The Canberra visual arts scene in 2017 once again could be characterised by a superfluity of exhibitions but a superfluity that was exemplified by richness, depth and an accompanying thematic and aesthetic diversity that made the visitor experience always an exciting, difficult and sometimes beautiful confrontation.
My role here is to single out those artists whose exhibitions I reviewed that struck a particular chord with me, and that I believe will continue to do so. Canberra Contemporary Art Space (CCAS) exhibition program continues to excite, provoke and deliver cutting-edge (don't you hate this expression!) exhibitions that not only provide proof of the necessity of organisations such as this to continue, but reinforce the "DUH" factor of the preceding.
Claudia Chaseling, Akimbo, 2015, in HYPERActive at Canberra Contemporary Art Space Gorman Arts Centre Photo: Supplied
David Broker, CCAS Director, curated HYPERactive.
As often with Broker, the curatorial premise was intellectually incisive.
The elision/division between experienced reality and the re-creation of that reality was the starting point.
The choice of individual artists was purposefully didactic, and in their combination visually and conceptually challenging.
Artists included Cathy Laudenbach, Claudia Chaseling, Jay Kochel and Bianca Beetson.
The works ranged across a number of media including photography, painting, sculpture and video, and each iteration provided provocative and sometimes powerfully beautiful visual statements. A stunner!
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Nicci Haynes, Sonic Pencils, 2016-17, in Ex Machina at Gorman Arts Centre. Photo: Supplied
Ex Machina, curated by CCAS program manager Alexander Boynes, showcased a number of artists and although I found weaknesses in both the choice of artists and in the exhibition's ostensible premise and the actualising of that, I really enjoyed the work of a number of artists selected. Prime among these for me was the work of Nicci Haynes (no relation). She is an artist who is full of innovation and original ways of approaching medium and subject, these being strongly showcased here. Other artists demanded active viewer participation often questioning the challenges innate in the complex relationships between technology and use. Brian McNamara's and Pia van Gelder's works exemplify this.PhotoAccess continues to offer a stimulating program that questions the photographic medium in all its manifestations in ways that I find stimulating and provocative. It is difficult to eliminate a number of exhibitions from my Top Five but I will take the liberty of mentioning two that I found too compelling to omit. These are Ioulia Terizis's Quanta and Kate Disher-Quill's Right Hear, Right Now.
Pia Johnson, Family Resemblance, after Wittgenstein #8, 2015/16 in Chinese Whispers and Other Stories at Photoaccess Photo: Supplied
But my "favourites" at PhotoAccess were Chinese Whispers and Other Stories curated by Pia Johnson, and Dylan Smith's A Construct.
The former showcased the work of four female artists of Chinese heritage living in Australia.
Its theme of "cultural identity, migration and belonging in Australia today" holds particular resonance and the selected works were beautiful, evocative and in their questioning of the theme, conceptually and intellectually enticing.
It was broadly about the coexistence of multiple identities within our society. Janelle Low's Reconcile series exemplified this.
She used images of her body.
These were faceless and incomplete, states that intimated a "disconnect" between artist, place and viewer.
Low also showed exquisitely composed still-life images that spoke of "a" fusion of the East and the West.
Tammy Law's evocative pieces used images of a suburban Australian landscape superimposed with images of Myanmar to underscore the poignancy of the "displaced", a further reference to the "disconnect" of the exhibition's theme.
Dylan Smith, Wallsend in A Construct at PhotoAccess. Photo: Supplied
Dylan Smith's A Construct was a multi-layered exposition on notions of artifice and reality; on what is "real" and what isn't; on what do we actually "see" when we look at an image. It offered a sophisticated take both visually and intellectually.
I liked the interrogative thrust and the manner of visualising that thrust was particularly apposite. Smith's notion of what is original was obviously pertinent when looking at (reproducible) photographs and his intellectual edginess clothed in (often) seductive images held great appeal for me.
Heidi Strachan, Buncheongbottle, 2017, in Part of the Process at Form.
At Form Studio and Gallery, its final exhibitions of 2017, Part of the Process and Dross combined four highly individual aesthetic languages.
In the former the three artists – Julie Pennington, Jo Searle and Heidi Strachan – demonstrate three very different ways of dealing with the ceramic medium.
Each is a skilled and adept maker with a deep understanding of their medium that allied with finely honed visual languages and choice of thematic subject-matter, produced three beautifully nuanced bodies of work.
Curatorially the exhibition transcended its parts (whilst nevertheless simultaneously celebrating them) and demonstrated a sophisticated embracing of the relationships within each artist's practice and within these practices combined within the gallery space.
I spoke of the space as an aesthetic corollary to the works and I would like to reinforce that here again.
The exhibition was truly an inclusive and embracing aesthetic experience.
Kirrily Humphries' Dross was simply beautiful.
The seven works were meditative spaces that spoke thematically of the private and the universal, and aesthetically of the controlled and the expressive.
Each was exquisitely nuanced and in combination provided an overall "place" for contemplation, memory and beauty. Congratulations to Form for bringing these four artists together.
All galleries in the ACT (funded and otherwise) continue to spoil the visitor with choice, range and variety. We are lucky to be so visually blessed. While I spoke of "superfluity" above, it is a "superfluity" that I for one would not miss. Bring on 2018.
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