Exhibition Review, Reviews

Into the Forest

Photography Exhibition Review

Into the Forest | Eva van Gorsel and Manuel Pfeiffer

M16 Artspace, Gallery 1b | UNTIL 4 SEPTEMBER 2022

Partners Eva van Gorsel and Manuel Pfeiffer are regular exhibitors at M16 Artspace. Their 2020 joint show Facets exhibited interpretations of the Australian landscape they had seen during a lengthy journey. Their works complemented each other as they revealed the same facets. Then, in 2021, they brought us Congruent-Incongruent using numerous diverse techniques and media to create varied, interesting and pleasing artworks.

Their 2022 exhibition Into the Forest aims to raise awareness of the role our forests have on our planet, our climate and our lives by showcasing the beauty of mostly regional treescapes and woodlands using imagery, sculpture and a sound installation. Along with growing numbers of people around the world, they recognise that the importance of forests cannot be underestimated.

Pfeiffer has a background in earth system sciences, graphic design and arts and shares a deep appreciation of the environment with Van Gorsel who was a principal research scientist in atmospheric sciences before turning to photography. The two artists asked themselves why it is important to show and appreciate the beauty of our natural environment and have offered an answer.

“In science we have pointed out the dangers of climate change before anyone cared to listen. With climate extremes now so extreme that they are getting hard to ignore many more people are aware that urgent action is needed. Many artists were early uptakers of that message. There is a long tradition of showing natures beauty. But many artists now also show the impact our disrespect of nature has on ecosystems. This is important work that is critically needed. But it is key that we do not get lost in despair. That is why we think it is important to show and appreciate the beauty of our natural environment. I think we are at a turning point where it becomes important to again remind us of what we can keep – if only we set our minds and actions to it.”

Van Gorsel’s works here are, perhaps, more traditional than she has shown in their previous two joint exhibitions. They are fine examples of this genre of photography, showing us numerous wonders of nature in our forests – birds, mist, and understory vegetation are just some examples. In every case, the available natural light is used beautifully – as all photographers should strive to do. Monochrome is used sparingly, but to great effect. Shallow focus is used wonderfully in others.

Eva van Gorsel_Into The Forest II_Namadgi
Eva van Gorsel_Mist_Gundagerra NR
Eva van Gorsel_Last Light_Namadgi NP
Eva van Gorsel_Aglitter 03

Pfeiffer’s contributions are equally pleasing, showing us the sights of the forests through his chosen media. A set of artworks of trees, bark and fungi using colour pencils on paper are simply lovely, with their wonderfully balanced light and peaceful hues. Others painted with acrylics on canvas, such as Dreaming Xanthorrhoeas, are equally successful.

His three pieces using wood are special features in the exhibition. A mixed media piece, The Wise, 2021, is the standout for me. Glass, a suspended small rock gently moving, wood and more combine beautifully into a piece to explore, a piece that also says much about nature.

Manuel Pfeiffer_BarkA
Manuel Pfeiffer_Dreaming Xanthorrhoeas
Manuel Pfeiffer_At The Coast

All the artworks take us into the artists’ views of nature. They make us feel good – enabling us to see the colours, hear the sounds, smell the scents. All give us some comfort. And they make us want to be amongst the calming effects of forests and connecting directly with nature through our senses, seeking to reduce the gap that we have opened between us and the natural world. This exhibition very much invites us to reflect on how we humans have impacted the natural environment, and to ask ourselves what we as individuals must now do.

This review was published online by The Canberra Times on 30.08.22 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

ADORNED

REVIEW OF PHOTOGRAPHY, VIDEO, WEARABLE ART, & SCULPTURE EXHIBITION

ADORNED | ADORNED COLLECTIVE

TUGGERANONG ARTS CENTRE | UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2022

This exhibition is a survey of the Adorned Collective’s creative journey over the past seven years. It features photographic and video work, plus wearable artworks and sculptural installations.

The Collective was formed in 2015 as a participant-driven initiative to support artists, artisans, makers and craftspeople of all ages and abilities from culturally diverse backgrounds and experiences, by providing a friendly, culturally safe and accessible creative space. The community that was established participates fortnightly in supported drop-in skill-sharing workshops and public programs. The Collective meets and works on Dharug Country, Western Sydney, and is based at Parramatta Artist Studios in Rydalmere.

Within the workshops, participants collaborate and share creative processes, stories and skills in order to professionally develop and to build community capacity. The group nurtures friendships and celebrates life, culture, diversity and difference whilst creating inclusive social and professional networks and opportunities for local creatives.

During the seven years since 2015, the Collective has developed and exhibited solo and collaborative works. The Adorned artists have utilized each exhibition and project as a way of engaging community through public programs and creative workshops.

So, what is in this extensive exhibition? There are numerous handmade wearable artworks on display. They include wonderful and intricate masks and hatbands. Then there are woven baskets, and sculptures using various materials such as second-hand paper, wire, twigs and sequins. There are letters from a letter exchange project that connected artists living in regional Queensland. And more.

Farzana Hekmat_Freedom Girl_2020 – wearable art
Ginette Morato_Starry Night_2020 – wearable art

How does photography and video come into this? Well, the artists have been photographed and videoed wearing their own artworks. The photographs in the exhibition are large portraits from 2015. They are all colourful and well-photographed. Each image reveals a considerable amount about its subject. Firstly, we learn about their cultural connections and identities. However, if we take the time to study the works more closely and to think about the details that each reveal, we might begin to understand something of what motivated them when deciding to create the artwork being worn. We might say they embody the souls of each artist.

Hilin Kazemi, 2015. In collaboration with Liam Benson. Photo Jasmine Robertson
Kiri Morcombe, 2015 in collaboration with Liam Benson. Photo Jasmine Robertson

There are two video installations, each quite different from the other. The creative directors of Adorned Wisdom, Memory and Song, 2017, show us the excellent outcomes from a period when guest dance and performance teachers engaged ten of the artists and their drop-in visitors with performance and script development as a means of weaving their stories together and bringing their wearables to life.

The resulting high quality two panel video created from camera footage and sound recordings is most engaging. Diverse music styles, movement, voices, stories and more hold the viewer’s attention as each segment reveals something different and new. The musical score adds the skills of yet another artist to the collaboration. The Do you remember me? Segment tells a wonderful story. Another part, about domestic violence – is simultaneously simple and powerful. And the concluding piece where our eyes watch numerous eyes watching us is delightful.

Susan Ling Young, Wisdom Memory and Song (production still) 2017

In another part of the gallery the second video installation Incognito, Adorned, 2010 is very different. It features footage captured by the artists themselves. They have put on their wearable masks and performed for their cameras, revealing small moments – tender, humorous and, most importantly, empowering of themselves. I particularly enjoyed one artist playfully interacting with a pink blossom tree whilst wearing her “matching” mask and dress.

Lesley-Anne – still from Incognito, Adorned Incognito, 2020
Marina – still from Incognito, Adorned Incognito, 2020
Marina 2 – still from Incognito, Adorned Incognito, 2020

Indeed, empowering is the word for this entire exhibition. Working together in the Collective and with the numerous guest artists brought into the projects undoubtedly has professionally developed each and every participant – and enhanced the creative community of Western Sydney.

This review was published on page 10 of Panorama in The Canberra Times of 13.08.22. It was published on the Canberra Times website here on 14.08.22. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize 2022

Photography Exhibition Review

Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize 2022 | Various artists

Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre | 9 July – 27 August 2022

For the third year in succession, a Canberran has won the MCPP. After Judy Parker won in 2020 and Ian Skinner in 2021, this year the first prize of $15,000 went to Sammy Hawker.

In his magazine Inside Imaging here, Will Shipton said “There must be something in the water around Canberra that feeds the conceptual photographic mind, as three of the four winners are from the relatively small capital city” and “The fourth MCPP is organised by the Australian Photographic Society (APS), an umbrella organisation for Australian camera clubs. The grand prize won by Hawker is an impressive $15,000 cash, making the MCPP a major Australian photo contest.”

I’ve previously reviewed two of Hawker’s recent exhibitions here and here. She works predominantly with film, often in close association with traditional custodians, and challenges the notion that a photograph constitutes the moment a camera shutter is released.

Sammy Hawker – Mount Gulaga, 2021

Hawker’s concept statement reads “This work was captured on 4×5 film looking out towards Mount Gulaga from the Wallaga Lake headland. I processed the negative with ocean water collected from site. When processing film with salt water the corrosive properties lifts the silver emulsion and the representational image is rendered vague. However an essence of the site is introduced to the frame as the vibrant matter paints its way onto the negative. A ghost of Gulaga looms behind the abstraction ~ felt rather than seen.”

Other Canberran finalists this year were Lyndall Gerlach, with two of her works, and Susan Henderson. Gerlach says, “For me, a good photographic image must always engage the viewer either emotionally or intellectually.” You can read more about Gerlach in another of my pieces here.

Lyndall Gerlach – Night City-ness #1, 2021
Lyndall Gerlach – Contemporary Lifestyle, 2021

This is Henderson’s first time as a finalist. Henderson believes photography is mostly about capturing the real and the now. She is “fascinated by the conjuncture of the two, the transient opportunity to record the light rather than the subject, to take advantage of nature and the built environment to photograph.”

Susan Henderson – Rain 2, 2021

At the opening, adjudicator Bill Bachman said “we were instinctively looking for images with a strong or original concept and superior execution, that in some way challenged our notions of normal. Happily, there were ideas, techniques and processes galore.”

Julie Williams had two works selected as finalists. Of them, Moth was given one of three Honourable Mentions. My first thought when I saw it was “bushranger”. Then I learned it is a reinterpretation of the life of the Lady Bushranger Jessie Hickman (1890-1936).

Julie Williams – Moth, 2022

The other HMs were works by Claire Conroy and Ben Blick-Hodge.

Claire Conroy – 35mm slide recovered in Lismore floods 2022
Ben Blick-Hodge – Soup’s up! 2022

At the opening I met two first time finalists Sue Gordon and Michael Shirley, both of whom were thrilled to have had their works selected. In his artist statement relating to his work, Rain, Shirley speaks of rain coming to take you, your life, your house, your possessions, your friends. The black and white artwork shows numerous people under umbrellas, almost obliterated by rain which he has deliberately exaggerated.

Michael Shirley – Rain, 2021

Gordon’s work is a self-portrait titled What’s hidden in shadows. It is a powerful bruised depiction of physical abuse once experienced, but no more hidden or excused.

Sue Gordon – What’s Hidden in Shadows, 2022

It was also great to see the work by Vicky Cooper and Doug Spowart – a concertina photo book – displayed on a shelf. This was the first year that anything other than 2 dimensional prints could be entered, so it was excellent that this work was a finalist.

Victoria Cooper & Doug Spowart – Desire Paths, 2022

All the finalists in the 2022 MCPP exhibition can be seen in a virtual gallery here.

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

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

National Photographic Portrait Prize 2022

Photography Exhibition Review

NPPP 2022 | Various artists

National Portrait Gallery | 25 June – 9 October 2022

As I noted when reviewing the 2021 NPPP here, group exhibitions can be awkward to review because of the diversity of imagery subject matter and quality. In a major show such as this though, there is unlikely to be poor quality work. Furthermore, with a focus on portraiture the diversity is diminished. That’s not to suggest there is a sameness as there are many approaches to portraiture on display here. As in previous years, the diversity of the quality artwork delivers a powerful visual exhibition.

The winning work Silent Strength 2021, by well-known Indigenous photo artist Wayne Quilliam, is a fine portrait, beautifully portraying Culture through the rich colours in the ochres and feathers of his indigenous subject, and also his sense of pride. Quilliam is a lovely modest man and very proud of his prizewinning artist daughter who was with him at the media preview I attended. And he’s giving the $20,000 worth of gear he won to Indigenous communities and organising for them to learn to use it.

Silent Strength – Wayne Quilliam

As always, in such shows, I look for works by locals and other people whom I know personally, as well as images by artists whom I follow. Canberrans in the show include Cat Leedon, with a powerful, perhaps confronting, self-portrait titled Breast Cancer, aged 37. It clearly shows the anguish she was feeling after her second breast surgery.

Breast cancer, age 37 – Cat Leedon

Fiona Bowring has a delightful Family Portrait, incorporating another shot of the same family hanging behind them. This again is a story which, no doubt, includes pain – it relates to palliative care and to love of family.

Family portrait – Fiona Bowring

Greg Stoodley’s contribution is another self-portrait Greg & Orbit that I had seen previously on his website. The image was taken during lockdown and features a cat looking at his apparently bored face and supine body.

Greg & Orbit – Greg Stoodley

And then there is Lauren Sutton’s work Lauren and Poppy. Yes, another self-portrait during lockdown. All work cancelled, the artist took this and other selfies to document the time spent with her four-month-old daughter.

Lauren and Poppy – Lauren Sutton

There are various other images made during restrictions, including Andrew Rovenko’s The Shuttle, a delightful shot of four-year-old astronaut Mia wearing her homemade space suit and helmet.

The Shuttle – Andrew Rovenko

There are also other good portraits of Indigenous people, such as Cordy in the Clouds by Adam Haddrick.

Cordy in the Clouds – Adam Haddrick

There are people from other cultures, an Olympian, well-known people such as Barry Jones, a survivor of a lifetime of abuse and mistreatment, a 6’ 9” tall man, neighbours, lifelong friends, a dancer, music journalist Bob Gordon, and a young woman in transitional housing after a period of homelessness.

One of the represented photographers whose work I always appreciate is Michael Bowers. His work Stella is of a grandmother whose grandson was last seen where she is seated on the banks of the Gwydir River.

Stella – Michael Bowers

As in previous years, there are numerous works in this diverse exhibition that we all need to study and explore, such as Matthew Newton’s Indigo, featuring an activist, dressed as an endangered wedge-tailed eagle, heading into the Tarkine forests in Tasmania, where they spent a bitter winter to halt development of roading to access a planned tailings dam – yet to be built.

Indigo – Matthew Newton

This is far more than pretty pictures, far more than high quality portraits. There are so many stories, so many varied aspects of our Australia and its peoples, so many identified issues for us to think about – all revealed through the talented story-telling photographers using their insights and artistic skills to depict their subjects.

We who view the works are privileged to gain access into the personal lives and emotions of the people portrayed.

This review was first published on page 23 of The Canberra Times of 11 July 2022 and online here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Reviews, Exhibition Review

EVIDENCE AND THE VISIBLE

Photography Exhibition Review

EVIDENCE AND THE VISIBLE | CATHERINE ROGERS

Drill Hall Gallery | 24 June – 14 August 2022

Evidence and The Visible is a large exhibition, deserving multiple visits. Extraordinary is not too strong a word for this retrospective of works by Catherine Rogers. Not only are there many images, using every available space in the gallery, but there also are five short essays about them. I recommend collecting a copy at the entrance and reading each essay before viewing the relevant works.

Rogers’ photographic practice began in the 1970s and her copious, yet relatively little-known, body of work is surveyed here for the first time. None of the visitors I spoke with at the opening had been aware of Rogers previously.

We see a set of images from 2018 investigating diverse techniques established by pioneering photographers in the 19th century, resulting in an array of extremely plausible fakes. An essay about these works invites us to enter the game. Most students and practitioners of photography know of the pioneer Fox Talbot and his Latticed Window, generally regarded as the first negative photograph. It is delightful to see this set alluding to that beginning.

There is a group of A1-sized prints titled Between Heaven and Earth, Lost in Space. These too reference Talbot, who was a skilled user of telescopes. There is a set labelled Found Negatives, another Found Glass Plate Negatives. Each set is different, each interesting and worthy of close examination.

Catherine Rogers, Blue moon as an orange from the series Lost in Space 1990-2020
Catherine Rogers, Shadows in deep space from the series Lost in Space 1990-2020

Much of Rogers’ photography relates to landscape, using conventional and unconventional methods of recording and evoking the physical terrain. There are seascapes glorying in the splendour of the silver halide medium, accentuating the dividing horizon line between ocean and sky. Another visitor expressed to me his view that works showing an area of sky immediately above an area of sea, with nothing more than the cloven horizon between was not novel. Whilst others have also created such works, those displayed here are fine examples.

Catherine Rogers – Southern Ocean

Perhaps the most intriguing works and, certainly, drawing numerous visitors in for a close look are those labelled Nature of Evidence. Dating from 1986, these are about the Azaria Chamberlain case. Rogers notes that photography played a very important part in the case, particularly the trial of Lindy Chamberlain, from the outset. All kinds of photographic material were used as evidence. At the 1987 Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Chamberlain Convictions, Rogers observed how sharp, detailed and colour accurate photographs used as evidence had to be explained and given words by forensic experts. She asked herself why and that led to development of this body of work.

Catherine Rogers, The Nature of Evidence (Looking and not looking for her), 1986

There is a group of visually stunning and large colour prints of ancient forests in the Upper Florentine area of Tasmania. These works date from 2007, when trees in the area were marked to be cut down so a logging road could be made. From 2003 Rogers recorded aspects of this valley and the Styx before they were destroyed. An essay about these works is a sad reminder, if needed, of the destruction.

Catherine Rogers, Red Road Upper Florentine #4, Tasmania, logging coup F044A, 2007

And I was most delighted to see the set of images labelled Waiting Rooms. I enjoyed considering which of these most Contemporary works would suit what types of waiting rooms.

Catherine Rogers, from Pictures for Waiting Rooms 2015-2022
Catherine Rogers, from Pictures for Waiting Rooms 2015-2022

My word limit does not allow me to address everything in the exhibition, but I must mention the fact this artist has embraced tintype, film negatives and positives, colour and black and white, digital, cameras with lenses and some without (pinholes). She has also made images without using a camera. Rogers describes her image archives as extensive, and notes that her images have been made over a period of forty years. Long may she continue creating new work.

This review was first published on page 23 of The Canberra Times of 11/7/22 and online here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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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.

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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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