Habitat: Ways of living

Visual Art Exhibition Review

Various Artists: Alex Asch, Burchill/McCamley, Miriam Charlie, Sean Davey, David Flanagan, Michal Glikson, Tina Havelock Stevens, Katie Hayne, Mikhaila Jurkiewicz, Waratah Lahy, Hardy Lohse, Catherine O’Donnell, David Paterson, Alan Patterson, Patrice Riboust, Natalie Rosin, Khaled Sabsabi, James Tylor (Possum)

CMAG | Habitat: Ways of living | Until 26 June

This important and well-constructed exhibition examines high-rise, upmarket apartments, suburban settings and places that have collapsed. In Canberra, elsewhere in Australia, and overseas.

In her catalogue foreword, Rowan Henderson makes the point that ‘Home’ is a value-laden word. Very true – for the fortunate, homes are where we feel secure. Others are less fortunate, even suffering the domestic violence issues currently filling so much media.

David Paterson exhibits photographic images of densely packed high-rise apartment blocks in Hong Kong and Singapore. They are wonderful geometric compositions. Look for birds in flight passing across the buildings.

David PATERSON
Singapore apartments, 2019
inkjet print, courtesy of the artist

In intimately scaled watercolours (and gouache) on paper, Waratah Lahy illustrates the recent transformation of Canberra’s inner north, from older residences on large blocks, to townhouses and apartments.

Hardy Lohse’s photographs of the Currong Flats being demolished pose questions. What are our memories and responses?

Hardy LOHSE
Currong Apartments, 2016
inkjet print, courtesy of the artist

Katie Hayne’s engagement with demolition of mid-century public housing is depicted in her video, Stuart Flats, going, 2019. She also evokes this disappearing side of Canberra in two small oil on board paintings.

David Flanagan’s photographs are about green fields’ real estate projects near Canberra’s northern boundary, and include one featuring a billboard proclaiming, ‘FULL OF POSSIBILITY’.

David FLANAGAN
Untitled # 21, from ‘Move up to the views’ series, 2015
chromogenic colour photograph

Alex Asch explores the suburban life of Canberrans in his installation, Suburban Block, 2020. The catalogue suggests a visual association with children’s building blocks. They reminded me of black houses I’ve seen in coastal areas of Kent, England.

With charcoal on paper artworks, Catherine O’Donnell focuses on suburban landscapes and houses from her youth. And she shows a linear analysis of composition in a graphic depiction of the Sirius Building in Sydney. There also is a watercolour and ink sketch, Sirius public housing apartments, 1978 – 79, bearing Alan Patterson’s signature.

Catherine O’DONNELL
Sirius, 2018, charcoal on paper
Courtesy of the artist and May Space

Patrice Riboust spent many hours studying various forms of historical architecture. Using those as source material, he produced highly detailed sketches of imaginary structures – ink and marker on tracing paper.

Natalie Rosin contributes impressive ceramic sculptures reflecting brutalist buildings observed during a residency in Poland.

Janet Burchill and Jennifer McCamley used old colour film to photograph Berlin locations being used by Turkish immigrants as places of refuge and informal socialising. The resulting work, Freiland, 1992, consists of a series of nineteen discrete but sequential images. Some of the film stock used had been compromised prior to use, infusing some of the images with an unearthly blue, or harsh red cast.

The 2006 Lebanon War severely damaged civilian infrastructure in central Beirut. Khaled Sabsabi has painted over his photographic images creating a frieze-like series.

Miriam Charlie is a Yanyuwa/Garrwa woman living in Borroloola, a community in the Northern Territory. Her photographic series, No country, no home, 2015, documents the living conditions of her friends and relatives there.

One work by James Tylor (Possum), Unresettling (Stone footing for dome hut), 2016, is a simulacrum of the stone foundations for an Aboriginal domestic shelter. These phantom structures are physically created by the artist’s hand and translated via the camera’s aperture.

None of us need reminding that calamitous bushfires were experienced over the 2019-20 summer in nearby forests. Sean Davey’s photographs nevertheless are a poignant reminder.

Sean DAVEY
Untitled (Little Bombay Road, Bombay NSW) 2019
pigment print on Ilford cotton paper, Courtesy of the artist

Flame is also an important element of Michal Glikson’s video, Jhumpiri: Coming down, 2014 – 2019, set in one family’s makeshift structure on the streets of Lahore, Pakistan.

Tina Havelock Stevens shows stills adapted from her video, Drum Detroit, 2011, revealing urban decay.

Tina HAVELOCK STEVENS
Skull House, from the Drum Detroit series 2011 – 13
video still, chromogenic colour photograph, metallic
Courtesy of the artist

Mikhaila Jurkiewicz often uses large format negatives in her photography, requiring her subjects to remain still during protracted sittings. The results somehow  reminiscent of daguerreotypes.

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

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Beforehand – the private life of a portrait

Photography Review

Various Artists | Beforehand – the private life of a portrait

National Portrait Gallery | Until 14 February 2021

Beforehand – the private life of a portrait is about the backstories behind iconic works from the NPG collection and the creative and social process of making a portrait. It features excellent works in a variety of media, including thirteen photographic prints.

Entering the exhibition, the first things visitors can read is about storytelling. We are told a portrait captures a person’s presence in time as well as space; tells a story about lived experience – at times conveying a sense of the subject’s past and future. I suspect the vast majority of portraits, including selfies captured by smart phones today, tell very little about lived experience. However, those who are serious about creating good portraits would do well to think about telling their subject’s stories.

The exhibition takes us to the creative journeys behind the portraits, showing us working drawings, studies, scrapbooks, sketches and footage taken in studios or on location. Interviews with artists and sitters tell us much more; revealing relationships and connections between the two parties that generated the story being told.

An interview with champion woodchopper David Foster provides an excellent example of storytelling. Foster is pictured before a tree that he says has witnessed all the years of his family and the legacy of their championships. Photographer Jacqui Stockdale responds “Wow, what the tree saw” and uses that as the title for her image. The collaborative nature of their relationship produced a portrait capturing the essence of Foster’s story.

What the tree saw: David Foster 2018 © Jacqui Stockdale. Collection: National Portrait Gallery. Commissioned with funds provided by the Sid and Fiona Myer Family Foundation 2018.

Greg Weight’s portrait of contemporary artist Lindy Lee shows her standing within one of her own installations. Weight is present with Lee and has captured her much as he might capture a landscape, connecting us with her creativity.

Lindy Lee 1995 © Greg Weight. Collection: National Portrait Gallery. Gift of Patrick Corrigan AM 2004. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program.

Ian Lloyd has also photographed leading artists throughout Australia. His portrait of the acclaimed indigenous artist Gloria Petyarre was taken as she applied layer on layer of dots on a canvas. The resultant image is remarkable, revealing clearly who she is: “an Anmatyerre woman from the Atnangkere country, near Alice Springs”. It is her country, her family’s country, the country she loves. Lloyd shows how his subject has touched and shaped many others.

Gloria Petyarre 2005 © R. Ian Lloyd. Collection: National Portrait Gallery. Gift of the artist 2010. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program.

When cyclist Anna Meares and photographer Narelle Autio met ahead of their shoot, both were delighted to learn that neither wanted Meares wearing lycra or riding her bicycle. Both wanted an image of who she was, rather than what she did. The image taken amongst the trees and rocks in the Adelaide Hills clearly shows something of her toughness; the dress she wears shows her femininity.

Anna Meares 2018 © Narelle Autio. Collection: National Portrait Gallery. Commissioned with funds provided by King & Wood Mallesons 2018

Peter Brew-Bevan’s image of the Artistic Director of the Australian Ballet, David McAllister, is stunning. It most successfully portrays the elegant motion of ballet, whilst delighting McAllister by showing what he describes as a “pensive moment”. The image reveals much about Brew-Bevan as well. His own energy is a major part of the shot’s energy, so it becomes a self-portrait of him as well as a portrait of McAllister.

The Dance David McAllister 2016 © Peter Brew Bevan. Collection: National Portrait Gallery. Commissioned with funds provided by The Stuart Leslie Foundation 2016

In a similar way, Hari Ho’s portrait of Dadang Christanto is a document of a powerful moment of performance in both of their practices. All who have seen Christanto’s Heads from the North in the National Gallery’s Sculpture Garden, will immediately see and relate to Ho’s intentions here.

Most of us have followed Jessica Mauboy’s career, either closely or at least with some interest. David Rosetzky’s portrait splendidly conveys her energy. Every portrait in this exhibition reveals something of the stories of the subjects and it is well worth spending time with each work, thinking about what is revealed about lived experiences.

This review was first published in the Canberra Times of 30/1/21 here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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