The Botanical in Peril – Young Voices on Climate Change

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.

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How Do We Save the World? Climate Change Panel Discussion at AGWA

Makaela Rowe-Fox

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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.

Rachel Rainey

67075722_2109189282526527_9951340440584192_croppedA 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.

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The panellists discussed a wide range of topics related to the climate crisis.

Chelsea Andrews

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.

 

Follow the work of these inspiring young people through organisations including School Strike 4 Climate, Millennium Kids and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.

Gathering a FLOCK of artists at AGWA

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“Seedpods and Pastels” – A workshop from artist Esther McDowell/Yabini Kickett. Photograph by Elizabeth Pedler

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.

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Esther/Yabini McDowell demonstrating her charcoal-based works in AGWA’s Education Studio. Photograph by Elizabeth Pedler

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.

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Photograph by Elizabeth Pedler

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.

Pulse Perspectives and Hatched alumni’s art journey

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Artist and Pulse Perspectives and Hatched alumni, Ben Bannan.

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 Perspectives exhibition? 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 Hatched 2018. 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 Hatched experience 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.

Pulse Perspectives exhibition is showing at AGWA until 22 July.

Following your visit to Pulse Perspectives, vote for your favourite piece of work in the Act-Belong-Commit People’s Choice Award. 

Pathways to Practice

Pathways to Practice

Author: Shauna from A.F.BATT

 

Earlier this month I attended Pathways to Practice, an event the dually presented by AGWA and PICA. Featuring artists from the Pulse Perspectives and 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.

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Alexandra O’Brien I’m all ears 2018. Oil on canvas, audio file and oil on headphones, three parts: two at 50.5 x 40.5 cm each; Headphones with audio: duration 2:42 min. Iona Presentation College

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.

Pulse Perspectives is showing at the Art Gallery of WA until 22 July 2019.

Hatched 2019 is showing at PICA until 7 July 2019.

To read more about Shauna’s passion project visit her website www.afbatt.life

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Passionate about the arts, Shauna wears local Perth design by Silly Thelma that is now gifted to a Singaporean musician Codie. A symbolic transaction aligned with the vision of the platform. This image was shot by Sarah Goh

Top 10 things to experience at ART BALL Electric Dreams

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ART BALL – It’s not your usual black-tie gala. Find out why it’s touted as the event on Perth’s social calendar.

Final tickets are on sale now at artball.com.au

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NUMBER 1: 100% PERTH MUSIC LINE UP
Perth’s famous indie-pop-rockers San Cisco; multi-WA Music Award-winning synth duo FEELS and rising electro-pop stars Priscilla will ignite the main stage with epic live sets, while ART BALL 2019 resident DJ, ALSAN (Ash Keogh), will dominate the decks.

THE HUXLEYS

NUMBER 2: THE HUXLEYS
Iconic Australian performance art duo, The Huxleys, literally step right out of the pages of VOGUE and into ART BALL, roaming the corridors of the iconic AGWA building in their provocative, hyper-glam costumes, bringing their decorative absurdity to Perth for one night only.

NUMBER 3: BUBBLE POP BALL PIT
BALLS! A lot of them! A huge 15,000 litre ball pit will take over AGWA’s Imagination room, complete with stair to get in and out of it in your black-tie garb.

YUMMY

NUMBER 4: YUMMY and the TNT ALL STARS
Cult cabaret performance legends YUMMY return to Perth especially for ART BALL to take guests on the most delicious and unpredictable ride of their lives. The joy-evoking cast will deliver their signature high-camp style and world-class circus skills to killer pop-tracks. YUMMY hostess-with-the-mostess, Valerie Hex, will also MC the night. The final floorshow will be an unforgettable, high-octane collaboration between the YUMMY cast and Perth’s international cheer squad, the TNT All Stars.

NUMBER 5. ALL DRANKS ALL NIGHT!
Perth’s trendiest boutique hotel, QT Perth, will be serving delicious signature cocktails from the QT Bar. French Champagne house G.H. Mumm is bringing the quality bubbles, with Juniper Estate wines and WA craft beer pouring all night. That right folks, all dranks included in your ticket, all night!

NUMBER 6. THE SLUMBER SALON
Perth-born light artist Brendan Harwood will create a three-story interactive projection installation using motion sensing technology that triggers a cascade of neon orbs to fall down the wall and attach to the outline of the users body shape, creating a giant, neon avatar. The work will be enjoyed by the user as well as providing a spectacle for those enjoying the visual delights of the work as they sip champagne and cocktails in king-sized beds.

NUMBER 7. NUDE LIFE DRAWING
ART BALL’s infamous nude life drawing sessions return with a curious glow-in-the-dark twist.

NUMBER 8. FINE FEASTING
You won’t go hungry at this event. For the first time, ART BALL introduces the all new ELECTRIC EATERY, a lavish space where guests can retreat for some serious winter-warmer feasting. Think braised Harvey beef cheek on mash, buckets of sweet potato fries, a pimped up hot dog stand with premium WA snags, bowls of gooey mac’n’cheese and a self-serve sundae station where guests can go nuts with their own creations after visiting the hot chocolate and affogatto bar.

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NUMBER 9. GENDERMESS
Perth’s own costumed club-kid misfits Gendermess return to ART BALL to slay the stage with their alternative drag and unforgettable stage presence.

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NUMBER 10. THE FINALE
West Australian Opera star Soprano, Pia Harris, will close the night out with a spectacular rendition of Puccini’s famous aria, O Mio Babbino Caro at the stroke of midnight.

Final tickets are on sale now at artball.com.au

ART BALL RAFFLE 

WIN a trip to PARIS

Buy a ticket to this year’s ART BALL Raffle and you could WIN a Business Class trip to Paris courtesy of Singapore Airlines plus a once in a lifetime one day Maison Mumm experience for two people. If a Parisian trip is not your thing, there’s also a fantastic second and third prize up for grabs. 

Tickets are only $50 each. Proceeds from the ART BALL raffle support the Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation, so make a difference and go in the draw to win some truly magnificent prizes!

Wirnan

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Wirnan, Waringarri Aboriginal Arts
By Jan Goongaja Griffiths, Artist, Waringarri Aboriginal Arts

As a group from Waringarri Aboriginal Arts in the East Kimberley, we are proud to present our Wirnan Project as part of the Desert River Sea: Portraits of the Kimberley exhibition.

“Wirnan” is a traditional Miriwoong word that describes the trade and exchange of gifts from one tribe to another. The trade of Wirnan is a way of keeping each of us connected through sharing and most importantly giving each other ideas and making artefacts. Collecting is connecting to our Country to know who we are and our children and how we used to communicate and talk and understand each other’s ways. To respect and understand our Country.

When we began this project, we had the privilege and permission to listen to one of our leaders (who has now passed) talking in Miriwoong language. She spoke about how the four Indigenous tribes came together to a special place, to trade their gifts at Argument Gap.

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Jan Goongaja Griffiths from Waringarri Aboriginal Arts

It took us a while to brainstorm and to draw what Wirnan meant to us. When our map of drawings was finished, we hung it up, sat back and looked at it. We saw that we had drawn similar pictures to express Wirnan of the old and the now. So, we decided to make four coolamons as it was the main artefact used for carrying all sorts of things. Two coolamons, made traditionally from wood and paperbark, to acknowledge our ancestors from the past that walked from different directions to trade their gifts such as spears, boomerangs, spearheads, dances, songs, corroboree, ochre and traditional marriages. And two more coolamons, made with steel and ceramic, to represent our present day with similar trades, but with gifts such as food, blankets, material and money. We laid out many rocks separated in four different colours to represent the tribal boundaries. One of our highlights was going out on Country to collect what we needed for our project, to make it bigger and better, more special and meaningful.

Our Wirnan project needed more to be done, so we added a projector to show video clips and photos old and new of our people and culture. We included artefacts that we’d made with wood and ceramic at our art centre and a fire to represent the traditional dance that took place to celebrate the coming together of the tribes.

Making the Wirnan project was a big challenge for our group, but in the end, we did it. There was heartache and emotions for the dedication of two of our leaders who had recently passed away and our inspiring group who had poured our hearts and soul into this project. We can now stand proud and say that we have accomplished our Wirnan project as one strong cultural group, reminding us of how our tribal groups came together as one big family those many, many years ago.

Thank you to everyone that has made the journey, travelling near, far and wide to the Art Gallery of WA on Noongar Country as one, to share our legacies, to exchange our stories and art in different mediums. Our Wirnan project is all about this, sharing, giving and exchanging.

Desert River Sea: Portraits of the Kimberley is showing at AGWA until 27 May 2019.

Fair Trade in Aboriginal Art

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Courtesy of the artist. Artworks by artists from Kira Kiro Art Centre

 

Of the several million tourists who visit Australia each year, many will leave with what they assume is an authentic souvenir of Aboriginal Australian culture, whether a simple fridge magnet or T-shirt; or hand-crafted didgeridoos and painted boomerangs. Yet in many cases, what they ultimately take home with them is more likely to be an artefact that has been mass produced in China or Indonesia which currently supply up to 80% of so-called Aboriginal art products vended in Australia.

It goes without saying that the enterprise has a far-reaching impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and craftspeople co-opting a highly profitable market that should be theirs to lead and misappropriating cultural and intellectual property.

In economic terms, it is difficult to compete with these counterfeit articles, manufactured from inferior, non-traditional materials and sold at bargain prices. Many of the products bear only a passing resemblance to authentic works and patently misrepresent First Nations cultures, leaving consumers with little to gain from the trade either.

The proliferation of fake art can in part be explained by the fact that this apparently multi-million-dollar market is still free to operate without breaching Australian consumer law. Recent attempts to establish legislation which would protect the cultural and intellectual property of Aboriginal people have gained some traction, but as of 2019 have not reached a conclusion.

In the meantime, certain other frameworks have been established which, whilst not legally defensible, have introduced a greater degree of regulation and transparency to the Indigenous visual arts sector. For example the Indigenous Art Code, developed with a number of national agencies, artists, art centres and galleries in 2010, lays out a code of conduct for artists and dealers operating in the sector. Entered into on a voluntary basis, the Code nonetheless provides consumers and retailers with clear information about products’ origin and licensing. Consumers are encouraged to look for the Indigenous Art Code’s logo, which indicates that standards of fair and ethical trade have been adhered to throughout production. The Art Gallery of Western Australia shop is one retailer that stocks a high number of Aboriginal Art products and as a member of the Code, ensures all stock is ethically sourced. 

“Using the Desert River Sea: Portraits of the Kimberley exhibition as an example, here we have sourced our Aboriginal products on the participating art centres and artists to provide their artworks,” says AGWA Shop Manager, Ida Sorgiovanni.

AGWA Shop Aboriginal Art
Ethically sourced products from the AGWA Shop

In the absence of comprehensive legal changes that would prevent the trade of inauthentic and unlicensed products, growing awareness of the realities of Indigenous art trade have at least allowed many consumers to make more informed choices. As this gradually reaches wider audiences, there is hope that the artists and craftspeople at the heart of this rich visual culture can finally get a better deal for their work.

Things to ask a retailer when buying:

  • Who is the artist?
  • Where are they from?
  • In the case of original (not licensed merchandise product) how do you get the work, do you buy it outright or is it consigned to your gallery? Is this the first time the work has been sold?
  • In the case of merchandise or licensed product (not one off original works) is there a licensing agreement with the artist?
  • How does the artist get paid, what percentage of the total sales price does the artist receive?
  • Any ethical business that values and respects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture will be able to provide you with this information regardless of the monetary value of the work. Insist on it.

Related links

Desert River Sea: Portraits of the Kimberley exhibition

Indigenous Art Code

Desert River Sea project

 

Next Collective Ambassadors making a difference in Western Australian arts

Next Collective Launch, Art Gallery of WEstern Australia, 11th September 2018.
Next Collective Ambassador, Annabel Keogh. Photography by Mac1 Photography.

 

AGWA launched the Next Collective last year – a new group for young professionals who want to make a difference in the arts and have a say in the direction of the beloved State Art Collection. Propelling the group forward are four ambassadors, selected for their contribution and passion for Western Australia arts.

We sat down recently with Next Collective Ambassador Annabel Keogh, a corporate affairs professional, to talk about how she together with other Next Collective Ambassadors; artists, Tarryn Gill and Ian Strange and lawyer, Dr Andrew Lu OAM – is embracing her new role in encouraging more young people to take an interest in the arts and why this is important for the growth of the Western Australian creative community.

Annabel, you’ve been involved with AGWA for a while now. How did you become involved as an Ambassador for Next Collective?

I’ve been involved with the Gallery for a couple of years originally through the Friends of AGWA which was one of the main reasons I was asked to come on board, to look at how to encourage more young people to engage with the Gallery. When the Friends of AGWA dissolved, that’s when I got involved with the Gallery’s Next Collective program.

So, what makes Next Collective differ from any other AGWA membership and/or unique for that matter to any other arts philanthropy program out there?

Next Collective takes your interest in the Gallery to the next level. There’s a gap in the market with people who want to give back and feel connected to institutes like the Gallery but they’re unsure of how to. The average person looks at it and thinks, ‘That’s out of my league’.  The Next Collective is an opportunity to get involved. It’s also different because it’s not a passive membership, which differs from the average philanthropy program. You can be active through this program, have a say in and see where your donations go. I think it’s a more satisfying experience than your average membership opportunities.

As a Next Collective member, what opportunities will you experience?

The opportunities being explored are about connection – meeting new people, not only within the gallery but also throughout the community, and others who love art. I think it’s also the opportunity to peek behind the curtain of what happens at the Gallery. See how it works, which is what most people are interested in. It’s something you often don’t get the chance to do as a member of the general public.

 

Next Collective Launch, Art Gallery of WEstern Australia, 11th September 2018.
Next Collective Launch at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. Photography by Mac1 Photography

This is an unexplored territory for AGWA. How do you see the Gallery benefiting from this new group?

I think the Gallery will be able to connect with a new generation of people who are interested in supporting institutions, and get a broader sense of ‘what is important’ for the community. It’s a great opportunity for the Gallery to reach out and ask what attracts people and what Perth is interested in and tailor their programs for a new group of people that are not the average taste. You get the chance to tap into a different vibe, and a different demographic, and I think that gives AGWA the opportunity to expand and be more innovative and grow in different directions.

Thinking of joining the Next Collective and championing the arts here in Western Australia? Contact our Foundation Office on 9492 6761 or foundation@artgallery.wa.gov.au, or visit our website artgallery.wa.gov.au for more information.

The Next Collective is supported by the Minderoo Foundation.

Bringing two obsessions together in Hyperkulturemia

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Andrew Nicholls on residency in Jingdezhen, China, 2016. Photograph by Nathan Beard.

What was the inspiration behind your upcoming WA Now exhibition, Hyperkulturemia? How did you come up with the idea?

Broadly speaking I’m just generally fascinated by the history of the decorative arts, which has up until recent decades been regarded as a less-significant genre than the ‘fine arts’, and also by the history of Britain during the Eighteenth Century. This project brings those two obsessions together.

More specifically, as a child, I was transfixed by a Spode bone china ‘Blue Italian’ meat platter that hung on the wall of our dining room. It was a wedding gift, given to my parents by my paternal Aunts, and in hindsight, it was probably the nicest object we owned. I remember vividly being four or five years old and just standing and staring at it, and thinking that it was the most beautiful object in the world. Soon after I completed art school the design worked its way into my drawings, and I began to research its history. I quickly came to appreciate how it sits within the history of British decorative arts, and how it very deftly reflects the cultural context in which it was first created.

The design mixes an Italianate landscape with a Chinese border, and therefore reflects British taste during the mid-Eighteenth century when the world was opening up to travel, and Britain was in the midst of a very determined (and ultimately incredibly successful) program of empire-building. Much effort has gone into trying to identify exactly which part of Italy the design depicts, and the general consensus is that it is a composite image by an artist on their Grand Tour of Italy.

This inspired my fascination with the history of the Tour, and its aesthetic and cultural legacies. In 2014 I received a Fellowship from the State Government to travel to Italy on my own ‘Grand Tour’ on a knowingly-impossible mission to try to locate the Roman ruins depicted in the Spode design. This ended up developing into a series of residencies over four years in various iconic locations that were integral destinations on the Eighteenth Century Tourist’s itinerary. This exhibition, Hyperkulturemia, is the outcome of that research.

For readers who are not familiar with it, can you explain what the Grand Tour entailed?

The Grand Tour was literally the beginnings of what we now know as tourism. We take it for granted today that it is a worthwhile and enjoyable pursuit to travel to another country and experience its culture, but three hundred years ago this was a very new idea. The world was a much larger and more hostile place, and international travel was very expensive, time-consuming, and quite dangerous. People would only generally travel for reasons of politics, religion or commerce, or for military service, rather than for pleasure. The Tour changed all of that, for better or worse.

In the Eighteenth century, Britain was actively trying to rebrand itself as a superpower, and the Grand Tour was part of this agenda. The Tour was basically the same idea as the modern ‘gap year’. Young men of noble birth would complete their formal education by travelling through Europe for anything from a few weeks to several years. They would visit various countries but always the endpoint was Italy, in order to view the remnants of classical antiquity (since Britain was modelling itself on the Roman Empire), to appreciate the great masterpieces of the Renaissance (as this era also saw the beginnings of notions of taste), and, during the latter half of the century, to travel to Naples and view Vesuvius (which was erupting at the time) and the recently-discovered ruins of Pompeii, the great scientific discovery of the day (which reflected the Enlightenment interest in geology and archaeology, respectively).

…and so the Tour was all about raising the next generation of great young men to lead

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Andrew Nicholls
The Last Judgement 2016-2018 (detail)
archival ink pen on watercolour paper
12 panels able to be rearranged into two alternate configurations (one panel shown)
76 x 57 cm each
Artbank collection, commissioned 2016
© the artist

Britain into a new golden age, however despite these very stoic intentions, most of the Tourists during the Eighteenth century were incredibly privileged, incredibly young men – the majority were still teenagers – travelling away from their families and aristocratic society for the first time, with vast amounts of money and privilege. Hence, and not surprisingly, for the most part, they behaved utterly appallingly, eating, drinking, partying and seducing their way across continental Europe. Countless Tourists caught venereal diseases, fathered illegitimate children, or gambled away the family fortunes in Venice and ended up locked in debtors’ prison…and so there was this tension that I find completely compelling, between these very noble intentions, and the unleashing of this ribald and previously-repressed desire…and during an era when Britain was engaging with other cultures in an incredibly destructive and problematic way, the Tour represents a more benign cultural phenomenon, so it’s something from my own cultural lineage that I felt I could make work about that didn’t need to grapple with, say, histories of slavery or attempted genocide.

Over time the tradition opened up to aristocratic women as well as young men, then to the upper classes in other British colonies, and eventually to the middle and lower classes via the advent of mass tourism in the nineteenth century. But the Eighteenth Century Tour was the heyday of the tradition, and its influence can still be felt across Britain and its colonies today in everything from the use of Roman columns in civic architecture to the global popularity of pasta and ice cream.

Tell us a bit more about the exhibition title Hyperkulturemia.

Hyperkulturemia is the German word for ‘Stendhal Syndrome’, a mysterious medical condition that allegedly afflicted certain Grand Tourists. It is allegedly a malady that can occur when one encounters great art and becomes overcome, to the extent that one can cry, collapse, or even hallucinate. It has never been officially recognised by the medical profession, I think for good reason, and was much more likely to have been due to the heat and the crowds in the galleries of Florence, plus the fact that most of the Tourists would have been hungover or still drunk, or indeed, actively performing an extreme reaction, in order to demonstrate how sensitive they were too great art. A lot of their reactions were for show – the Eighteenth century was the great age of sensibility and taste, both of which were very new ideas, and very finely drawn, complex concepts, and members of the upper classes were heavily scrutinised by their peers. It was crucial for a young person entering polite society to show that they had refined taste, but there was equal pressure not to appear gauche or that you were trying too hard.

Did you experience it yourself or do you believe it’s more of an imaginary phenomenon?

No. I have on occasion been moved to tears by artworks, though in each case jetlag probably had a bit to do with it, but I don’t believe it’s a legitimate condition. However, I love the idea that an artwork could have such a powerful physically disruptive effect. It’s a really marvellous idea and was the perfect metaphor for this body of work, which explores this unruly masculine desire erupting out of a very sober, noble context. That said, I have made an artwork that once caused someone to throw up, which I still think of as the best review I’ve ever received, but I think that was a one-off.

The composition of each photo appears to be quite elaborate and thought out. How did you go about selecting the locations where the photos were taken? 

The photographs are each staged in sites that were significant destinations on the classic Tour itinerary, including Piazza del Popolo (the entrance to Rome during the Grand Tour era), Hadrian’s Villa and Villa Gregoriana in Tivoli, sites surrounding the Via Appia Antica in Rome, and Vesuvius and the ruins of Pompeii outside Napoli…and there are numerous other photographs that didn’t make it into this particular show in other Tour locations. I tried to select sites that were truly iconic in relation to the Tour but were less-obvious than, say, the Colosseum or the Roman Forum. This was to try to avoid ending up with a group of works that looked like postcards but was also a pragmatic decision as I wanted to include a lot of male nudity, and so I had to find sites where this could be achieved. My wonderful friend and model David Charles Collins became adept at surreptitiously stripping off and running into frame so I could get the shot, then running back out of shot and getting dressed again in a matter of seconds. Doing this in a major tourist site like Pompeii was particularly challenging, but also a lot of fun. It was more difficult with the Large Format photographs, as this isn’t a process that can be rushed. The first image we shot on Large Format was at the Nymphaeum of Egeria in Rome at around 5.00 am. The site is located in a public park and David had to lurk in an ancient archway and run into shot in the brief moments of privacy between the scores of joggers and cyclists passing by.

What do you hope viewers will take away from the exhibition?

I hope that people enjoy the work. It’s quite an unfashionable kind of exhibition, very elaborate and idiosyncratic, and very self-indulgent, but everything in the show draws upon a particular historical aesthetic. As with all my work this exhibition is trying to trick people into reading it a particular way, so I hope that at least some viewers are able to look past the nudity and consider the aesthetic lineages I’m referencing. If people can recognise echoes of the Tour in contemporary culture I will be very pleased.

 

WA Now Artist Talk with Andrew Nicholls
9 March, 11am-12pm | FREE

Hear from artist Andrew Nicholls for an insight into his artistic practice and his WA Now Hyperkulturemia exhibition.

 

 

Meet the judges of Black Swan Prize for Portraiture 2018

Mark your calendar for October 27 as we celebrate our third year of exhibiting the finalists selected for the prestigious Black Swan Prize for Portraiture.

The Black Swan Prize for Portraiture (BSPP) is an art award that proudly supports some of Australia’s most talented portraiture artists. This year’s 40 selected finalists are in the running for $70,000 worth of prizes—including the main $50,000 Lester Group Prize, $10,000 Toni Fini Foundation Artist Prize, the $7,500 Baldock Family People’s Choice Award and two Highly Commended $500 gift vouchers from Oxlades Art Supplies.

Works selected showcase a sense of authenticity and intimacy with the subject, and representation of self. With many amazing portraiture pieces to choose from we decided to catch up with this year’s judges Mathew Lyn, renowned artist and fifteen-times finalist of the Archibald Prize, Joanna Gilmour, Curator of the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, and the Director of AGWA Dr Stefano Carboni, on what they are looking for when it comes to selecting the winning piece.

Mathew Lynn

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As a judge of the BSPP 2018, what elements and characteristics of portraiture should emerging artists think about when creating a work for selection?

Contrary to what people might think, my appreciation and analysis of portraiture is not ‘realism-centric’ at all. Rules can be true except when they’re not! So I stay completely open, favouring no hierarchy of approaches or subjects for that matter. For me (as an artist and viewer) everything gets back to the authenticity of experience and intent, and simply whether a work has a convincing reason to exist.

I look for original intuitive insight and the articulation of a deep and mysterious personal vision of another person, and that can arrive in any way at all. I look at the success (or not) or transference and translation of that vision with materials. I look and ‘listen’ for the many levels and messages within a work, especially the ones that run counter to the artist’s conscious intent (although I am not against ‘idea’). In this sense, it is primarily important to simply be yourself, as we can never really control our work or what is actually says to viewers anyway.

Does the story behind the portrait play an important role when judging a work?

I’m not at all interested in fixed ‘ideas’ or a descriptive narrative about someone. A person, while definitely out there in the world, is ultimately a work of our imaginations, and therefore there are infinite possible versions of a subject, at least as many as there are people in the world. The great ‘shock’ of the presence of another person in the deepest sense reminds us, even disturbs us regarding the actual fluid and elusive nature of our own selves. So yes, to the extent that it’s nice to know, or may confirm something we arrived at intuitively, but not in that it is only the very surface of a mysterious experience!

Lyn’s portraits can be found in major institutions, including the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra and Government House in Sydney. He is also a registered artist for the Historic Memorials Committee on the Australia Council for the Arts. Since 2014 he has been an Artist Trustee for the Kedumba Trust and the Kedumba Collection of Australian Drawings.

Joanna Gilmour

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As the curator of the National Portrait Gallery, what do you think are the most exciting and challenging aspects of your role?

One of the beauties of the National Portrait Gallery is that it is quite distinct from other art museums, and our collection-building and interpretive approach is one which incorporates a number of disciplines and perspectives—biography and social history in particular, as well as art history and visual analysis. Much like an archaeologist can draw a broader, richer historical picture from the characteristics of seemingly mundane or simple object, we create an understanding of the characteristics of a portrait (materials, style, date and place of making) and help convey the story of the person represented in it. As an NPG curator, I am constantly challenged and stimulated to use the collection in such a way that Australian history is conveyed in all its nuances and complexity.

When selecting a finalist for a portraiture prize, what is the most important quality it should have?

 My main rule of thumb when selecting a finalist for a portraiture prize—or when considering a portrait for the collection, for that matter—is to look for the quality or strength of the connection between the artist and the sitter. The most successful portraits, I think, are generally those wherein the sense of the transaction between the artist and his or her subject is most palpable: a palpable effort on the part of the artist to reveal something of the sitter, and on the part of the sitter to reveal something of themselves.

 Does the story behind the portrait play an important role when judging a work?

Most certainly it does, especially in the case of historical portraits, which is my personal area of interest and expertise.

 What is your favourite portrait in the National Portrait Gallery and why?

Just as the NPG is a hybrid institution, I am a hybrid curator—and having a background in Australian colonial history I am always most drawn to the colonial-era works in the collection. It is hard to pin down just one favourite, but having been doing a lot of research about the 1850s recently I am going to say that my favourite work in the collection at present is Charles Henry Theodore Costantini’s George and Jemima Billet and family (c.1852). The combination of artist, sitters and the work itself makes it incredibly rich as an artefact, and by teasing out the stories contained within this seemingly ephemeral and supposedly naïve little work one gleans so much more than it’s possible to learn from a grander, more technically accomplished portrait. But then again maybe it’s Edmund Edgar’s Portrait of Richard Fitzgerald (c.1838), or Maria Caroline Brownrigg’s An Evening at Yarra Cottage, Port Stephens (1857) or even William Buelow Gould’s Mr John Eason (1838) – all for exactly the same reasons!

As the curator of the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, Joanna Gilmour has substantial experience with works of portraiture. She has previously judged for the National Photographic Portraiture Prize in both 2010 and 2017.

Her exhibitions and publications for the NPG include Husbands & Wives (2010); Indecent Exposure: Annette Kellerman (2011); Elegance in Exile: portrait drawings from colonial Australia (2012); Sideshow Alley: infamy, the macabre & the portrait (2015); the online exhibition Jo’s Mo Show (2011); and the upcoming Carte-o-mania! (2018).

Dr Stefano Carboni

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Dr Stefano Carboni is the Director of the Art Gallery of Western Australia and has been working there for over a decade. His previous experience includes Curator and Administrator in the Department of Islamic Art at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1992 to 2008 and Visiting Professor at the Bard Graduate Center in New York. He is also Adjunct Professor at the University of Western Australia.

What makes a portrait stand out to you? As a judge for the BSPP, what characteristics and elements of portraiture are you looking for?

When you judge a number of works at the same time, what you look for are a number of different things: the technique, the quality of the technique, the presentation of the work and the composition. But this is not enough to decide which one is the best. It’s those works that really talk to you, that speak to you and have some kind of emotional impact that are the ones you naturally gravitate to. So I think it’s a combination of the technical skills, the artistic skills and the artists’ ability to convey an emotion that really helps you focus on the last two or three works that end up being your favourites.

Judging is also a team effort. The way I usually prefer to judge is that we initially go our own way, take notes and come up with a shortlist of each judge’s favourite work. Then we sit down and hopefully there will be some overlap so the discussion can be concentrated on those works that each judge likes. It’s really about standing in front of a work together and looking at why it is collectively a favourite.

Does the story behind the portrait play an important role when judging the work?

Absolutely! There is an artist statement that explains a little bit about the background of the portrait and it’s important that the judge reads that statement. It’s the connection the painter has with the sitter, and I think it creates a stronger emotional impact if you personally know the sitter and know a little bit about his or her story.

Is there a particular style of portraiture that you prefer?

No, but I think that I’m attracted to new ways people deal with portraiture. While certainly, I appreciate the more traditional way of applying pigment or making lines, I remember last year there were a couple of portraits that were unrelated to the actual physical person or likeness of the person but they were very strong.

The Black Swan Prize for Portraiture opens the 27 October 2018 at AGWA.

 

Image credit:

Guy Grey-Smith Horseshoe Range 1958-1961 (detail). Oil on muslin over hardboard, 126 x 250cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased 1961. © Susanna Grey-Smith and Mark Grey-Smith