ARTLOOK #15 | September 2005
Photo Glen Clarke, American Crater Near Hanoi #2 2005 (detail), Vietnamese and US currency, cotton thread, wood, 180 x 300 x 300cm. The artist wishes to acknowledge the generous support of the Australia Council through its New Work Project Grants
COLUMN: VISUAL ART
July saw the opening of the National Sculpture Prize 2005, which is held biannually at the National Gallery of Australia. Curated by Elena Taylor, the exhibition is both sophisticated and bold. The materiality of the individual works confidently open up with subtle, poetic, and complex engagements, revealing the artists' fascination with myriad ideas on contemporary art and culture.
Glen Clarke, the 2005 Prize winner, writes of 'bomb craters being politically charged spaces', when describing his winning work, American Crater Near Hanoi# 2. Clarke's work obliquely explores Australia's involvement with Vietnam. It is a graceful work that visually contrasts with the historic source material Clarke has drawn from. As he says, 'It is an engagement with memories of political events that shaped Australia in the 1970s.'
Many of the works in the Sculpture Prize are visually engulfing. Bert Flugleman has created Caryatid Minotaur, a shimmering work representing a hypothetical entry point to a city, which looks as if it has been lifted from a scene in the film Logan's Run. The installation of the work, a stainless steel arch form at the entry to the Prize, is a clever reference to the siting of public sculptures specifically created for new buildings in Australia in the 1960-70s.
Fred Fisher's Tilt also pays a witty homage to the past. This work immediately brings to mind the best of Bridget Riley's optical paintings of the 1960s, and even elements of Damien Hirst's early spot paintings from 1994, which prefigured his installation works. Tilt appears to dissolve and shimmer like an optical mirage.
Simeon Nelson's beautiful Wall Zip is created from plywood and begins to engulf the wall it's sited on. Wall Zip reminds me of creeping weeds, or of punctuation marks taken from some skewed piece of writing. Nelson writes of the work as 'a wrinkle in space that deforms the wall.'
Mikala Dwyer's Selving appears ghost-like, yet the textures of the work are tough and elegant. Constructed from plastic and mirror perspex, the crinkled and ruptured form looks like the shell, or the remains, of a failed science experiment.
James Angus's Manta Ray is an exquisite, blindingly white, fibreglass sculpture of a ray. Angus makes the point that the ray is 'obscure but familiar', and this creature of the deep appears in a state of suspended animation, marooned and floating above the surface of the Gallery floor. Nicole Byrne's Repetition is a visually playful work that, like Angus's, references issues pertinent to the natural environment of the sea; in this instance dying coral. A paper construction, it appears to be a group of oddly formed, giant sea anemones, or even tree fungi that has been removed from an alien planet.
Damiano Bertoli's Continuous Moment is an interpretation of Caspar David Friedrich's The Sea of Ice (c.1823–25), in three dimensions. Last year I saw Continuous Moments at Australian Culture Now 2004, at the National Gallery of Victoria. The DIY Home Improvement impact of the work was enhanced on this second viewing. Continuous Moment has a poetic, and, intentionally, unfinished quality to it that is visually absorbing.
Finally, Hany Armanious's Turns in Arabba is an unusual ensemble of objects reminiscent of TV's I Dream of Genie. The soundtrack to the work, an ABBA song played with Arabic instrumentation, is darkly humorous. Armanious slyly comments on playful fantasies that Western culture still harbours, along with more apocalyptic ones, about the Arabic world. All said, this is a lively, refreshing and alluring show, which does not lapse into curatorial taste.
Never Upstaged Ever Again is the title of Stuart Bailey's installation currently exhibited at Canberra Museum and Art Gallery (CMAG). Bailey has recently left Canberra to work in Los Angeles as a result of an award from the Australia Council. This current work reflects a passionate interest and conceptual engagement with popular culture. The installation of large-scale painted polystyrene figures and heads are, from Bailey's description, 'drunken self-absorbed teenagers', and have a misleading and seemingly casual quality to their construction. This is to make the viewer question these 'bodies that litter the space.' A small set of screen prints and a wall painting began as ideas initially sourced from the internet, magazines, music, and Bailey's own darkly droll observations.
Peter Maloney is both the metaphoric subject and object of the collages in his exhibition, Gone Tomorrow, at CMAG. Maloney, a lecturer at the Australian National University School of Art, uses images of himself to create a cosmos of photographic collages, random and yet highly considered. In the paintings displayed the connections between the photographic works ripple with less tangible questions. These works have a physicality to them, and shed light on Maloney's working process. Maloney states that the show 'explores issues that are both social and personal'.
ROZALIND DRUMMOND is an artist and Phd Candidate at ANU School of Art.