Exhibition Review, Reviews

Sky Eternal by Cat Wilson, Up in the Air by Claire Grant, Wild Blue Yonder by Photo Access members

Review of Photography Exhibitions

Sky Eternal | Cat Wilson

Up in the Air | Claire Grant

Photo Access | 30 June – 30 July

The artists in these two exhibitions have used sky space to explore our human condition. They invite us to reflect on the importance of the surface of our planet and the sky space above – and the care needed to keep everything in good condition.

Blue moon. Blue Monday. Blue blood. Is blue hardwired into our psyche? Did it contribute to our evolutionary development – as hunter-gatherers who learnt to survive among blue skies and oceans? It is the major colour of the works in these shows. Most appropriately, an accompanying Photo Access members’ exhibition has the theme “Wild Blue Yonder.”

Trevor Lund, Exploring Scoresby Sound, 2022. From the “Wild Blue Yonder” members’ exhibition.

Across the ages, blue has been used when visualising something from our imagination, out of reach or the divine. As a pigment, blue is extremely rare in nature, despite being found in the environment around us – from the tranquil light blue of a sky to the melancholy deep blue of an ocean. Unlike particular reds, browns and yellows, blue pigment cannot be created from materials within our easy grasp. Arguably, blue represents an entirely new world beyond our own.

Sky Eternal by Cat Wilson is an immersive video installation, which mirrors moving cloudscapes. The immediate reaction on entering the room regardless of the point the video has reached is that one is looking at a Rorschach inkblot. I wonder what Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli would make of this slowly changing inkblot. Accompanied by an ambient soundscape, composed by Jamie Saxe, this is a captivating work. The catalogue suggests it “mediates on the ways in which the universal and timeless sky unites us all, a metaphor for innovation, positivity, hope and heaven.” When I joined them, I wanted to ask others viewing it what they saw in the inkblot. As they were transfixed, I couldn’t interrupt.

Cat Wilson – Eternal Sky, 2021 – video still

Up in the Air by Claire Grant includes three things. Firstly, there is a 90 x 400 cm composite of 57 A4-sized cyanotypes each printed on fragile paper ephemera that the artist collected during employment as a flight attendant. The papers originally were crew briefings providing details of routes she would be flying, so amongst the imagery she has created there is text and lines and also creases and marks – as she folded the paper to fit in her pocket during each trip.

The images are aerial vignettes framed by Grant’s ‘office’ windows, the plane’s portholes. They are, truly, landscapes. As the aircraft flew over an outback mine, we can see that open cut mine’s landscape in regional Queensland laid out below us. Some of the cyanotypes are essentially white images of the clouds below the plane. Others reveal different aspects of the atmosphere. We are looking at skies filled with navigational charts to and from different destinations around Australia.

It is also worth noting that the artist captured the initial works with a phone camera, making use of its technical limitations to obtain the pixelated and repetitive images that she wanted for her pe-visualised end product. It is quite wonderful.

Claire Grant – Nothing’s as precious as a hole in the Ground, 2021-22
Claire Grant – Nothing’s as precious as a hole in the ground, 2021-22 (Detail)

On the opposite wall of the gallery is a series of individual artworks, each being cyanotypes and encaustic on washi paper – renowned for strength not fragility. Each image is framed by a porthole. Reflecting the recent period of air travel disruptions, many show terminal boards indicating numerous cancelled flights.

Claire Grant – CANCELLED(CBROvernight), 2022
Claire Grant – Up In The Air (Installation Photo 9)

On the end wall of the “aircraft’s corridor” is one further work – a large cyanotype portrayal of Employee 152578’s pre-employment dental record adding a final piece to this clever interpretation of Grant’s previous career. The whole exhibition opens up a shutdown world.

Claire Grant, Dental Record (Employee 152578), 2022 (Installation Photo)

This review was first published on page 10 of the Panorama supplement in The Canberra Times of 9 July 2022 and online here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

CITY COMMISSIONS – PORTRAITS

Photography Exhibition Review

CITY COMMISSIONS – PORTRAITS | SAMMY HAWKER

Tuggeranong Town Centre (on windows of Lakeview House & under the Soward Way Bridge) | Until 4 July 2022

Installation shot – Under Soward Way bridge (supplied)

Sammy Hawker is a visual artist working predominantly on Ngunawal Country. She works predominantly with analogue photography techniques and often works closely with Traditional Custodians, scientists and ecologists.

In 2021 Hawker had two highly successful solo shows as part of a PhotoAccess darkroom residency. She is currently an artist-in-residence with the CORRIDOR project and is also preparing for another solo show before year end.

Over the last six months Hawker worked closely with nine young people from Headspace Tuggeranong exploring ways they could co-create photographic portraits. This was part of a City Commissions project delivered by Contour 556, one of seven artsACT initiatives in the Creative Recovery and Resilience Program.

Headspace is a safe space that welcomes and supports young people aged 12–25, their families, friends and carers, helping them to find the right services. Learning the Headspace motto “clear is kind”, Hawker realised her project was also about finding clarity as a form of self-compassion – shining light on what for many was a particularly dark and confusing time.


Hawker challenges the notion that a photograph constitutes the moment that a shutter is released. She explores ways of making, rather than taking, images. She wanted the project to be empowering – with no right or wrong and where the final photographs celebrated identity and experience beyond just the way her subjects looked in the frame. It was an opportunity to realise we always have some choice whether we repress difficult experiences.

The portraits of the young people were captured on a large format film camera. Commonly, in photographic practice, touch and marks on negatives are to be avoided. But Hawker invited her subjects to handle, manipulate, scratch or even bury negatives in order to introduce something of themselves. The young folk wrangled puppies, dived into rivers, got dressed up, sprinkled bushfire ash on negatives and processed film in the Headspace carpark.

Each participant was invited to use the project to reflect on their experiences of difficult times. Their statements relating to the images reveal resilience and hope.

Chanelle reflected about living in the moment. The negative of her portrait, showing her immersed in the Murrumbidgee River, was processed with water from that river, ocean water and permanent marker.

Chanelle ©Sammy Hawker

Sophie spoke of learning to embrace everything in life. Her portrait’s negative was processed with bushfire ash and the word Embrace scratched into it. The ash creates a frame that embraces her.

Sanjeta really likes her photo with jellyfish manipulations as metaphors for how she now goes with the flow of her life journey. Her expression conveys a “so be it” attitude. The negative was processed with Murrumbidgee water, rainwater, seaweed and chemical stains.

Sanjeta © Sammy Hawker

Ray wanted to keep connected and bring some joy into the lives of others. The portrait’s beaming smile conveys joy. The idea of processing the negative with Whiz Pop Bang bubble mixture and wattle pollen adds to the joy.

Ray’s Statement

Jazzy is photographed with her much loved dog Milo. So, of course, the processing of the negative utilised Milo’s pawprints.

Jazzy Jazzy © Sammy Hawker
Devante © Sammy Hawker
Installation shot – Under Soward Way bridge (supplied)

When I reviewed her Acts of Co-Creation show (for which she received a Canberra Critics Circle Award) in this publication, I wrote of Hawker’s then newly formed relationship with Ngunawal custodian Tyronne Bell who helped her to learn about sites she was working with. For this project, Hawker arranged for Bell to escort her subjects walking Ngunawal Country, providing a healing experience for them.

I strongly recommended readers to visit City Commissions – Portraits – and reflect on your own difficult times.

An edited version of this review was published in The Canberra Times of 28/6/22 on the Capital Life page, and the full version online here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

Voices of Veterans

Photography Exhibition Review

VOICES OF VETERANS | MICHAEL ARMSTRONG

National Press Club Building, | Until 19 June 2022 – by appointment only – bookings to view the exhibition or to experience insights with the artist can be made at https://voicesofveterans.com.au/events

Molasses! A viscous substance primarily used to sweeten and flavour foods. A major constituent of fine commercial brown sugar. And a primary ingredient used to distil rum.

I’ve eaten food containing molasses, seen photographs of it, even found a photography business with the word molasses in its name. Never before have I seen portraits of people covered with molasses with its thick, sticky consistency. Glue-like, tacky, treacly, and slimy might also be used to describe this substance.

Voices of Veterans, created by artist and veteran Michael Armstrong, is a collection of photographic works that visually represent individual experiences of living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). So is this an exhibition of artworks or is it simply about supporting a Veterans’ cause?

The exhibits are most definitely photo artworks and very fine ones indeed. But the exhibition is also part of an important project. Every sale contributes to the Voices of Veterans Fund, supporting veteran health and directly funding grassroots arts programs in Australian veteran communities. And it is always great to see art being used to highlight important issues.

So why use molasses, covering large expanses of the subjects’ bodies with it? Armstrong says “Molasses behaves in a manner that mirrors many of the symptoms of PTSD. Its weight and dark enveloping form, it’s staining and sticky qualities mark everything it touches. The manner in which it mirrors qualities of light and dark around it. My models naturally resonated with the experience of working with molasses and found the medium profoundly evocative”.

There are both monochrome and colour images – dark and brooding portraits, some where facial expressions are not easy to interpret, others where the molasses reminded me of bleeding wounds.

Mike Armstrong #3, 2022
Mike Armstrong #1, 2022

A very powerful one features a hand hanging down alongside part of a torso, richly coloured molasses clinging to it yet also dripping. Indeed all the images featuring hands stand out.

Mike Armstrong #5, 2022

A PTSD survivor himself, Armstrong was motivated by personal experience. Each veteran subject in the exhibition has a story, and their stories are told, expressed, felt and heard through his use of a challenging and rewarding creative process with molasses as a metaphor. The works show both sides of lived experience – the dark emotions of challenging moments and the light feelings of healing, release and hope.

Subjects’ own words are shared alongside artworks. One speaks of “the feeling of being dragged down into the thick, welcoming abyss until you are choking and drowning. Being able to barely keep your head up enough to catch a breath.”

So, the choice of molasses is enormously successful. The resultant images almost force you to study them. They are at once poignant and haunting, dark and evocative, graphic and expressive. They will bring strong memories or feelings to the minds of people who have family or friends who have suffered the effects of PTSD. They will remind others of different, yet also traumatic, experiences.

Mike Armstrong #2, 2022
Mike Armstrong #6, 2022
Mike Armstrong #4, 2022

Indeed, the created artworks have resonated with veterans deeply. When posted on Armstrong’s social media they reached a broad audience, creating high levels of engagement and many conversations. This sparked the need to create widespread awareness – and the project was born.

The exhibition will tour Australia raising awareness of the individual experiences of veterans living with PTSD, and veteran art-based workshops will support the creation and growth of healthy communities. Community events will be offered during the Canberra exhibition, including trauma-informed movement classes with health practitioners and veteran art workshops with Armstrong.

There is a gallery of the artworks online at https://voicesofveterans.com.au/art-gallery.

This review 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

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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Reviews

The Pandy Shuffle

Photography Exhibition

The Pandy Shuffle | Eleven Artists

Huw Davies Gallery, Photo Access | Until 22 December 2021

Curated by Wouter Van de Voorde, The Pandy Shuffle shows works from eleven photo artists. The name? Well, it’s not the Melbourne shuffle – a rave dance from the ‘80s. And the artists didn’t learn how to shuffle and cut shapes in the usual dance sense. But they certainly had to shuffle their arrangements and plans, creating a Pandora’s Box of ideas as they coped with the pandemonium of pandemic times.

Van de Voorde mentored them through a Concept to Exhibition project at Photo Access in 2021. He wanted to connect people, have discussions about how images work and how they communicate when juxtaposed with each other. It became a shared endeavour, no-one expecting to be working together online through lockdowns.

As curator, Van de Voorde wanted there to be an overarching narrative binding the works together. He and his participants have executed a varying quality, but successful, coherent and collaborative show – celebrating their doggedness and creativity.

Each artist brought their distinctive style; an admirable consonance between them. All created work revealing their individual thought processes and confirming their endurance through this year.

Claire Manning’s excellent artworks feature diverse and interesting subjects, and include a magnificent large self-adhesive vinyl print A Place to Hide, 2021.

Claire Manning, A Place to Hide, 2021

Sara Edson’s wonderful contemporary work explores notions of home and connections between family, friends and strangers, recording “experiences and feelings in a strange year, that sometimes seemed a blur.” An image of a panda mask wearer along the Queanbeyan River path reveals a delightful encounter.

Sara Edson, Untitled, 2021

Tom Varendorff planned to document the ever-increasing number of dog toys that lie around his house and yard. In the end his – also contemporary – photos weren’t as focused on the toys as he’d first thought.

Tom Varendorff, Untitled, 2021

Andrea Bryant’s works are all seductively lit and worthy of close examination. Still Life 2 is not a traditional still life. It has much to consider in a different composition.

Andrea Bryant, Still Life 2, 2021

Grant Winkler’s four exhibits of abandoned spaces adorned with the nowadays inevitable “street art” additions are replete with detail. His use of sunlight in two Walking on Sunshine works is wonderful.

Grant Winkler, Walking on Sunshine Obverse, 2021

Thomas Edmondson’s artist statement reveals that he is colour blind (mild deuteranopia) and that his work attempts to visualise “happenings left in places”. One impressive piece, Kambah Drains, reveals an amazing collection of graffiti on various surfaces – the words cave, temple, grim and aspire invite interpretation. 

Thomas, Edmondson, Kambah Drains, 2021

Erin Burrows says, “works were created from a period of chaos to calm in an ever-changing world, how busy and messy life can be, then clarity and balance can be found.” Each work is full of stuff for our eyes to tour.

Erin Burrows, Chaos 1, 2021

Phil Carter found quiet suburban roads to show us, seemingly devoid of people, built probably at great cost and barely used.

Phil Carter, 2021, Somewhwere Near Here 5

Briony Donald’s images of pigeons – and their titles – made me smile. One of two others featuring rhino birds stands out because of the bird’s juxtaposition with a young person.

Briony Donald, Untitled, 2021

Caroline Lemerle is interested in capturing the ‘layers’ of inner city living, suggesting her images “illustrate the silent fraught conversation between middle-class affluence and the inner-city poverty of marginalised people”. They do, although two prints titled Newtown Disconnect 1 and 2 have a clear connection – dominant colours in each tying them together.

Caroline Lemerle, Newtown Disconnect 1, 2021

Kathy Leo took her photos while exploring the beauty around Canberra on a personal recovery journey. She has compiled images and poetry into an artist book, some copies for sale along with prints of Birds in the Pond. The works share her discoveries and their healing wonder with us, her audience.

Kathy Leo, Birds in the Pond, 2021

This review was published in The Canberra Times on 18/12/21 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Reviews

Uncalibrated Space

Photomedia Exhibition Review

Rory Gillen | Uncalibrated Space

Tuggeranong Arts Centre | Until 16 December 2021

Rory Gillen is a Canberra-based audio-visual and new media artist and educator. He has worked extensively in documentary and event photography, as well as maintaining an arts practice exploring the cutting edge of post-digital and networked photographic art. Working across photography, audio, video, and electronics, Gillen creates multisensory installations that critically engage.

Graduating from the ANU School of Art and Design in 2019 with first class honours, Gillen has exhibited in various galleries, including Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Brunswick Street Gallery (Victoria), and the Perth Institute for Contemporary Art.

Gillen is sometimes referred to as the resident tech nerd at Photoaccess where he currently works developing post digital programming and workspaces as well as tutoring and facilitating visiting artists in their practice and technical skills.

Many scholars consider us to be in the era of ‘Post Digital’. What does this mean for photography; its analogue form in some ways already consigned to the dustbin of history by theorists who insist that we live in a post-media era?

In a recently streamed conversation with another multidisciplinary artist Gillen dived deep into the changing face of photographic practice. He suggested, correctly, that whilst digital photography is essentially about capturing data, post digital is about investigating it and exploring concepts that silently exist in the data set. As someone who was amongst the first computer programmers in Australia and who watched the ones and zeros coming together as light dots on a bulky “pre-computer” whilst debugging my programs, I am fascinated now when people speak about manipulating ones and zeros – akin to manipulating negatives in darkrooms.

In his artistic practice, Gillen is fascinated by “the digital paradigm shift toward the fundamental machine readability of objects, exemplified by the digital image”. Here he explores the facets that deep learning carves into images and investigates “the underlying machinations of the algorithms themselves” posing the question “what is real, and how do we know”?

This exhibition comprises twelve inkjet prints plus a mixed media installation showing faces, illustrations, landscapes and objects – and much more. Aluminium, plywood, a desktop computer, wires and miscellaneous electronics are all part of the installation, without them there would be no screen images to see.

3500 Steps From Illustrations, 2021 © Rory Gillen
3500 Steps From Objects, 2021 © Rory Gillen

The prints relationships to faces, illustrations, landscapes and objects is not immediately obvious. At first glance I asked myself why one smaller print was of parked cars with a music stand amongst them. Closer inspection revealed that the stand was in fact supporting a copy of one of the larger prints. The same is true for other smaller prints of a landscape, Gillen’s own face, and an illustrative poster – stands in each of them support copies of larger prints in the exhibition. Four large prints titled 3500 Steps from Faces, etc. are curated grids of images resulting from heavy manipulation of ones and zeros.

Untitled Source Image IV, 2021 © Rory Gillen
Untitled Source Image II, 2021 © Rory Gillen

There is so much to look at, so much to wonder about. Images on the computer screen are mesmerising, flashing on and off at a rapid rate. Individual images on a larger LCD screen have a dreamlike quality. I saw cartoon-like faces, old hand made nails, overhead views of building site plans, hieroglyphics and lenses. Whatever you see you will enjoy.

Uncalibrated Space IV, 2021 © Rory Gillen
Uncalibrated Space III, 2021 © Rory Gillen

Grant Scott, the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, has written “The role of the 21st century photographer has changed and is constantly evolving. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the engaged photographer to understand that reality and to respond to those changes.” Gillen is so engaged. We can expect the future to bring us many more manipulated and appropriated artworks from him and others.

This review was published in the Canberra Times on 27/11/21 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Reviews

Living Memory – NPPP 2021

Photography Review

Living Memory – NPPP 2021 | Various artists

National Portrait Gallery | Until 16 January 2022

Group exhibitions can be awkward to review because of the diversity of imagery subject matter and quality. This exhibition has a specified theme but, like all themes, it was open to wide interpretation and, unsurprisingly, the images in it approach portraiture in differing ways. Overall, the quality of the prints is high as we would hope in such a show, although I was disappointed with a small number.

So, what is on display in this, the 15th annual National Photographic Portrait Prize (NPPP)? With its Living Memory theme having been set to acknowledge the seismic events of 2020, it was hoped entries would offer a powerful and historic visual record of the year that was and would capture the unique ways in which we as individuals, and as a nation, responded to it. Many of the images on display certainly show both the photographers and their subjects responding to the dramas of 2020. Others, though, do not – in my view. Nevertheless, the diversity and quality of the artwork combines in a powerful visual exhibition.

In shows such as this I always look for works by locals and other people whom I know personally, and images by artists whose work I have long admired. This year I found a familiar work by local Marzena Wasikowska – A Covid kind of day, from her series Negotiating the Family Portrait 2011-2021. I wrote about that series here earlier this year, noting that this is the fifth time an image from the series has been a NPPP finalist.

I also found two images by Canberra Times photographer Dion Georgopoulos, both taken after the firestorms and previously seen published in this newspaper. I consider Wandella Firestorm, 2020 to be the more powerful of the two but The Salway Family is also a fine portrait with a father and nephew placed before a devastating background.

Wandella Firestorm © Dion Georgopoulos
The Salway Family © Dion Georgopoulos

One of the represented photographers whose work I always appreciate is Tamara Dean. The Goodall Boys, 2021 came from Dean finding beauty in her immediate environment and being inspired to create photographs of the people and places she was surrounded by when unable to venture further afield. That is an experience most artists shared in 2020.

The Goodall Boys © Tamara Dean

Two of the most powerful images displayed are side by side and both feature emotionally charged situations. When Rachel Mounsey photographed Max, 2020 her subject said ‘All has been erased. Nature has to come back through a black, blank canvas. It’s a lamentable game of survival, but beautiful to watch.’ The resultant image successfully conveys that. Alongside it is Matthew Newton’s Anna, 2020 showing peaceful activist Anna Brozek standing determined, tall and proud on the remains of a logged tree in Tasmania’s precious old growth forests. Her message could not be clearer.

Max © Rachel Mounsey
Anna © Matthew Newton

But what of the winner and other awarded images? I have read considerable commentary elsewhere about the winner – a familiar scene (of a farmer walking towards a dust storm), hard to understand why certain photos win these types of Prizes, what does it reveal about the person? Whether or not those are valid comments, there is no denying the emotion the winning work and other awarded images convey.

There are numerous works in this diverse exhibition that we all need to study and explore, especially the few type C prints such as Kalyanii Holden’s beautiful The Cat’s Out Of The Bag.

The Cats Out Of The Bag © Kalyanii Holden

I could not look at one work as it had been covered. The person depicted has recently passed away. I applaud the Gallery for respecting Indigenous cultural protocols while the person’s family and community are consulted regarding their wishes.

This review was published on 6/11/21 by the Canberra Times here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Reviews

Into The Blue – a celebration of the Cyanotype print

Photography & Photomedia Exhibition Review

Fourteen artists | Into The Blue – a celebration of the Cyanotype print

Sutton Village Gallery | Until 7 November

Into the Blue shows works from fourteen artists – Susan Baran, Wendy Currie, Kaye Dixon, Dianne Longley, Silvi Glattauer, Kiera Hudson, Peter McDonald, Senga Peckham, Maxine Salvatore, Eva Schroeder, Ian Skinner, Kim Sinclair, Virginia Walsh, Carolyn Young.

It celebrates the Cyanotype process discovered in 1842, involving two chemicals – ammonium iron (III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide – and UV light. Over time, variations to the original chemical formula have provided more creative possibilities, and the cyanotype print process is used by photographers, artists and creative enthusiasts globally. Works are made by treating a print surface – paper, cloth or leather – with the chemicals which then react to UV light creating a distinctive blue colour.

On the last Saturday in September, artists worldwide celebrate this antiquarian process on World Cyanotype Day. Into the Blue was planned as a celebration for this year’s Day – artists provided their works showing how Cyanotype has featured in their creative practices.

The works cover a range of subjects. While most are the rich blues we expect to see, there are some with more “whites” amongst the blues, some toned, and others featuring additional colours.

I particularly enjoyed Kaye Dixon’s Bone Women series. She combined sculpture, painting, digital photography, and cyanotype printing to “re-member” her journey home; the long journey to find her feminine power buried in the depth of her soul. Her bone women are sailing and “re-membering” the times when there was an intrinsic connection between all living things.

Keira Hudson’s works are printed on cotton with threads attached to some edges. This Melbourne-based artist describes her work as “a jumble of mystery, sexuality, and romanticism”. She enjoys pushing the boundaries and her fabric cyanotypes here were created during lockdowns. The images are either self-portraits, or portraits captured virtually – double exposed with dried flora collected from her garden.

Let Me In © Keira Hudson

Dianne Longley’s works on embossed paper using decals, gold and copper leaf and watercolour are not simply cyanotypes – the mixed media result is a series of delightful works. The decals were made from coloured drawings based on figures from the Renaissance, and the French artist François Rabelais, contemporary Japanese ‘kawaii’ figures and toys, the commedia dell’arte, imagined and real plants, and grotesque imagery through history. Longley says “the images offer possibilities for speculation on life and destiny, the quirky and the curious, and the fascinating possibilities that exist for the traveller”.

Susan Baran’s Dreaming of Bali series alludes to the time before COVID-19 when the world was a safer place. She dreams of a time when travel is safe again.

Dreaming of Bali 7 © Susan Baran

Senga Peckham’s From The Garden series explores the Japanese concept of ‘Ma’ which combines ‘door’ and ‘sun’. Together they depict a door through the crevice of which the sunlight peeps. Using resources close to hand during restrictions – some Japanese paper left over from another project, converting her laundry to a dim-room and working with plants from her garden and the sun, she sees this as a meditative process, full of hope and possibility.

From the Garden No. 1 © Senga Peckham

Carolyn Young’s Eliza and the Satin Bowerbird celebrates an illustrator’s life. It features a portrait of her sitting inside the outline of a male Satin Bowerbird (derived from one her illustrations).

Eliza Gould & Satin Bowerbird © Carolyn Young

Maxine Salvatore’s Senza Protezione is about our need for protection against a new virus. Kim Sinclair’s Skull & Blooms refers to the cycle of life and to lockdown tension.

Senza Protezione © Maxine Salvatore
Skull & Blooms © Kim Sinclair

Travel to Sutton is now permitted for all Canberrans and other locals, so the show has been extended to 7 November. Why not visit the gallery tucked behind the bakery?

This review has also been published on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here. It has also now been published in the Canberra Times here.

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