were, the early days.” (The full text is available in printed form at the front desk next to the room sheets.)

This review was first published by The Canberra Times on page 10 of Panorama and online on 29/4/23 here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Exhibition Review, Reviews


Review of Photography, Videography, Text Exhibition

Haunting | Vic McEwan

National Museum of Australia | 23 Feb – 30 Apr 2023

Vic McEwan was National Museum of Australia (NMA) 2015 artist-in-residence. He created this exhibition’s large-scale still photography and video works in collaboration with curator George Main.

McEwan is a contemporary artist with a deep interest in the ethics involved in making artistic work relating to the lives of other people. His rich, and most successful, practice has nourished broad cross-sector conversations about the role that arts can play within communities. He was the recipient of the Council for the Humanities Arts and Social Sciences2018 Australian Prize for Distinctive work for another project –  which involved three years of creative research within hospital environments.

He has shared his project outcomes at such places and events as Tate Liverpool, the National Gallery of Lithuania and Australia’s Big Anxiety Festival (the biggest mental health and arts festival in the world). The Director of Australia’s National Institute for Experimental Arts, Jill Bennet, has declared McEwan’s outputs as ‘field defining work’ and ‘both intensely moving and inspirational’.

The aim of the project featured here was to “remove” objects from their cabinets and put them instead into “the active materiality of places connected to the stories of those objects”. During the cold of night, photos of museum objects, historic photographs and a time-worn map were projected across the Murrumbidgee River, onto drifting and swirling mist, fog, and campfire smoke.

Haunting comprises over 65 photographic works and 2 video works created during McEwan’s yearlong NMA residency. Touring the country since 2020, it explores the complex history of agriculture and land use in the Murray–Darling Basin. The tour has included the Blue Mountains and Burnie.

Key collection objects photographed and projected include prize-winning wheat samples collected at agricultural shows by Cootamundra district farmer James Hately and his son. There’s a stump jump plough used on a Canberra CSIRO research station projected onto Murrumbidgee River fog at Lambrigg.

NMA – Haunting: Stump-Jump Plough: Fog Murrumbidgee River at Lambrigg – stump-jump plough, light, projector, fog, archival pigment print

A historic photo of William Farrer, Fred Wills & Nathan Cobb was also projected on fog – at both Lambrigg and Narrandera.

NMA – Haunting: Farrer: Riverbank Murrumbidgee River at Narrandera – photograph, light, projector, fog, archival pigment print

Another projected photo is of the Dunn family farmers near Wagga Wagga. The back row folk seem to have shafts of light searching the skies above. Another, of the Sutton family, is projected onto both fog and campfire smoke. There is poet/activist Mary Gilmore and her typewriter, and a stack of wheat bags awaiting rail transport at Temora.

NMA – Haunting: Mary Gilmore 4: Fog and Smoke Murrumbidgee River at Lambrigg – photograph, light, projector, fog, smoke, archival pigment print
NMA – Haunting: Mary Gilmore’s Typewriter 1: Riverbank Murrumbidgee River at Lambrigg – typewriter, light, projector, fog, archival pigment print
NMA – Haunting: Wheat Bag 2: Fog Murrumbidgee River at Lambrigg – photograph, light, projector, fog, archival pigment print

Part of a letter from climate scientist Katrin Meissner expressing her concerns about climate change in 2014 is also projected – onto fog and smoke and also the riverbank. A video shares her concern that her children “won’t have the same quality of life that we had” for us to reflect on.

McEwan has said the exhibition offers a chance to reconsider the complex histories of museum objects. Reanimating then layering them back into the landscape using light, projection and natural elements, created the abstract images on display – looking as though they were painted with light into the landscapes.

This is not the first exhibition by McEwan of imagery using this approach. For Shadows and Consequences (Photo Access, 2020), he photographed animal specimens, also (mostly) from the NMA’s collection, and then projected his images onto diverse surfaces to create new imagery.

But this time we have images created in a landscape along a river we all know or, at least, have heard about. Some of us have camped or lived on its banks, many have been to country towns along the ’bidgee, even photographed the riverbank scenery. These haunting images challenge us to think again about the great river, and its place in both First Nations and European settlement history.

This review was fist published by The Canberra Times on page 10 of Panorama and online on 25/03/23 here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Exhibition Review, Reviews

VIEW 2023

Review of Photomedia, Mixed media, Animation exhibition

VIEW 2023 | SEVEN ARTISTS (Emily April O’Neill, Aidan Gageler, Harry Merriman, Gabriela Renee, Aaron Sun, April Widdup and Chenfei Xiao)

Photo access | 2 Mar – 15 Apr 2023

The 2023 edition of VIEW (an annual exhibition celebrating emerging talent) delves into the themes of cultural identity and the queer body. Showcasing seven emerging artists from the ACT region, it includes a diverse array of multimedia installations, traditional and non-traditional photo media, and animation.

Each artist presents a personal exploration of self, drawing upon shared experiences and perspectives in social, digital, and environmental realms. PhotoAccess Director Wouter Van de Voorde says “Their work highlights the strength and diversity of emerging artists in our region, and we are thrilled to provide a platform for their voices to be heard.”

Multimedia artist Chenfei Xiao uses digital and augmented reality technologies. Here we see a discussion of a personal experience living as a queer Chinese Buddhist. The resultant three portraits fascinate us as we explore them, discovering features of that experience and delighting in Xiao’s various identities. I encourage you to spend time with these works before reading any explanatory material about them.

Chenfei Xiao, Guan Yin Help You (III), production still, 2022, augmented reality headset rendered images printed on gator boards, 59.4 x 84.1 x 0.5 cm

Aaron Sun is a new media and technology artist. Here he uses 3D modelling, virtual reality photogrammetry and more to create an excellent video work investigating racism in Australia. Watching it forces us to ask ourselves what we might do to remove our own biases.

Aaron Sun, White Australia 1 (still from video, provided)

Abstract artist Aidan Gageler works on film, but never uses a camera as part of the production process. Happenstance played a major role in determining the end product. The collection of six works here takes us through various senses, emotions and colours (or lack of). Our responses to one work, Old Skin, will reflect how often we have each seen ageing skin in our long (or short) lives.

Aidan Gageler, Old Skin, 2022, dye sublimation on aluminium

Interdisciplinary artist Emily April O’Neill has viewed how today’s modern technology has affected our lives. How are our public and private lives being modified? Are our personal behaviours, our confidential communications and even what defines us as individuals being permanently transformed beyond recognition?

Emily April O’Neill, Between Bodies & Screens – interacting with installation image – by Maria Koulouris

Harry Merriman’s video artwork Landscape of Light explores physical space and investigates how the alteration of our rural environment through human impact then affects our sense of self. It invites us to consider how various things change our views of the landscapes we are amongst.

Harry Merriman, The Landscape of Light, 2019, Still from Video

Multidisciplinary artist April Widdup explores place and isolation from a queer perspective, focussing on their art’s potential to challenge. They are showing two pieces in memory of Queer lives lost to hate-crimes and suicide. These artworks use numerous materials, including recycled wood, mirrors, hot sculpted glass, LED lights, vinyl and laminated sheet glass.

April Widdup, You lived, and I will remember that (II) (detail), 2022, [In memory of Queer lives lost to hate-crimes and suicide], recycled wood, hot sculpted glass, monitor, mdf, laminated sheet glass, 94 x 141.5 x 163 cm.

Through their immersive installation pieces, Widdup and Gabriela Renee explore complex cultural and personal narratives and challenge critical thinking around identity, mobility, and place.

Gabriela Renee – Gedara Yanava Going Home – installation image by Maria Koulouris

There are points along our journey through this exhibition where we are invited to get down amongst the work, temporarily becoming part of it. Quite near the floor, I peered through a small hole and saw another face looking back at me surrounded by names, including Devanny Cardiel, a transsexual woman ambassador for the state of Guanajuato in Mexico, and Disaya Smith, the 36th Trans American killed in 2021.

Uncomfortably on my back, head inside a space, I immersed myself into Widdup’s everchanging scene. Looking at other visitors doing this, and doing it ourselves, adds an extra dimension to our experience.

Brian at View2023 © Robyn Swadling

This excellently curated (by Gabrielle Hall-Lomax) exhibition of diverse works, and accompanying publication, is challenging to think about. Leaving, I wondered how I’d review it. I needed some time to digest what I had viewed before writing this. The artists should be proud of their work and we should look forward to seeing each of them develop their art.

This review was first published by The Canberra Times on page 10 of Panorama and online on 25/03/23 here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Exhibition Review, Reviews

Beyond the Material: at the Intersection of Glass and the Digital Image

Review of Photomedia-Glass Exhibition

Beyond the Material: at the Intersection of Glass and the Digital Image | Kate Baker

SCHOOL OF ART & DESIGN GALLERY, ANU | 10 Mar, 10.30am – 23 Mar, 3pm

Kate Baker is a Sydney-based artist whose contemporary practice merges photo, print and moving image technologies with studio glass.

Before graduating from the Glass Workshop at the Australian National University (ANU) School of Art in Canberra in 1999, Baker studied photography, printmaking and sculpture. In 2017, attracted by its practice-led approach to research, she returned to the ANU as a Higher Degree by Research Candidate, seeking to complete her Doctor of Philosophy and further develop her studio research in a critiqued setting. This is her PhD examination exhibition.

Like most parents, Baker photographs her children. She also videos and draws them. What makes her imagery better or different to those of our children playing on their trampolines? Baker clearly reflects on bonds formed between people. She also uses unexpected arrangements of the body. She sees the images being of abstracted universal people – placeholders for people. Or, if you prefer, metaphors. She sees bodies as containers for our inner feelings, thoughts and imagination.

Works from her Within Matter series explore the intersection between physical beings and the less tangible space of our subjective perceptions. Young figures are captured in various moments where the abstraction of their forms invites us to question where their physical bodies begin and end, and whether there are other dimensions also in that space.

Each artwork results from making ultraviolet flatbed digital prints on translucent panels of glass, then mounting them on architectural steel bases. The freestanding nature of the works allows light to pass through the imagery so they can be experiences more as sculptures than photographs.

Kate Baker – Within Matter 7 (side view cropped)

Unreal and evocative images, along with narratives, are fixed into layers of glass, mirror and, more recently, metal. Baker is closely examining the qualities of glass. Her themes explore the human environment – physical, psychological and emotional layers, inviting viewers to consider the relationship between us and our experiences.

Baker has been both a finalist and winner of national and international art prizes, including the 2018 Hindmarsh Prize, which recognises excellence in the field of Contemporary Art made primarily from glass. These are most definitely excellent Contemporary artworks.

Her research leading to this exhibition saw a reconfiguring of her existing studio practice. She used a broader interdisciplinary approach to explore the intersection of glass and the digital image, incorporating their relationship to light, space and time. Drawing from her own experience, Baker overlaid images, surface treatments and text. The use of highly personal text information, including years of her technical process notes, may initially strike us as ambiguous scribbles before we learn about the source material.

The reflective surfaces offer us opportunities to become actively involved in the works – for they change as we move around the gallery space. This is about how we co-exist and establish emotional ties, how our connections with others change as time passes. This would almost certainly be more pronounced if the lighting on the works was natural, rather than artificial, but it is clear, nevertheless.

Documentation Image 3 – Yun Ha-ANU
Documentation Image 1 (foreground Within Matter background Pulse) – Yun Ha-ANU

One rather special installation, Pulse, projects segments of video onto numerous hanging irregular shards of coloured glass. Distorted images of a performer slide across the glass. A soundtrack of hollow knocking suggests she is trapped inside the glass. Poetically exploring the grief of losing something, the human spirit and the physical boundaries of our bodies personal space, the slivers of glass capture the light and shadows within the installation like a crystalline wind vortex briefly paused.

Documentation Image 2 (detail of Pulse installation) – Yun Ha-ANU

Nick Mitzevich, Director of the National Gallery of Australia, has correctly said Baker’s work is a sophisticated resolution of the glass medium that feels entirely contemporary and rooted in the present.

This review was first published on page 12 of The Canberra Times print edition of 19/3/23 and online here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Exhibition Review, Reviews


Photography Exhibition Review

Salt | Sammy Hawker

(including Dark Crystals collaboration | Sammy Hawker, Jessica Hamilton & Sam Tomkins)

Mixing Room Gallery | 9 Feb – 25 Mar 2023

Salt is a new exhibition by ACT-based visual artist Sammy Hawker. A substantial crowd (perhaps 200) at the opening was simply buzzing with conversation and excitement.

Hawker attracted early attention when her work Boy in Versailles was selected by renowned photographer Bill Henson for the 2010 Capture the Fade exhibition in Sydney. And it was the people’s choice winner.

Then we were all impressed in 2019 with her video Dieback about the eerie phenomena of mass tree extinction – white gums in the Snowy-Monaro. Along her artistic journey since, Hawker has had significant success. This exhibition once again delivers. As Senior Curator of Visual Arts at Canberra Museum and Gallery, Virginia Rigney, said in her opening remarks, Hawker’s use of the familiar substance of salt reveals new mysteries.

This exhibition includes works from recent trips across Australia, travelling from the East Coast (the Yuin Nation and Arakwal Country) to Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre (Arabana Country). Taking her ‘studio’ with her, spending significant time at each location to understand it, then co-creating art by processing photos where they were exposed using traces of salt found at the sites to lift the emulsion and alter the documentary images. Hawker speaks of places where a quiet magic resonates; where the water leaves the blood sparkling in your veins; where the horizon disappears – and the sound of nothingness compresses around you.

Hawker’s process brings an essence of Country into her work, painting its way onto negatives and sharing deep and mysterious forces around us that transform her photographs. The details in Broulee Salt Sketch from 2020 show that very clearly. So too do Did I Dream You Dreamt About Me? and Everything is Waiting for You.

Broulee Salt Sketch (Details), 2020 © Sammy Hawker

Did I Dream You Dreamt About Me © Sammy Hawker

Everything is Waiting for You © Sammy Hawker

Two Lake Eyre works are amongst the standout images, Epiphanous and Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre, both featuring delicious pastel tones and the latter revealing a selected pattern from high above.

Epiphanous [Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre] © Sammy Hawker

Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre [From the Skies #2] © Sammy Hawker

Amongst the black and white images, Everything is Waiting for You and Did I Dream You Dreamt About Me? each pose numerous questions. The latter demanded I grab a phone shot of someone reflected in it, dreamily exploring. And the inclusion of Hawker’s 2022 Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize winning work, Mount Gulaga, is a bonus for those who have not previously seen it.

Mount Gulaga © Sammy Hawker

There is also a marvellous collaborative work between Hawker, Jessica Hamilton & Sam Tomkins. It explores the possibilities around generating dialogue between image, sound and form.

Their starting point is Hawker’s image, Dark Crystals, a work processed with ocean water at Mollymook, NSW (Yuin Nation) in 2021. Hamilton has a special connection to the place this image was created and was inspired to use the visual data along the horizon line of the image to create a spectrogram. It picked up the varied textures deposited on the negative by the ocean’s salt. She then converted the spectrogram into a waveform and processed it through a synthesiser to create a sound piece.

Dark crystals Waveform horizon © Sammy Hawker, Jessica Hamilton & Sam Tomkins

Next, Tomkins designed and created a chladni plate (use your favourite search engine for information) to respond to the sounds. When the plate is oscillating with certain frequencies, the salt on top creates distinct patterns. Hawker used an online pitch detector to break down the various notes/frequencies in the sound piece. Played through the plate, the visual patterns formed – such as 1041.8 Hz – C6 are intriguing.

1041.8 Hz – C6 © Sammy Hawker, Jessica Hamilton & Sam Tomkins

I look forward to more exciting outcomes from these collaborators.

The exhibition is more than just printed images. There are negatives on display too and, perhaps best of all, a great journal of Hawker’s words along with numerous images worthy of close examination.

This review was first published in The Canberra Times on page 5 of Panorama and online here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Exhibition Review, Reviews

Under the Sun & Cyscape

Photography Exhibition Review

Under the Sun & Cyscapes Jane Duong

Reading Room Gallery, Rusten House Art Centre | 4 February – 25 March 2023

Jane Duong is a Canberra-based photographer. She majored in photomedia at Edith Cowan University in 2003 for a Bachelor of Communications. Then, in 2007, graduated with a Diploma in Museums and Collections from the ANU.

As with her Sunkissed exhibition in 2022, Duong has used the cyanotype technique for this show. Under the Sun is more substantial – both in terms of the number of works and their content. Once again, the works do not shout seeking attention, but quietly encourage visitors in for a closer investigation. The cyanotype process dates back to the dawn of photography and was invented by astronomer Sir John Herschel in 1842. Prints are created with the use of a light-sensitive chemical mixture coated on paper, ultraviolet (or sun) light to expose, and water to wash before drying.

So, what are we looking at here? The artworks result from an exploration and celebration of public spaces and historical places in Queanbeyan – through the magic and coincidence that comes with the cyanotype process. Her subjects include The Dog & Stile Inn, the Queanbeyan River, Rusten and Benedict Houses, and the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. Each exhibited print is a one-off, handmade on cotton paper. Some have unique borders. Some have been created with negative contact sheets. And some exposed artworks were washed by dipping them directly into the Queanbeyan River.

Cross to bear – Jane Duong

Rusten House I – Jane Duong

When I learned to make prints from negatives in a darkroom years ago, it was drummed into me to use clean water for the processes. Nowadays, a growing number of artists seem to be using “unclean” water. Some collect water from creeks, dams, oceans or wherever to use. Others immerse the paper or other material on which they are printing directly into a water source, as Duong has done here for some works. In the last couple of days I have seen this approach questioned on social media, with someone wondering aloud whether it was appropriate to “contaminate” the ocean with cyanotype chemicals. Responses have been varied.

Dip your toe in the water – Jane Duong

Cyscapes is a video work previously shown at a 2022 Contour 556 event, the Forest Bathing Night Walk, put on by Localjinni Shinrin-Yoku in the Cork Forest at the National Arboretum. Localjinni refers to itself as an eco-feminist art collective which, traveling in collective safety at night, transforms spaces into places using visual art, poetry, music, film, oral history, and digital stories.

The collective states that it ‘strides’ to bring local culture and active travel together, to reclaim community ownership of the street and public spaces. It asks that we think of the collective’s members as art street vendors. They screen virtual exhibitions, lighting up parks, paths, and plazas on night walks and scooter rides.

Their focus on place recognises the importance of local production and local knowledge. As a Virtual Artist Run Initiative (VARI), including more than fifty contributing artists and artworkers, they bring research and teamwork together to develop and refine new ways of connecting people to place. Checkout their website for more details: localjinni.com.au.

If, like me, you missed the Night Walk, you can view an interesting 2-minute showreel of it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTiKKhoH2J4.

The video on display in this gallery exhibition is described by the artist as “moving image, colour, sound, 2 minutes 46 seconds”. On a loop, viewers are able to watch the full video of moving images as many times as they wish. I watched them, mesmerised and enjoying windmills and foliage appearing on a tree.

Cyscapes-3 – Jane Duong (Still from video)

Cyscapes-2 – Jane Duong (Still from video)

Cyanotype images cleverly layered and manipulated with Duong’s choice of today’s software (which utilises Artificial Intelligence) created this most worthwhile video exhibit.

This review was first published in The Canberra Times on page 10 of Panorama and online here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Exhibition Review, Reviews

A Lens on the Lake, & Kambah

Photography Exhibition Review

A Lens on the Lake | Andrea Bryant

Kambah | Louise Curham

Tuggeranong Arts Centre | 20 Jan – 24 Mar 2023

These two separate exhibitions are both outcomes of explorations by their respective artists.

A Lens on the Lake is a series of abstracted moments Andrea Bryant has gathered whilst exploring life around Lake Tuggeranong. Shot predominantly with an infrared converted digital camera, the surreal scenes are part of a broader project focusing on the health of Canberra waterways and their direct environments.

Kambah, by Louise Curham, is also part of a larger project that is ongoing.

She is interested in the history of Kambah and is making an online digital Kambah People’s Map. As she develops the map, Curham will include images and stories shared with her during public programs at the arts centre whilst the exhibitions are on display. Bryant is also conducting a workshop. Details of those events can be found at https://www.tuggeranongarts.com/whats-on/.

Bryant completed a Diploma in Photography and Photographic Imaging in 2019 at the Canberra Institute of Technology. Her practice focuses on the use of abstraction. Working primarily with black and white photography, she juxtaposes disregarded things with the natural world – thus reflecting on our penchant for destroying the environment.

Here Bryant shows us thirty-six framed fine art prints. Whilst most are black and white, a small number are vibrantly coloured. The images were developed over several years from meditative walks at Lake Tuggeranong, prompted by copious amounts of rubbish discarded in the area.

Amongst the subjects for Bryant’s camera are, inevitably, a shopping trolley and graffiti. But there is also the floating wetland’s structure, people relaxing, fishing gear, filaments, the skatepark, and a black swan. There are even images of Einstein and his “intelligent eye”.

Relaxing 1 © Andrea Bryant
Relaxing 2 © Andrea Bryant
Filaments © Andrea Bryant
Mimis © Andrea Bryant

Each walk taken uncovered new debris, different structures and diverse wildlife that Bryant has transformed through artistic use of infrared to shift the commonplace in a way that stirs curiosity. Largely stripped of context, the artist invites us to reconsider our relationship to what have become mysterious or puzzling forms within the landscape.

Floating Wetlands, 2021 © Andrea Bryant
Schism © Andrea Bryant

Tension between unpleasant dumped objects and the beauty found in their forms is intriguing. Bryant’s reframing draws us to reconsider how we move through our environment and the actions we take to pollute or restore it.

This artist is to be congratulated on this, her first solo show, and on the messages she has successfully conveyed.

Curham uses art, and archivist expertise, to explore how we can look after things we can’t digitise. She invites people to think about the wisdom accompanying things they want to keep and how it can be passed on. She focuses on old media and the lessons that can be learned from it.

Kambah, a suburb of Canberra first settled in 1974, was not designed according to the ‘neighbourhood’ philosophy guiding suburban design and is the largest in Canberra. It took its name from the once prosperous Kambah sheep and cattle farm. The property was sub-divided; Village Creek waterway went underground. Seeking to build community, Curham invites residents, alumni and visitors to select the contents of an archive about Kambah.

The exhibition displays a digital map built from the community’s answers to the question ‘what do you know about Kambah that you think is important to share with others?’ Alongside the map is a series of images of Kambah made using pinhole and cyanotype photography. Both processes have created very literal but diverse portraits of Kambah.

Kambah people’s map digital map – © Louise Curham
Urambi20 – © Louise Curham
Pinhole06 – © Louise Curham

The subjects include the historic Urambi Woolshed, the IGA, a bike, casuarinas, dusk (towards the Brindabellas) and cleared woodlands. It all makes for an intriguing show that gallery visitors should spend time with, especially Kambah residents.

Woolshed – © Louise Curham
IGA from Boddington – © Louise Curham
Clearing at Kambah – © Louise Curham

This review was first published online on 9.2.23 by The Canberra Times here and then in the printed paper on 13.2.23. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.