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

Times gone, days lost and you

Photography Exhibition Review | Times gone, days lost and you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poetry accompanying image “Take me with you”

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

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

Between the moon and the sea, 2021 © Ali Nasseri

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

Drift and wonder, 2022 © Ali Nasseri

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

Everything is unique, 2022 © Ali Nasseri

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

Space between breaths, 2022 © Ali Nasseri

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

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

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Reviews

Where Lakes Once Had Water

Review of exhibition of Audio-Visual Art

Where Lakes Once Had Water | Sonia Leber and David Chesworth

Drill Hall Gallery | Until 10 April 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sonia_Leber_David_Chesworth_Where_Lakes_Once_Had_Water_video still 01b

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

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

Sonia_Leber_David_Chesworth_Where_Lakes_Once_Had_Water_video still 07, with Ray Dimakarri Dixon

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

Sonia_Leber_David_Chesworth_Where_Lakes_Once_Had_Water_video still 08, with Auntie Susan Kingston and Aara Welz

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

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

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

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

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Reviews

Mixed Signals

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

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

Canberra Milk © Jess Cochrane (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open © Jess Cochrane (2021-2022)

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

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

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AP Focus, My Photography, Photography Story

Keeping it Personal

Roughly every four months, I write a piece for the APS Focus page in Australian Photography magazine. This is my latest piece, published in the March 2022 issue now in newsagencies.

As published:

One of the things we all should do is set ourselves personal projects to work on. In recent years, I have identified various projects I thought might lead to the production of photobooks or even exhibitions.

Creating photobooks is quite straight forward really. The cost of a particular size book is known ahead of time, so you can decide what to make and be aware of exactly how much money you need before proceeding. And if you do make a good one, you could always enter it in the annual APS Photobook competition – either in the portfolio category or the storytelling category. And there are also other photobook competitions you might decide to enter.

The projects I have embarked on in recent times have been diverse, despite the pandemic restrictions. Walking, cycling or driving around your close neighbourhood is all you need to do when searching for shots. I found the roadside littered with many more than usual corflute signs when it was election time here. See. Stop. Photograph. Repeat. The end result was 54 images – plenty for a photobook.

Then I found Love. Well sort of. Someone was, and still is, painting graffiti all over the place and, most particularly, around the suburbs closest to where I live. Every artwork primarily consists of images of a dinosaur/worm/alien, often accompanied by a heart and messages. I’ve completed a book Expressing Love in Canberra featuring many of those artworks that I photographed. If nothing else, I have a documentary record of those since removed or painted over! And, I’m adding to my collection every time I see a new work. I’d actually like to acquire one work that is painted on an electrical box door so I could display it along with my photos and the photobook at an exhibition.

Love 041 – © Brian Rope

When I first saw some Say Less graffiti on buildings in two suburbs on opposite sides of a major entrance road to our city, I had no idea what it was about. However, I quickly thought about the old saying that one picture is worth a thousand words, and the concept for a book about saying less with words and more with images started to take shape in my mind. Again, I’ve made a photobook.

Cover of Say Less photobook © Brian Rope

Say Less is also about graffiti (or street art if you prefer) and explores various meanings of the term.

Lyneham Flats 004 © Brian Rope

My possible exhibition could explore Love, Say Less, Corflutes and, maybe, also E-Scooters – the method of transport that has made a relatively recent appearance here, welcomed by many but irritating others because of perceived misuse as the scooters litter our streets.

Having an exhibition is more difficult to achieve. Firstly, there is the difficulty of getting a timeslot in a gallery. Getting into most of our local galleries is a real challenge. You have to compete with many graduating students keen to emerge and establish their names, as well as numerous already established photo artists from other parts of the country and even overseas.

I ask myself if older folk like me who have been in numerous group exhibitions over the years but never had their own solo show, can now emerge and be lauded as photo artists? I don’t know, but I’ll keep pursuing a solo exhibition and, in the meantime, will make more photobooks. What was the closing date for that competition I read about?

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Photo Book Review

Life with Endometriosis

Review of PhotoArt Book

Life with Endometriosis | Margaret Kalms

Endometriosis is an illness where cells similar to the lining of the womb migrate onto internal organs. It can cause inflammation, chronic pain, and adhesions that fuse internal organs together requiring surgery. It affects 1 in 9 women and trans men. That is about 500,000 people in Australia!

When a friend told her about endometriosis, Margaret Kalms was so shocked by the fierceness of its symptoms, she decided to use her art to raise awareness. Seeing it as a social justice issue, she wanted to help. Whilst not having the illness herself, she had experienced similar symptoms. She is inspired by the biblical account of Jesus healing a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.

So, how can art help with a social justice issue, with awareness-raising? People have always used images to communicate – think hieroglyphics and cave art. Visual art can explore concepts and ideas. It can promote specific viewpoints. It can challenge assumptions, support causes, and explore deep personal questions. The word “art” is also used to describe any communication that can be valued as to excellence.

Sometimes artworks employ elements we might not immediately notice – the choice of colours, composition, or how forms are combined or fractured. Art often explores broad ideas or themes, some more obvious than others – and often reflects on the time period in which it was created, whether as a statement of support or a reaction against something.

Kalms’ photo-art is designed to show how endometriosis feels. It’s informed by what people with endometriosis have said to her about their experiences and life impacts. They inspired Kalms to produce her artworks and this book using them. She makes excellent use of colours, graphic elements, double exposures, and editing software. Some may not find all the photo-art easy to look at, but it is nothing compared with the brutal and debilitating reality of the disease. The opening artwork used, Continuous Spotting, will immediately stop viewers/readers in their tracks.

Continuous Spotting © Margaret Kalms

Another artwork, Scratchy Nerve Pain, very clearly shows a woman in pain pressing her fists into her body which is overlaid with lines depicting shooting, searing nerve pain that punches in the abdomen.

Scratchy Nerve Pain © Magaret Kalms

And another, Half My Life, shows just one half of a woman’s face clearly. The other side is obscured. This illustrates that a woman loses half her life when she has bleeding for 2 weeks each month.

Half My Life © Margaret Kalms

All the images are intriguing for people interested in photography and artistic expression, with some vital facts. They provide a valuable tool to aid in communicating how endometriosis feels and its impacts on everyday life.

The photo-artworks are bold, quirky, confronting, expressive and poignantly beautiful. They make endometriosis visible. They are very different from the traditional images of Jesus healing a bleeding woman.

Words overlaid on or placed alongside the artworks in the book provide much information. Negotiations are under way with a gynaecologist who is willing to translate the words into Arabic, and she is planning for Arabic copies to be available at the book launch. Kalms is very pleased about this as she understands there is a limited amount of intimate information available for the Arabic speaking community.

On 3 April there is to be a book launch, with three guest speakers and refreshments. Each attendee will receive a copy – not intimidating to give a family member, friend, colleague or even medical professional. Money raised from the launch will be donated to the Canberra Endometriosis Centre and a local support group hosted by QENDO, a not-for-profit organisation providing support to anyone affected by endometriosis and other pelvic health related conditions. Kalms is to be commended for her artworks and her awareness-raising.

Book to attend the launch at https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/life-with-endometriosis-photoart-book-launch-tickets-242504656957.

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

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Reviews

VIEW2022

Photomedia Exhibition Review

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

Photo Access | 4 February – 5 March 2022

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

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

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

Demolition, 2021 – Annette Fisher

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

Cat TV, 2021 – Greg Stoodley

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

GolDen sHowASs, 2020 – Isaac Kairouz

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

Figure 4 – Catherine Feint

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

Suspension Trampoline, 2021 – Wendy Dawes

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

Still from digital video Crocodile Tears, 2021 – Jemima Campey

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

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

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

Spoonville-7719, Fiona Bowring

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

Untitled, 2018 – Xueqin Yi

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

Ride Em Cowboy – Izaak Bink

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

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

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Reviews

NOX – a record of things passing by night

Exhibition Review: Visual Art

NOX – a record of things passing by night

Judith Nangala Crispin, Stephen Harrison and Victoria Royds

Grainger Gallery | 27 January – 13 February 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photography Story

2021 Year Ender

Photography, Photo Media, Mixed Media

2021. What a year! Despite everything, local photo artists have continued to make their marks.

There have been many exhibitions. Some openings were conducted outdoors; galleries having to let small numbers inside at a time. Even during lockdown, photo galleries and artists were active, using social media, livestreaming and virtual exhibitions most creatively.

I remain disappointed about poor supporting material available for visitors in some galleries. I urge those that fall short to improve the exhibition experience – catalogues that tell us more than titles and prices, artist/concept statements about artworks, catalogue essays, recordings about the artists and works to hear, and opportunities to look at and, perhaps, purchase books and other material as well as the actual works exhibited.

There have also been interesting new photobooks and books about photography this year, including Capital Country – an ‘exhibition in a book’ by Kate Matthews, and the substantial Installation View by Daniel Palmer & Martyn Jolly which has enriched our understanding of the diversity of Australian photography.

There have been marvellous awards for individual artists. For the third year in succession, Canberra photo artists were finalists in the Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize (MCPP). Indeed, once again a Canberran earned the $10,000 Prize. This year it was Ian Skinner for his poetic work, Ashscapes 01-04, about how the ocean delivered ash to the sandy edge of the land when the catastrophic fires in south-eastern Australia in 2019-2020 were shortly followed by torrential rain.

Skinner also took out 3rd prize in the storytelling section of the Australian Photographic Society (APS)’s annual photobook awards for his Aftermath: Cadgee 2020 – an intimate story of heartbreak and loss in the devastating bushfires which swept through the NSW South Coast hinterland in the summer of 2019-2020.

Lyndall Gerlach was again a finalist in the MCPP, was commended for several works in the Australia’s Top Emerging Photographers competition and the Mono Awards; and was featured in FRAMES Magazine’s Digital Companion.

Ribbons 10 – Milky © Lyndall Gerlach

Judy Parker, winner of the 2020 MCPP, won the portfolio section of the APS’s photobook awards, with her book Afterthoughts, described by the judges as “a stunning body of work with consistent post-production”.

The Canberra Times own Dion Georgopoulos, and Marzena Wasikowska, were both finalists in the prestigious National Photographic Portrait Prize. Georgopoulos has also done some wonderful Darling River photography, whilst Wasikowska was also selected as one of the winners in the 2021 Lens Culture Street Photography Critics’ Choice Awards.

Aaron Salway, with his nephew Harley Salway 2. Just behind them is the ridge where Aaron’s father Robert, and brother Patrick Salway died protecting their property in Wandella. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Two photographers received 2021 Canberra Critics Circle Awards. Sammy Hawker – for her exhibition Acts of Co-Creation at the Mixing Room Gallery, comprising unsettling and thrilling prints processed with water, soil, bark and flowers collected from the locations of the images. And Melita Dahl for her intriguing exhibition Portrait at Photo Access exploring connections between the traditions of fine-art portraiture, photography and facial emotion recognition software.

Murramarang NP #1 © Sammy Hawker
Melita Dahl, happy (0.96), 2019

Many professional photographers were hard hit by the pandemic, with sparse numbers of events to photograph, and physical outlets for their works closed. The recent collapse of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography after 75 years of serving photographers is, no doubt, an added blow. So, it was great to see on social media, just before writing this, photos from local professional Ben Kopilow’s coverage of a wedding in a hot air balloon.

I’ve recently reviewed some fine nature prints at the Australian National Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre – Recovery was the eighth annual photographic exhibition by the Friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens Photographic Group. And also recently I reviewed the final show for the year at Photo Access by 11 photo artists – outcome of a Concept to Exhibition project. And there is one other show to see before the year is done – at Canberra Contemporary Art Space.

This city can, rightfully, be proud of all of the artists I have named here – and of many more making excellent photo artworks. No doubt 2022 will deliver great photomedia exhibitions, events and achievements, including the successful emergence of new local talents. Hopefully, it also will see significant progress on the Kingston Arts Precinct project!

This article was published in the Canberra Times of 23/12/21 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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