Exhibition Review, Reviews

Aftercare, I am that I am, Transcending bodies

Photography Exhibition Review

Prue Hazelgrove | I am that I am – a deconstruction 

Emily Portmann | Aftercare

Xi Li, Meng-Yu Yan and Joseph Blair | Transcending bodies

Photo Access | 11 August to 10 September 2022

Across the three gallery spaces, these exhibitions come together to de-construct traditional ideas of identity and interrogate ideologies of self that exist within society. Each exhibition employs distinct methods in exploring societal definitions of self, suffering, and gender nonconformity.

Bringing tintype and collage processes into conversation, Prue Hazelgrove’s I am that I am – a deconstruction examines histories of queer visibility and erasure. The artist says she “is attempting to transform harm into healing through representation and reclamation.”

Hazelgrove achieves her goals most successfully with her excellent well-constructed paper, photo and text collages. Close reading of each piece of text clipped from a Christian self-help book clearly reveals the story of each particular artwork. The act of having cut up the texts for use in the collages can be seen as having removed any sense of authority they may have had in the source book. Their use also brings vividly to mind the dreadful selective use of scriptural texts by those who have sought, and still do seek, to make people conform to their views of what is right or wrong.

Prue Hazelgrove, Too much Skin- I am that I am, 2022, paper, photo and text collage
Prue Hazelgrove, According to Gods design- I am that I am, 2022, paper, photo and text collage

A number of high-quality tintypes complement the collages, revealing with raw honesty the people portrayed. Using the tintype medium fits with its long-standing use for documentation and adds to the artist’s intention of reclaiming her right to “exist as I am”.

Prue Hazelgrove, Just a couple of good buds – I am that I am, 2022, Tintype

The catalogue for Hazelgrove’s exhibition also features a piece of fine writing by Emma Batchelor, a queer writer, award-winning author and dancer from Canberra. This piece, Ultra Visible, should be read intently.

In Aftercare, the artist, Emily Portmann, presents a video of her performance as she encases her head in a large pink roll of bubble wrap. Using a sheet of the same pink bubble wrap as the backdrop in the gallery for the video screen is a nice touch. The video is accompanied by a series of self-portraits taken during the performance, each exploring the emotional and psychological ideology behind self-care and wellbeing. In each of them her head has become a large pink cylinder. Hands explore this mysterious object, searching for something unknown to us. The catalogue suggests we are viewing an emerging parody of “a society in which fetishised notions of self-comfort, protection and healing coincide with the commercialisation of wellbeing.”

Emily Portmann, Aftercare, Action 7, 2021 , archival pigment print

Then there is a group exhibition by Xi Li, Meng-Yu Yan and Joseph Blair.  Transcending Bodies employs video, 3D animation, AI and printed photo-media to challenge normative ideas of identity and envision new forms of living in the virtual realm.

This exhibition explores how sense-of-self and social dynamics are shaped in virtual environments and brings into focus the possibilities and limits of existing online, untethered from our physical bodies. The catalogue speaks of the existence of hybrids of machine and organism being reality, drawing attention to the fact that many of us now have technological items implanted in our bodies functioning to keep us in better health – or even alive.

There also is a catalogue reference to the way so many of us use social media video games, phone Apps and other technological things on a daily basis, thus moving our physical selves into the virtual realm.

In his series Postcards from Hyrule, Meng-Yu Yan has taken the role of photographer within a virtual space. We see screenshots of this virtual world in a Game played during COVID-19 lockdown. They present as illusory or ghost-like landscapes, with an apparition here and a luminous nebula there. They are printed on a metallic gloss paper as postcards, suggesting they are souvenirs acquired from another planet. Each artwork is a worthy inclusion in the show.

Meng-Yu Yan, Postcards from Hyrule 5, 2021, inkjet print on Ilford Metallic gloss

Joseph Blair contributes two diptych works from a series The Tongue of Missing Lovers. Each comprises a photographic portrait accompanied by words about the subject and expressing a feeling about that person. They have an emotional impact if we allow it.

Joseph Blair, A Much Larger Tip (From series The Tongue of Missing Lovers), 2022, inkjet prints, diptych

The third artist in the group is the interdisciplinary Xi Li. Here we see 8.5 minutes of  video, Brain Island: Hyperreal City. It is important to take a seat because the strong probability is that you will want to view it more than once. This is as fine a video artwork as I have seen. It draws you in, uncertain as to what you might come next. So much is happening all through this work that during each viewing you will observe something new.

Xi Li, Brain Island Hyperreal City, 2019, video still

Li has woven so many aspects of her own identity into this remarkable piece. She has inserted herself into the work utilising green screen compositing – a process of layering two images or video streams into one another. We see her various alter-egos and contradictory cultures, reflecting her lived experience under both Chinese and Western political systems.

These three exhibitions and their catalogues are each well worth visiting and spending time with.

This review was first published on page 18 of The Canberra Times of 5.9.22 and online here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Standard
Uncategorized

CONVERSATIONS WITH MY-SELF AND OTHERS

Photography Exhibition Review

CONVERSATIONS WITH MY-SELF AND OTHERS | Lisa Stonham

M16 Artspace, Gallery 2  | UNTIL 4 SEPTEMBER 2022

Lisa Stonham is a photo-media artist who lives and works in Gadigal Country/Sydney.

In her artworks she seeks to capture the temporary, ephemeral and momentary through the exploration of immovable man-made landscapes. She documents the ever-evolving relationship between light and time in the context of architectural space, to produce sensory and evocative colour field photographs.

Stonham’s work has been exhibited in various Australian galleries. In 2021 she exhibited in the Head-on Photo Festival Open Programme. She has been a finalist in numerous art prizes and awards including the Blake Prize, Iris Award, and CLIP Award.

The exhibition catalogue describes the artist’s work as “a concourse between documentary and abstraction. Although factual, her photographs are detached from physical or concrete reality and resistant to any narrative sense.” So, how can I describe the works in this exhibition if they are resistant to narrative?

In Conversations with My-Self and Others, the artist explores and exaggerates the tiny perfect moments … the ‘right now’ – that a more isolated and contemplative existence led her to appreciate. She has captured ephemeral and impressionistic moments within the context of the everyday. The resultant colour driven abstractions engage with the temporal nature of light and physical space. They involve the interpretation of light as gesture, everyday rainbows in the context of positive projections and articulation of colour experience in meditation and memory.

During the official opening, the works were described as extending from the usual photographic language to the painting language and particularly into abstraction in the way that photographic light can make us appreciate interior spaces but also remind us of reflective spaces within colour field painting. That is certainly one way of describing the works with words.

My first response when I began looking at the images was wow, look at those vibrant colours, that use of light, and those wonderful shadows. Then I found myself questioning whether some works were single images or composites. And one of the prints is quite small compared with all the others, so I was curious as to why that was the case and why it had been included in the exhibition.

Lisa_Stonham_Perfect Moment … Right Now (inYellow)
Lisa Stonham_Dopamine Rush_2021

Having an opportunity to speak with Stonham whilst standing in the middle of the gallery space enabled me to share my reactions, questions and thoughts with her – always a good way of getting further into the artist’s mindset and intentions. During the discussion, we were joined by another artist and listening to her comments and questions also added to my enjoyment of this show.

Lisa_Stonham_Everyday Rainbow (in Blue) 2021

The aforementioned small print Wayfinder was included because it works well with the larger one, Perfect Moment… Right Now, alongside it. The colours in the two works are the same delicious reds and greens. The small work is an archival pigment print mounted to aluminium, whereas the larger one is an eco-solvent print on solve glaze satin rag.

Perfect Moment…Right Now (in green) 2021 and Way-Finder 2021 (installation shot)

I was previously not familiar with eco-solvent inks, but limited research tells me they have their colours suspended in a mild biodegradable solvent, and they don’t contain as many volatile organic compounds. The eco-solvent prints in the show are vibrant – and it is okay to put water on them.

I also learned that Stonham had added separate images of shafts of light seen in her home to other images of pieces of walls, floors and other areas – also in her own home. The combinations work extremely well and are not at all obvious.

LisaStonham_Self-Talk (Chromatic Aberration)_2021

This is a colourful, absorbing and well-presented exhibition. Without objective context, the compositions and colour relationships have become subjects in themselves. No narrative is required to enjoy the works.

This review was first published on page 19 of the Canberra Times of 29.8.22 and online here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Standard
Uncategorized

Reconstructed Landscapes 2022

Photography Exhibition Review

Reconstructed Landscapes 2022 | Emilio Cresciani

M16 Artspace, Gallery 1b | UNTIL 4 SEPTEMBER 2022

Emilio Cresciani is an artist living and working on Gadigal land (Sydney). He graduated from Sydney College of the Arts in 2012 in photo media and has been a finalist in numerous awards including the Earth Photo Award London and the Bowness Photography Prize.

In 2020 he was the recipient of a Dark Matter Residency at Canberra’s PhotoAccess. His works from that residency, exhibited with the title State of Change, explored the phenomenon of climate change by integrating the transformation of ice into water with photographic processes – photograms, recorded on photographic paper revealed what happened as blocks of ice melted. The images examined – literally, figuratively, and abstractly – human impact on Earth. My review at the time described them as spectacular.

Trees have long been an inspiration for artists, so it is not surprising to see another one responding to the fact that Australia has cleared nearly half of its forest cover in the last 200 years, resulting in habitat loss, extinction of native flora and fauna, rising salinity and 14% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Making it worse, in 2020 Australia was ravaged by bushfires and more forests were destroyed. There were increased calls for back-burning and land-clearing.

Cresciani’s artwork continues to explore the intersection between climate change and altered landscapes. He has a keen interest in objects, structures, and landscape in transition, and in particular the increasing number of ‘non-places’ that fill our environment. He started the project presented here before those deadly fires, deforestation already being a huge public issue.

The process for this new project by Cresciani again uses a photographic process, but quite a different one. This time, he took an analogue camera into numerous national parks to document forests in the Australian landscape at times when those parks were being quite traumatized by the disasters resulting from climate changes. Using a daylight-type high-image-quality colour reversal 4” x 5” film, he captured patterns of tree branches, bark and leaves, light and shade.

The artist then sliced the pieces of positive slide film into different shapes and sizes, like woodchips. The slices were rearranged into bold abstract compositions on a scanner and digital images created. Every piece of every photo was included in the abstract results – even the edges of the emulsion identifying the film type. The resultant works are also very different to the previous show mentioned earlier – but are equally effective and quite fascinating to look at. They need to be closely explored.

Emilio Cresciani. Blue Mountains National Park, 2021

Emilio Cresciani. Bongil Bongil National Park, 2021

The total exhibition is a wonderful and poignant set of works. What is on exhibition here is the trauma imposed on eco-systems essential to our lives. The billions of trees cut down annually are represented by these ‘photochips’, symbolising what we are doing to our natural environment. Cropping of film images would rightly be considered by many as an act of vandalism. Bold cutting of the images into numerous pieces represents the experienced trauma. Sliced – even shredded – in such a way that the film cannot be put back together in its original form is a clear metaphor shouting to us that, when the damage done to the forests is massive, regeneration is impossible.

Emilio Cresciani. Marrangaroo National Park, 2021
Emilio Cresciani. Royal National Park, 2021

By bringing what he describes as “these cut fragments” into an art gallery, Cresciani hoped to highlight the gap between the myth of the Australian bush and the real cost of our lifestyles. Sliced and cut, sawn and hacked, these images upset the perception of trees as beautiful, functional, replaceable. They are out of place, not as they should be. The artist has succeeded in his aim – Reconstructed Landscapes effectively highlights the costs of humankind’s failings.

This review was first published on page 19 of The Canberra Times of 29.8.22 and online here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Standard
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.

Standard
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.

Standard
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.

Standard
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.

Standard
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.

Standard
Exhibition Review

SPIRITS, PERMEATING ECOLOGY, POISONOUS

Review of Photography, Mixed Media Exhibition

SPIRITS | B-Dam Pictures (NSW)

PERMEATING ECOLOGY | REMI SICILIANO

POISONOUS | ELLIS HUTCH

Photo Access | 26 May – 25 Jun

Over five years, B-Dam Pictures (artists Anthony Sillavan and Stephanie Sheppard) used a motion-sensor camera to obtain a series of what effectively are self-portraits of Australian wildlife. They suggest Spirits is the native animals themselves revealing their habits, pleasures and dangers – about their tenuous life existence and, by extension, our own fragility.

B-Dam Pictures – Self Portrait 6

The sense of motion is more obvious in some images than others. Which is best – a greater or lesser sense of motion? Contemplating that, I realised it was not always obvious what had triggered the camera.

Is that a shadow of a bird in flight that triggered the camera? Another shot has the feeling of being a pinhole camera image, even though I know it was not. And in a third shot, at first glance I thought the featured animal was a log.

One shot of a dam has an animal’s tail disappearing out of the frame. Another shows the same dam with no clear evidence of an animal at all. There is much to see and contemplate in this fine set of images.

Remi Siciliano practices “Ecological Image-Making”, her methodology for embracing and celebrating all the different organisms, materials and forces at play within her work. Collaborative interactions entangle divisions between artist, organism, material, subject, object and landscape. She dissolves these categories as we know them.

In Permeating Ecology, Siciliano has intentionally relinquished technical control in her image making; instead playfully collaborating with other organisms and natural processes to produce her photographs.

Fungal networks have grown through 35mm negatives documenting landscapes, while moisture softened and encouraged the film emulsion to peel. The images reveal meeting points of growth and decomposition.

Remi Siciliano – Plexus, 2021

Although very different to B-Dam Pictures works – large rather than small, and abstract rather than documentary – these artworks also are great.

Remi Siciliano – Image 2

I recently read of the “strange allure” of fungi and how it has always captured the imagination. An ecologist has described fungi as the “third forgotten kingdom” behind flora and fauna and said there is much to be discovered about their vital role in our ecosystems.

By using the playful techniques described above, Siciliano has created “strangely alluring” images. Fungi growing through negatives is the starting point for artworks revealing things we would otherwise have never seen – except, possibly, in our imaginations.

Ellis Hutch combines photography, drawing, animation, sound and projection. This resultant exhibition, Poisonous, investigates the microscopic world of our waterways. Hutch navigates the complexities of the ‘health’ of those waterways.

She questions how people establish social relationships and transform their environments to create inhabitable spaces. Recently, she has been paying close attention to the place she lives and works, unceded Ngunnawal (also spelt Ngunawal) and Ngambri country, investigating the effects of ‘invasive’ humans and other species on the Molonglo River. Here, she has done that by combining large-scale drawing and video projection.

The charcoal drawings by Hutch are, indeed, large and quite arresting – not simply because of their scale. Some might even say “awe and wonder” to describe their reactions when first entering the gallery space through a dark curtain. With a video projecting moving digital images on to the drawings, the works become an installation.

We see glimpses of the molecular structure of minerals and microbes that are both toxic poisons and useful contributors to the ecosystem. This is art, successfully revealing a realm invisible to our eyes – a place critical to our survival.

Ellis Hutch – Blackmtnpeninsulaboatramp

Each artist is curious about the processes that drive the varied eco-systems of our planet. Each has employed a distinctive method to investigate the natural world’s intricacies.

This review was published on page 10 of Panorama in the Canberra Times of 16/6/22 and online here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Standard
Exhibition Review, Reviews

Sunkissed

Photography Exhibition Review

SUNKISSED | JANE DUONG

ACT Hub, 14 Spinifex Street, Kingston | Until 25 June 2022

(By appointment or during theatre performances)

The Causeway Hall in Kingston is the oldest hall in Canberra and a listed item on the ACT Heritage Register. It was completed in 1926 with voluntary labour using materials provided by the Federal Capital Commission. The Causeway remains a distinct district within the suburb of Kingston, although now abutted by the foreshore development.

​For some time, the Hall served as Canberra’s principal place of entertainment. It was, variously, a picture theatre, a dance hall, a concert venue and a place where boxing matches were held.

​This year has seen the building transformed and, as ACT HUB, become a venue for independent theatre productions, such as Free Rain’s production of David Williamson’s Emerald City (8 – 25 June). It is also now presenting exhibitions of artworks, with this show by Jane Duong being the first.

Sunkissed is a modest exhibition. Modest in terms of artwork numbers and sizes. Modest in terms of the works being gentle, almost describable as quiet. They do not shout out for attention, but nevertheless encourage visitors in for a closer investigation of their contents. The venue itself is also modest – in terms of capacity and its somewhat understated décor in the particular area where the artworks hang.

Duong is a Canberra-based photographer with a Bachelor of Communications, majoring in photomedia, and a Diploma in Museums and Collections. Her previous photographic projects include Red Brick Road images from another important part of Canberra’s heritage – the Yarralumla Brickworks.

Red Brick Road was an exploration of the Brickworks architecture, landscape and objects and the use of photography to trigger, layer and construct memory. Duong’s works for that show combined film photography with Van Dyke Brown printing, allowing for the study and representation of time and the ephemeral nature of memory.

The heritage listing of the Causeway Hall makes it most appropriate that Duong has again used an old technique to explore and celebrate it and the nearby Jerrabomberra Wetlands. This time, however, the process is Cyanotype which dates back to the dawn of photography and was invented by astronomer Sir John Herschel in 1842. Cyanotype prints are created with the use of a light-sensitive chemical mixture coated on paper, UV (or sun) light and water to develop and fix.

For heritage reasons, it is not possible to attach works directly to the walls as is a common practice today in many galleries. So all the works are framed. They look great hanging – from a “picture rail” – against a wall, the colour of which blends nicely with the frames and shows off the classic blue tones of cyanotypes.

Each one-off print in this exhibition has been handmade by Duong. Some have unique borders, some have been created with a negative contact sheet, while others have been dipped directly into Wetland waterways.

Several of the works show the Hall itself. Duong has created panoramas using her phone, distorting the building a little, and used software to make some adjustments. Then she has used an inkjet printer to create negatives of each finished image on A4-sized film and used those negatives to create her exhibited prints on cotton paper using the Cyanotype process.

Old Causeway Hall II_Jane Duong_2022

Other works show a nearby entrance to, and parts of, the Jerrabomberra Wetlands – which themselves include some important historic relics of early Canberra.

Jerra Wetlands_Jane Duong_2022
Biyaligee Boardwalk_Jane Duong_2022
Waterways_Jane Duong_2022

And then there are two very different works. These were made by placing the paper directly into Wetlands waterways. They are dark and moody images, which seem quite an appropriate way to show an underwater area. The resultant works allow viewers to consider for themselves just what they are seeing.

This review was published in The Canberra Times of 5/6/22 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Standard