Lesley Murray’s Black Soldier is a commemorative work which has both personal and public resonance. A heartfelt tribute to the artist’s grandfather, the work has also assumed broader significance as a symbol of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ role in the Australian Defence Force, as well as in the early frontier wars.
Presenting the archetypal image of the Australian Digger in full uniform and slouch hat, the words ‘Black Soldier’ underscore how Indigenous military service has been marked by patterns of anonymity and under-recognition.
While Indigenous servicemen often experienced a sense of equality and camaraderie among the troops at war, they did not receive the same recognition and support as their counterparts upon their return.
As Leslie Murray noted when exhibiting the work in 2001, it was in recent decades that “the RSL and the Australian Government came to recognise the efforts and sacrifices made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
Indigenous servicemen’s names were excluded from Australian War Memorials and unlike non-Aboriginal veterans, they were not given land once back in Australia. Murray’s own grandfather, promoted to Lance Corporal during the Second World War, only received his medal in 1989.
Black Soldier forms part of a series of linocut prints celebrating the life of her grandfather William Murray. While the works hold great personal meaning for Murray, having helped her grieve his death in 1994, she also intended to make a broader statement about Aboriginal experience and their role in defending Australia over the years.
“Many fought and lost their lives fighting in alien lands, for not only their country, but in the hope of making their situation in Australia better for their families.” Lesley Murray
Hear more about Lesley Murray’s ‘Grandfather series’ in this AGWA TV interview:
Now in its eighteenth year, the annual Tom Malone Prize showcases the skill and ingenuity of some of Australia’s most accomplished glass artists. Canberra artist Mel Douglas was awarded the Prize this year for her five-part piece Tonal Value, a complex work which demonstrates her ongoing interest in a kind of “three-dimensional drawing.” The work’s elegant gradation from white to black explores how the intersection of objects and drawing can create a new form of mark-making. We caught up with Mel to hear more about the work and how her practice has developed since first winning the Tom Malone Prize in 2014.
Tell us about your ‘drawing with glass’ approach and what this involves on a technical level?
Over the past six years, my practice has investigated how and if studio glass can be understood through the aesthetics of drawing. I began this investigation to test how studio glass could become a drawing or expand the field of drawing, particularly as objects and drawings are often thought of as two separate entities.
The technique draws on traditional screen-printing processes – instead of printing with ink onto paper, I am printing with glass powder directly onto a kiln shelf, and firing the glass. The glass is then transferred onto and adhered to paper. Each glass drawing is taken from an original drawing, each work is individual, and these works are not made in editions.
Click through the images for an snapshot of Mel Douglas’ technique
I make a hand drawn image.
I prepare the image (photocopy and oil) and expose it onto a silk screen.
I set the screen onto a kiln shelf in the kiln.
I run fine glass powder over the screen, the glass powder falls through the screen onto the shelf, following the lines of my drawing.
I remove the screen, leaving the glass on the shelf.
I fire the print on the shelf at a low temperature. Once the glass has cooled I am left with a fine, wafer thin glass drawing. I then adhere the glass drawing to printing paper using an adhesive.
How does incorporating drawing into glass art offer new creative possibilities?
Investigating how and what ‘drawing with glass’ could be, I applied theories of line, conventions of contemporary drawing alongside ideas and rules of geometry to the distinctive material quality of glass. By combining the unique qualities of the glass with the rich potential of mark making, I have developed techniques to consider how line can inform, define and enable an object as a drawing.
By taking an interdisciplinary approach to developing work that looks beyond the disciplinary confines of one material, I have combined ideas and theories from the wider fields of the visual arts, anthropology and the sciences, extending the potential of glass to be understood as drawing. I have taken the approach, that to better understand a material, I needed to push its limits to see where it crossed over with other materials.
What do you think glass can offer that’s different to any other medium?
Glass may be an unforgiving medium, but it’s extremely versatile. It can be blown, cut, cast, flameworked, kiln formed, filled with neon gas, and illuminated. Artists’ approaches to working with the medium have become increasingly multifaceted—combining glass with video, exploring 3D printing and other emerging technologies.
Glass as a means for exploring lines spatially offers abundant and unique avenues. Being an amorphous material that changes viscosity depending on temperature, a line can be drawn out freely into space and immediately sets into a drawn form, it can hide and conceal line, it can cast shadow lines which move through and in to the substrate.
What was the intention or concept behind your work Tonal Value and how did this develop as the piece took shape?
Tonal Value contemplates how objects occupy space. The space that surrounds an object has the ability to hold and suspend, by tilting these objects in space and changing the orientation, each work holds on to that last moment of silence and stillness before it spills over. This sets up an ambiguous tension, a sense of anticipation and movement within a still frame.
This work also looks at the different values of line that can be achieved through exploring the viscosity of glass, and how the changes in tone or colour change the quality and gauge of line. By moving this image through a series of tonal changes, from a stiff white, which gives a tight, thin and pronounced line, through to black which melts at a lower temperature, the line becomes softer and bleeds into the substrate making a thicker, more painterly line.
How does the physical positioning of a glass work change how it is perceived?
There are so many physical changes that occur when you move an artwork from the studio into a gallery setting. Private to public, it transforms a playful idea into something more defined and absolute and the transformation of glass that occurs under different lighting conditions can be extreme.
Sometimes taking a work from the studio into a gallery setting removes the intimacy: the viewer loses the ability to take in all of the subtleties. However, in opposition, displaying work in a gallery removes all of the mechanics behind the work. It provides a clean defined space for the work to be seen and interpreted.
How do you feel your practice has evolved since previously winning the Tom Malone Prize in 2014?
Towards the end of 2014, I began looking for new ways to integrate line and surface, I wanted to find ways to animate and subvert surfaces through line. I was seeking to find a connective purpose between my forms and their surfaces to explore space; I wanted the lines to be active and directive.
My practice has also developed by my need to extend the potential of thinking about glass within a conceptual framework. Until recently my work has been viewed primarily within the studio glass discipline. Through a critical examination of the potential for glass to be understood as drawing this research has led me to reconsider how my new work might be received outside of a studio glass perspective.
Where do you feel glass art sits in contemporary art practice?
The modern movement of studio glass began in America in the 1960s and is still recognised within visual art and craft disciplines. When a number of artists in the USA [such as Harvey Littleton and Martin Lipofsky] began to work with glass as a creative medium it created a significant shift between designer and maker. Disciplines, like ‘studio glass’ have been highly focused on understanding the material, and in doing so have made it possible to delve deeply into one subject, to learn everything possible from one set of tools and to develop new tools based on discoveries.
While my practice has developed from this modern history of studio glass, I am looking for a different kind of pathway as a contemporary practitioner. Just as craft theorist Glenn Adamson has observed, “in the last fifteen years contemporary studio glass has begun to expand its horizons, focusing less on technique and more on the artistic expression of ideas.’
Read more about the Tom Malone Prize and view this year’s catalogue on our website.
In a special ceremony on International Women’s Day this month, long-serving AGWA Gallery Guide Dorothea Hansen-Knarhoi was inducted into the Western Australian Women’s Hall of Fame for her extensive contribution to arts and culture in this state.
Instrumental in launching the Voluntary Gallery Guides in 1977, Dorothea has played a vital role in making the Gallery’s rich collection and exhibitions accessible to the varied audiences that attend each year.
We caught up with Dorothea to hear more about her career as a guide and how the Voluntary Gallery Guides association – and the Gallery – have evolved over the years.
You were one of the original guides who came together to form the Voluntary Gallery Guides association. Could you tell us a bit more about how it all came together?
Well, my job in life was as a physiotherapist. And when my children were little, I decided I didn’t want to work, but I needed something to keep my brain going. I enrolled in a fine art course at Claremont Technical School and it opened a whole new world to me. When a couple of friends said that they’d been doing some research here at the Gallery and suggested starting the Guides, I said, wonderful. I just love being around works of art. We started off with about twenty people who loved art, who were artists or people who’d done this course (at Claremont Technical School).
How do you think the guiding philosophy has changed over the years?
I think it’s evolved in different ways. Everyone does it differently. But I really like to get the public talking with me. People enjoy it so much more if they can be involved. We don’t really want people just giving a lecture.
When I started, we didn’t have an official training course – we virtually trained ourselves. Now we have this training course and the emphasis is on ways to guide. When we do tours, we think it’s important to have links so that you have a reason to move from one painting to another and you’ve got a theme to take you through.
Do you have any particular stories that come to mind about tours you’ve done or people you’ve met along the way?
Once when I had a children’s tour, there was this little fellow who didn’t seem to be very interested and then gradually came out of himself and started talking. In the end, he said, “I’m going to go home and get my mum and dad to come into this Gallery!” He would have been about nine or 10. It was so rewarding because you don’t often get feedback like that.
And one of the funny ones, this is the Sidney Nolan exhibition (Landscapes and Legends, 1987) – I had a huge crowd of around 50 people. At the end of the tour I said, “if you’ve got any questions, I’ll try to answer them.” A hand went up; and this woman said “could you tell me where you get your hair cut?” (laughs)
How do you feel the Gallery’s collection or exhibitions have changed since you’ve been a Guide?
When we first started guiding, there was hardly any Aboriginal Art and we kept saying: when people come from overseas, they want to see something that’s different; that is not other European artists, but our own works of art that are quite different from anywhere else. The first Aboriginal Art exhibition we had was the Art of the Western Desert exhibition (1979). Now, of course, we have plenty of Aboriginal Art and that’s great. But it took a long time to build up the collection and to build up the understanding that there was an audience for it. I feel that’s a great progression that has happened.
What does being a guide at AGWA mean to you?
What I think a guide should do is enrich people’s understanding of our own work, our own history and our own culture; but also the history and culture of other countries.
I just love being around works of art and I loved communicating it to the public, especially if they would join in. I loved being able to open their eyes, when I could. And because I was also a physiotherapist, which is a very practical and scientific based thing, it was a lovely balance. I just found it a joy to do.
Guided tours bring the State Art Collection to life and offer visitors unexpected ways to engage deeply with artworks, exhibitions and their connections to West Australian history.
Experience how a guided tour can enrich your visit to the Gallery by attending a free Wesfarmers Arts guided tour of the State Collection and special exhibitions, running Wednesday – Monday. Free private tours can also be booked for small groups by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org (four weeks’ notice required).
From an early age Western Australian artist, Christopher Pease displayed a talent for the arts. His mother Sandra Hill and brother Ben Pushman are also well-known Noongar artists with works included in many significant collections including AGWA, Janet Holmes à Court Collection, Kerry Stokes Collection and the National Gallery of Australia.
Trained as a graphic designer, Pease dabbled in art throughout his studies and later while working in hospitality. It wasn’t until 1999 that he produced his first serious painting titled Noongar Dreaming. This painting depicts Australian Rules football great Graham “Polly” Farmer’s nephew Peter Farmer standing on the Perth freeway which bears Polly’s name.
Another significant piece of artwork by Christopher Pease titled Reaper is currently on display in AGWA’s WA Journey Gallery as part of the Foundation’s annual appeal. Made up of 42 panels, this impressive artwork relays an important message about colonial Western Australia and its darker history.
AGWA’s Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, Carly Lane hosted a live Q+A with Christopher about his work.
Carly Lane: So, Reaper; what is it about? In twenty-five words or less.
Christopher Pease: In twenty – I don’t know if I can do that. When you’re an artist you find yourself looking back a lot. When you’re a Noongar artist, you’re always looking back. The first references came from my family; my mum, my aunties who would tell stories. After that, you look at the artwork that maybe other people don’t. Like Revel Cooper, I love his work. Then I was going into the museum archives, looking at artefacts and for Noongar iconography specifically, to find a Noongar visual aesthetic. I was trying to build my own visual language and then I stumbled across the Louis de Sainson prints.
Carly Lane: Who is Louis de Sainson?
Christopher Pease: He was a French watercolourist and draughtsman on the ship Astrolabe which sailed down to Albany in 1827 for a couple of months, and he did some really interesting stuff. There was a lot of early colonial artists that did work that I kind of was interested in because there was no photography and there is this translation that occurs. So, the drawings are made here, and then they go back to London where they’re turned into an aquatint, an etching – a lithograph and so there are sometimes weird things that happen in the translation. You don’t know exactly what’s real, and what’s accurate and what’s not accurate, so I’ve seen a lot of kind of questionable things. Robert Dale’s piece was the big one.
Carly Lane: Who is Robert Dale?
Christopher Pease: Robert Dale was a British Lieutenant who in 1829 arrived at the Derbarl Yerrigan (the Swan River) on the HMS Sulphur, and he ended up being the assistant surveyor to John Septimus Roe. He did a lot of surveying and was involved in projects all throughout Perth.
Carly Lane: He was about 19,
Christopher Pease: Yes
Carly Lane: But had already built up this skillset
Christopher Pease: Yeah, his skills were amazing. In 1832 he was in Albany, from January to May and during this time he wrote the account of King George’s Sound and did a series of sketches on top of this hill looking south overlooking King George’s Sound, and that was a panorama. The original panorama is three metres long, it’s a really beautiful lithograph – coloured lithograph – and I wanted to tackle that for years, like really early on, but I just didn’t feel confident in doing it. Finally, a couple of years ago, maybe four years ago now, I thought “That’s it, I’m going to tackle this work.”
Carly Lane: I feel like there’s a bit of déjà vu, because I do want to tell the audiences that we recently had the panorama that Robert Dale drew, and Robert Havell printed up in the Botanical: Beauty and Peril exhibition, and there was another work by artist Sohan Ariel Hayes that was a response to that print that was in the show as well.
Christopher Pease: Yeah. So, Robert Dale, at the same time that he was down in Albany, so was Yagan. Yagan was a cultural warrior here in Whadjuk territory and at the same time, the grants were being opened up in Perth. You’ve got private land ownership happening on the Derbarl Yerrigan, on the Swan River. There was an odd series of events that led to Yagan killing William Gaze. Yagan was caught and sentenced to death, but an outspoken settler named Robert Lyon convinced the judge to send him to Carnac Island instead. He ended up going to Carnac Island and then he escaped by boat back to the mainland. He later appeared at Lake Monger, doing Gidjee (spear) demonstrations, throwing, dancing, and also, in the Perth Botanical Gardens he was involved in events as well, so he was kind of given this kind of unspoken pardon, I guess.
Carly Lane: Julie Dowling, her painting titled Yagan 2016, talks about that event or, you know, it depicts the event at Lake Monger where he was throwing spears.
Christopher Pease: Yeah, yeah, they – they were, you know, throwing targets. You know and there’s a big article in the Perth Gazette where they remarked how amazing he was – Yagan was – his prowess in throwing, you know, weapons.
Carly Lane: From what I understand about your most recent exhibition Minang Boodjar, it was a series of six paintings that all looked at King George Sound, and the Dale and Havell Panorama.
Christopher Pease:Reaper recreates the first part of the panorama and there’s a lot of interesting things happening in it. And there’s a lot of the things Robert Dale depicts in the panorama that is quite accurate. In the background, so you can see in the top right prescribed burning that was happening, so yeah there was a lot of prescribed burning. We can see in other parts – in the painting – there was possum hunting. So, some of the things that he was depicting were quite accurate. What happened was in 1833, Yagan was caught trespassing up where I used to live up in Swan Valley near Ellenbrook. He was caught trespassing and he was shot by two brothers, beheaded, and his head was put in a tree and smoked. Robert Dale ended up acquiring the head and in 1834 he went back to London where he looked to make a deal for Yagan’s head. It was during this time he met Thomas Pettigrew, who was a surgeon working in London. He was an antiquarian and he made a deal with Robert Dale for Yagan’s head. Pettigrew would host dinner parties in his home and after dinner, he would display his curiosities to his guests and Yagan’s head was part of that. As a souvenir, each guest was also given a print of Robert Dale’s panorama.
Apart from the back story, there’s obviously the lines in the painting that’s actually the real map of the exact area where the drawings took place and that relates back to Robert’s Dales work as a cartographer and surveyor. I decided to divide it up to represent the cutting up the land and putting up boundaries. The reaper is the reference to death and if you look at tarot cards it also means change which is quite significant for that period as well. It was a fitting image that works well with what was happening at the time.
Reaper is currently on loan and we are asking for your help to give it a permanent home in the State Collection. Find out here
Presenting works from 1970 to today, the AGWA Contemporary collection reveals the wide span of contemporary art practice with its diverse range of media, themes and identities. A recent collection display curated by AGWA Associate Curator of 21st Century Arts Dunja Rmandić gives particular emphasis to the human figure as a conduit of symbols, hero status, myths, cultural references, fantasies and stereotypes across different cultures. While the majority of works feature the human figure in one way or another, a recurring theme sees the subject’s eyes or faces obscured, masked or otherwise turned away, echoing the complexity of identity politics. Read on for Rmandić’s insights on a number of the display’s key works.
Christian Thompson – We Bury Our Own Series
Based on a research project at the Pitt-Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford, Christian Thompson’s We Bury Our Own series looks at ritual practice and the possibilities offered by art for a kind of spiritual—if not physical—repatriation.
“Thompson is very mindful of the politics and the semiotics of the gaze and in this series he positions non-Indigenous cultural materials and references into a pool of spirituality and ritual, playing with the ideas of heritage, originality and history“
Abdul Abdullah – Siege and Homeland Series
Abdul Abdullah’s provocative Siege series features the artist wearing a mask from the most recent Planet Of The Apes film as a potent symbol of ‘Otherness’ and cultural displacement. Abdullah explicitly engages with politics in his practice and has spoken about how the September 11th attacks in particular have influenced his identity as an artist.
“[Abdullah] sees his brother, Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, as being an artist of the pre-September 11th period and himself as an artist of the post-September 11th period. He was a teenager at that moment, and everything changed for him. Overnight, young Muslim men were seen as terrorists, as a threat, as the quintessential ‘Other.’ When you are a minority, and regardless of who you feel you are, your identity can be determined by external factors, with no control over those perceptions and the ways that you are defined and categorized, and they were for Muslim men all around the globe and continue to be for minorities.”
Taken from Abdul Abdullah’s 2013 series Homeland, the balaclava-clad figure we see in Aussie Icons is a ‘composite face,’ featuring one eye each of Kylie Minogue and Elle MacPherson, alongside the characteristically vocal mouth of Lleyton Hewitt.
The unsettling image that results invites us to think differently about these individual’s place in the national psyche—and to what extent this is shaped by their own Anglo-Saxon heritage.
“By using white cultural references and signifiers of beauty we’re asked: what would you do if you were confronted by these people in masks? We look at things differently when it’s white people underneath the masks, but they could still be robbing your home.”
Khadim Ali – Fragmented Memories series
Ali grew up hearing from his grandfather the recitation of the Book of Kings (Shahnama), a late 10th century epic poem composed by Firdousi that marks the beginning of modern Persian language. The poem recounts the virtuosity and shortcomings of kings from the beginning of time to the advent of Islam but also of the powerful forces beyond them, epitomised by the divs or daemons. Reflecting on the way his people, the Hazara, have been treated and persecuted since the 1920s, Ali has used the divs from the miniature paintings illustrating the epic as an allegory of the Hazara.
“There are layers of histories with people and countries that we in the West tend to skim over, especially in the media. Afghanistan after September 11, for example, is seen as a very two-dimensional space: a space ravaged by war and difficult people. It’s a simple formula of good versus evil, us and them, that helps dehumanise and desensitise. I think for a lot of people who come from countries where conflict has occurred, seeing that conflict portrayed as two dimensional is a very painful thing. We don’t see the beautiful things that happen in Afghanistan, or hear the success stories; or the stories of people not wanting any kind of war. And we don’t consider that people from those places value beauty, history and tradition the way we do; Ali’s works speaks to all these sentiments.”
Abdul-Rahman Abdullah – Big Moon
Positioned above the display like the awe-inspiring ‘super moons’ that can be seen when the Earth’s tilt makes them appear low in the sky, Abdul-Rahman Abdullah’s Big Moon brings a sense of universality to the collection of works below it, whilst also carrying its own highly specific cultural meaning.
“The moon by Abdul-Rahman Abdullah is referencing the month of Ramadan and for him the full moon represents the halfway point where, as a child, all he had to do was get through another two weeks. What I really love is that he connects the cultural, religious and scientific elements by showing the moon as a celestial object which we all imbue with meaning—a real thing in the universe as opposed to a dreamy kind of cultural symbol.”
Harnessing the moon’s cross-cultural significance in this way, its prominence in the space works to unify and balance the disparate and often opposing identities featured in this striking collection of works.
Read more about the AGWA Contemporary collection here. This collection display runs until February 2020.
Currently showing at the Art Gallery of WA, The Botanical: Beauty and Peril exhibition brings together works from the State Art Collection and that of Janet Holmes à Court in a wide-ranging, and often bracing look at representations of the Australian landscape.
Among the works on display is the striking video piece Panoramic View of Albany (Kinjarling), The Place of Rain (2019), by Perth-based media artist Sohan Ariel Hayes, in which he reinterprets an 1834 panoramic etching of Albany by British surveyor Robert Dale.
This reinterpretation of a perhaps notorious work in the exhibition – the etching is notable not just for its panoramic format but also the gruesome fact that it was first exhibited in London alongside the decapitated head of Noongar leader Yagan – prompted extensive research into the social and environmental history of the original print.
Read on for an interview with Sohan Hayes in which he shares his insights on a number of concerns and themes raised in his work.
Working with archival materials has been a key part of your practice for some time now. What was it about this Robert Dale etching in particular that captured your interest?
The panoramic format first grabbed my attention – I can’t think of any other panoramic images done in Western Australia before 1900, so it’s kind of unusual. Then there are these striking tableaux of Menang people and soldiers across the foreground of the view. From all the research that we’ve gathered, the view appears to be nineteenth century real estate propaganda. I mean it looks quite beautiful – it’s a picturesque image of Albany a few years after settlement – but actually its purpose was to sell something. It’s advertising a land opportunity and was a powerful vision that attracted investors to the Swan River enterprise. In the act of doing so the work becomes a story about dispossession: the stripping of the rights of the Menang people without their knowing or consent.
Can you tell me a bit more about the research process that went into developing this work, and how you drew out the ‘invisible histories’ in the original?
This work has also been reimagined by other Western Australian artists, Christopher Pease and Gregory Pryor, so those works feed into the dialogue around this one. A key link has been conversations with (Menang Noongar Elder) Lynette Knapp and (WA botanist) Stephen Hopper. Stephen Hopper had actually just done a couple of lectures on the fact and fiction of the Dale panorama. So I went and spent some time with the two of them, using Stephen’s scientific background and Lynette’s Menang/Noongar knowledge. And we just did these passes across the painting and all of this detail came out of that. Obviously we can’t include all of that detail, so there’s this emotional, intuitive response which comes out in the work; a simple shift from day to night, from summer to winter storm, this rain like tears when these monsters begin to appear.
With this work being specifically commissioned for the exhibition, was there any sense of responding to AGWA as a historical and cultural site itself?
Good question. Dale’s print has been shown regularly in the past by AGWA, but never alongside the descriptive pamphlet by Dale which was originally distributed with the print and an illustration of the head of Noongar warrior Yagan. By placing this new work next to the original print, the intention is to trigger a dialogue between the two images. Once you’ve seen the new work, I don’t think you can ever look at the original print in the same way again.
The depiction of a numbat in the mouth of a feral cat is a striking image. How does this representation of invasive species define the work as a whole?
Once The Botanical co-curator Laetitia Wilson and I got talking about how there’s an invading species which is the Europeans, at the same time they are also bringing along other invasive species – rats and cats and rabbits and so on. So we started to play with images of those invasive species becoming feral and all the killing that has resulted and continues as we speak, every night and day. The fat cat is a monstrous image and, as a phrase, often represents someone who’s got too much wealth and has become gluttonous.
The work shows a huge storm sweeping the landscape, which then dies away with clear skies returning as the video loops. Does this hint at a sense of hope for how we might approach these issues differently in the future?
This was an idea that came from discussions with Kingsley Reeve who created the sound track for the work. There is a connection with the moving panorama of the mid-nineteenth century which we mimic digitally here – where they literally used to rewind the painting on a scrolling mechanism to restart it – and so we tried to rewind sound and image and found the effect mesmerising. The result is that the work doesn’t really have a start or end – it just keeps oscillating. It suggests a potential for change. In connection with the environment now, if we don’t change course, there is a great storm coming. Or are we already in it?
How do you think the colonial and conquest-oriented mentality represented in Dale’s etching links to wider environmental issues we are faced with today?
This whole capitalist expansion in the 19th century was, in part, a great mechanism of turning nature into profit at zero cost. There was the technology and finances to take advantage of the so-called ‘land opportunity’ here in this country and convert it into profit. I think it’s really important to look back and understand that mechanism, to understand those it benefited and those it dispossessed. After all this is not something that was done once – the engine’s been running rampant repeating the cycle of dispossession all over the entire globe and now it threatens to cost us the earth.
What role do you think art and artists have in bringing public attention to the kinds of environmental issues that are highlighted in the exhibition?
I think as artists we’ve got a responsibility to help tell stories – to make them personal. My good friend, Anna Kosky, who puts together Writer’s Week for the Perth Festival, said she was at a conference on climate change earlier this year and one of the key scientists said that they’ve done all they can, now it’s up to the artists to tell the stories. That’s a big ask, but I think we can help shape a vision, to help shed light on reality, to encourage deep thinking and sustained action.
The Botanical: Beauty and Peril runs until 4 November.
This month, as part of our AGWA Pulse program, the Art Gallery of WA was the setting for an inspiring and thought-provoking panel discussion on climate change. Featuring young climate activists ranging in age from 16 to 23, these young voices brought clarity and urgency to the immense challenges facing our planet today. Here, they share their thoughts on the kinds of actions we can take – both large and small – to set the world on a different path.
I am sixteen years old and an organiser for the School Strike 4 Climate movement. I participate in national and state calls, outreach to groups, unions and schools, and I have spoken/chanted/occupied at the major March 15 and May 3 strikes earlier this year.
Why do I strike and organise these events? Because I want a future on this planet. We are living in a climate crisis. Already we are experiencing extreme changes to weather conditions with unprecedented droughts, floods and other natural disasters across the planet. We cannot wait until the effects of what’s occurring now are visible from our kitchen windows – we must act as pre-emptively as is still possible to minimise the effects of climate change. This means compelling the government to abandon fossil fuels, invest in 100% renewable energy NOW and to draw down carbon through intensive reforestation.
I am privileged to be able to be an artist and performer. I dance with Co3 – the flagship contemporary dance company in WA – and also act with the Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company. Art allows us to view the world in creative and critical ways. We can see this through AGWA’s exhibition, The Botanical: Beauty and Peril, which showcases work that discusses the climate crisis.
The phrase “business as usual = extinction” applies to artists as much as anyone else. We can’t rely on people to take up our calls for change. We need to be the ones taking action alongside everyone else. I am currently involved in organising the September 20 action which is a global strike: not just students, but everybody. It is expected to be the biggest collective human action this planet have ever seen.
A lot of people find climate change an overwhelming issue and feel like there’s nothing that they can do that will make a real difference in combatting it. I would like to encourage those people to see the film 2040 – it really helps to view the climate crisis from a solution-based perspective and provides a lot of suggestions on how you can help join the fight.
While you’re waiting to see the film, try changing your search engine to Ecosia (which plants one tree for every 45 searches), and changing your super fund to Future Super (zero investments in fossil fuels and financial performance in the top quartile of Australian super funds) – all it takes to switch is ten minutes and your tax file number.
It is really exciting and empowering to see so much community support behind climate action, to have a platform for youth voices to speak on the subject, and to have people truly listen and engage with these young people.
Climate protest and activism are good, but I think especially in this day and age it’s not going to be enough to make change. With the political right on the rise, I think it’s only making people angrier. Just shouting at our government isn’t going to make action happen. Potentially more helpful ways include meeting with local MPS to discuss climate and how they can help, writing EPA (Environmental Protection Authority) submissions or looking out for projects that ask for public comment.
What do I believe it will take to save the world? State and nations coming together to tackle this crisis. International policy has worked in the past, as we saw with the Montreal Protocol, which is now seeing the ozone layer repair itself! The Paris Climate Agreement isn’t strong; but it could be improved with more investment and learning from successful measures like the Montreal Protocol. The Paris Climate Agreement needs sanctions and realistic targets for anything to work.
Artists have a great place in climate change action, albeit secondary. They aren’t afraid to confront the world, and expose what their truths are. Art can be a very emotional thing and call many people to action. However, I think the issue is that its main audience is the privileged: once art can be enjoyed by all, I think a lot more good and empowerment can come from it.
FLOCK is a monthly forum created by, and for, Perth independent artists as a regular space to gather, connect and engage with each other’s creative practices. This month, FLOCK took place at AGWA’s Education Studio, featuring Esther McDowell/Yabini Kickett, who recently launched her 6-month Artist Activation project at AGWA. AGWA is delighted to support this unique and important venture for Perth’s arts community. Read on for the FLOCK team’s reflections on the event.
Gathering a FLOCK of artists at AGWA: FLOCK #12.
It was a warm, friendly event, with some familiar faces and many newcomers. Awaiting the delayed arrival of an Auslan Interpreter created a unique opportunity for awareness of and collective tending to accessibility. The two deaf artists Peter Blockey and Geoff Scott were greeted with enthusiasm and presence by all attendees, and Daisy Sanders transcribed in writing everything that was spoken as the workshop commenced. This was enough to proceed with a welcoming sense of cohesion and care until the Auslan interpreter could assist with full integration and exchange.
Supported by an energetic attention in the room, Esther McDowell began by introducing her arts practice. She described the influence of family and country on her work, and how her use of materials is informed by knowledge of species and botanical influences. Participants were quickly absorbed in a process of drawing with charcoal and eucalyptus oil, creating rich and intricate pattered landscapes, and still-life images of the banksias Esther had brought in.
A break after the workshop allowed artists to enjoy food together and forge new connections while chatting about their various, notably diverse practices.
Daisy Sanders opened the facilitated conversation by describing her experiences of and questions about the environment. She described her various endeavours to grasp the complex, interdependent life ecology of our earth, and how that informs her way of making, living and being as an artist. The participants were invited to think through provocations and were divided into pairs, then larger groups, to allow for extended, open-space discussion. Though the topic Artists and The Earth was broad, the discussion coalesced around questions of sustainability and inter-connectedness. The discussion ended on a note of quiet contemplation: each artist left with a question to carry with them into their arts practice, and a new way of considering the relationship they have with the earth. The presence and insight of Nyoongar artist Esther McDowell highlighted the need for more perceptive exchange, shared understanding and language in this space, and thus the importance of more questioning together, and deep listening.
The swarm of faces – friendly, tired, inquiring, joyous – revealed a FLOCK of invigorated and grateful Perth artists, who gathered themselves and were soon gone into the cool winter night. It was another exciting and fulfilling occasion, which once again had ignited rich conversations, curiosities, moments of inspiration and support numbering far more than usual for a short event.
We want to thank the Art Gallery of WA for their generous support in making FLOCK #12 possible, Esther McDowell for her workshop, and Daisy Sanders for leading the discussion. FLOCK is a monthly event by, and for independent artists living in (or visiting) Perth. It emphasises the bringing together of artists across all career stages and disciplines, to meet through activated creative practice and conversation. The FLOCK ecology is flexible and open-hearted, with an ‘all-welcome’ approach that promotes (by example) best practice, collective strength and celebration of Perth’s artistic vitality. Gathering artists together frequently, in a variety of local arts venues should be inevitable, but feels rare and radical. FLOCK creates a regular space for artists to meet, explore, wonder and inspire together, and to cultivate inherent valuing of how this can evolve our West Australian arts and emergent cultural life.
Elizabeth Pedler and Daisy Sanders
The next FLOCK event is supported by the Blue Room Theatre and will take place on Thursday 1 August at the State Theatre Centre from 5.30-8.30pm. Find more details, and register, at the Eventbrite page.
Ben Bannan knows a thing or two about how to carve a successful path in Western Australia’s arts industry having been selected as a Pulse Perspectives artist in 2014 and Hatched 2018. We recently chatted to Ben about his inspirational art journey.
What do you remember about your experience in the Pulse Perspectivesexhibition? Did you take away new ideas, advice that has helped you get to where you are now?
I remember being really excited that both of my year 12 works had been accepted into the exhibition. At that time Year 12 Perspectives seemed like the biggest possible opportunity and more than anything I was excited that my work could be viewed by such a large audience. I think being in the exhibition helped give me some confidence to study contemporary art at a tertiary level.
What influenced you to go down the artistic path and who would you say has had the most profound impact on your choices so far?
Art was always something I did for joy and comfort growing up. From doing art for leisure to pursuing a career in the arts there have been different people and mentors along the way that have impacted me. I had very supportive art teachers in high school who nurtured my enthusiasm and then when I went to University, I had lecturers that really encouraged me to take risks. Most recently in February, I finished an internship at PICA with Eugenio Viola and Charlotte Hickson. This was a particularly formative experience for me, and they are both people who have helped expand the way I think about my arts practice and other ways of engaging with the arts professionally.
What advice can you give the artists in Pulse Perspectives this year in relation to how to forge ahead with their artistic career? What are the challenges they may face?
I’d really encourage anyone wanting to forge a career in the arts to engage with artist-run-spaces in Perth such as Cool Change Contemporary, Paper Mountain and The Lobby to name a few. These are the spaces where peers are showing, making and supporting local and national art and supporting them gives artists the opportunity to really engage with and become part of the arts community. Pursuing a career in the arts can often be really frustrating when you often encounter people who might not understand your choices or dismiss the industry. I think these encounters are important in challenging your goals, but they also become a lot easier to answer and justify when you feel like you’re making the decision alongside a large number of really amazing, talented and driven people.
You exhibited in Hatched2018. How does this experience different to what you went through with Perspectives?
I exhibited in Hatched 2018. Graduating from art school was very different from graduating from year 12. High school focuses on developing two singular works or ‘final pieces’ that are meant to encapsulate everything you know and have learnt up until that point. My experience in art school was much more about developing ways of working and interests that could develop into bodies of work and sustain a practice. Therefore, my Hatchedexperience included much more of focus on working with PICA to customize my project for the exhibition in a way that best fitted my work within the constraints of a large group show. It was really my first experience with gallery practices and protocols and it was exciting to be a part of that process.
Any exciting news/projects you would like to share with our subscribers?
I currently have some work in an exhibition called looking now anyone here with Brent Harrison and Wade Taylor at Paper Mountain, as well as a collaborative work with Penny Coss at Mundaring Arts Centre as part of their 40th-anniversary exhibition Continuity and Change: Future.
Earlier this month I attended Pathways to Practice, an event the dually presented by AGWA and PICA. Featuring artists from the Pulse Perspectivesand Hatched 2019 exhibition, the event provided a safe space of sharing no matter where you were at in your learning journey. The warmth present in the room was uplifting with young people gathering, eager to learn more about the opportunities available to pursue their passion.
The panel and conversations during Pathways to Practice offered a balanced view of the industry for recent ATAR Art graduates.
PICA Curator and facilitator of the panel discussion, Charlotte Hickson began the discussion where she readily noted the politics behind the white cube.
Pulse Perspectives artist such as Sophie Cowell shared her first-hand experience with this aspect of museum practice when showcasing her tactile piece that was placed behind glass for conservation sake.
Other Pulse Perspectives artists Luke Button made a humble study of trees against landlines and has now taken the bold step toward the media frontiers in his academic pursuits. Last but not least, Alexandra O’Brien’s talks about her piece I am All Ears, a personal favourite. An immaculate rendition of a self-portrait mimicking a diptych is laid in front of the audience weaving a sonic narrative alongside the work Alexandra admits is a sentimental exploration of self and the world.
My key takeaway from this programme would be the understanding and advice these artistic platforms offers emerging creative powerhouses in Perth.
Art offers a platform for diverse worldviews by igniting communication, collaboration, and dialogue. As a strong advocate for alternative routes, I end this piece with this one request. My one appeal for art practitioners would be to speak with people on the street or in different industries. In the coming age of smart cities, collaboration is critical.