Exhibition Review, Reviews

Into the Forest

Photography Exhibition Review

Into the Forest | Eva van Gorsel and Manuel Pfeiffer

M16 Artspace, Gallery 1b | UNTIL 4 SEPTEMBER 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manuel Pfeiffer_BarkA
Manuel Pfeiffer_Dreaming Xanthorrhoeas
Manuel Pfeiffer_At The Coast

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

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

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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.

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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.

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Exhibition Review, Photography Story, Reviews

No Name Lane

Review of Photography “Exhibition”

No Name Lane | Hilary Wardhaugh

End date not known yet, but probably until the end of 2022

Many, if not all, cities and towns have pedestrian laneways without names. Queanbeyan has one that is now being referred to as No Name Lane. It runs off the northern side of Monaro Street and is directly opposite Blacksmiths Lane on the southern side. After securing funding from the NSW Government’s Your High Street grant program in May 2021, Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council put in place a project to improve the safety, amenity and functionality of these two lanes.

Four artists are currently creating a contemporary take on an evocative old-world experience in Blacksmiths Lane. The concept is to reimagine the laneway experience reminiscent of the blacksmiths and wheelwrights who used to work in Monaro Street dating back to 1877.

In contrast, No Name Lane has a colourful and contemporary design. Canberra-based artist Yanni Pounartzis has completed a large-scale mural work in “fun colours” that encompasses both façades and pavement. The re-designed laneway also features neon light elements, greenery, new seating and a collection of lightboxes to showcase rotating exhibitions from local artists. In effect it has become an outdoor art gallery.

Looking along No Name Lane towards and across Monaro Street, we can see through Blacksmiths Lane on the opposite side to a large-scale mural on the side of The Q theatre, featuring Ricky Stuart as the face of Queanbeyan – another Council project.

The first exhibition in No Name Lane is now in place. The artworks are by well-known Queanbeyan professional photographer/artist Hilary Wardhaugh. She has said “Photography to me is more than just a business, it’s an expression.” The “candid, photo journalistic moments” and the “the dirt in between” is what lures her to capture an image.

This display brings together a number of quiet and reflective scenes from around the region.

Autumn in the Bush © Hilary Wardhaugh
Under London Bridge © Hilary Wardhaugh

Wardhaugh tells me she did not personally curate the artworks. Rather, the agency designing the laneway selected them from images she supplied. Some are from her project #welcomenotwelcome – exhibited at PhotoAccess in 2016, and in her finalist photobook in the 2017 Australian AIPP Photography Book of the Year.

Wardhaugh loves documenting urban scenes that are often not noticed by passers-by but which, with the right light, can quietly come together in a body of work. She loves creating mystery, asking the viewers to question or imagine what is behind a wall, fence or hedge – her images deliberately framed so as not to reveal the answers. A published review of #welcomenotwelcome said “It is a case of what you see is not what I want you to see.”

Grass is always greener © Hilary Wardhaugh

One image featuring a quite lovely colourful floral hedge has the intriguing title I haven’t got a welcome mat because I’m not a fucking liar. Virtually all we can see beyond the hedge is a broodingly dark cloud-filled sky.

I Haven’t Got a Welcome Mat Because I’m Not A Fucking Liar © Hilary Wardhaugh

Build a Fence also features a substantial area of sky, with a tiny glimpse of the moon, plus the tops of two streetlights – one adorned by the presence of a bird. But the new-looking fence, with absolutely no gaps in it, totally hides whatever else might be beyond.

Build A Fence © Hilary Wardhaugh

Wardhaugh considers couches sitting by the roadside to be “so Queanbeyan”; therefore something that just had to be part of this display. She views abandoned couches as a comment on our throwaway society. This artist is not the only person to photograph such couches – indeed, there is a Canberra-based Instagram account devoted to them, @kerbsidecouches.

Couches of Queanbeyan 001 © Hilary Wardhaugh

No Name Lane’s gallery space is a welcome addition to the Queanbeyan CBD and Wardhaugh a most appropriate choice for the first artist to be featured there.

This review was published on page 10 of Panorama in The Canberra Times of 20.8.22. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

ADORNED

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

ADORNED | ADORNED COLLECTIVE

TUGGERANONG ARTS CENTRE | UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

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

Review of Photography Exhibitions

Sky Eternal | Cat Wilson

Up in the Air | Claire Grant

Photo Access | 30 June – 30 July

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

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

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

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

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

Cat Wilson – Eternal Sky, 2021 – video still

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

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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