Bridging almost a century of Brazilian art, Visions of Brazil: Reimagining Modernity from Tarsila to Sonia at Blum & Poe in New York (30 April–22 June 2019), hosted in collaboration with Mendes Wood DM, offers a rereading of Brazilian Modernism through the works of artists practising at different times, from the 20th century through to the...
In 1969, Horikawa Michio, schoolteacher and member of the artist collective GUN (Group Ultra Niigata), filled out the customs paperwork to mail a one-kilogram river stone from Niigata, the proverbial 'backside of Japan', to President Nixon. In return, Horikawa received a thank you note for this 'most unusual Christmas gift'—a muted anti-war...
'He was not a "political" kind of person. He just wanted to be honest and straight. But it was not easy in Korea to live like that,' writes curator Kim Inhye on artist Yun Hyong-keun. For much of his life, Yun lived in proximity to some of the most tumultuous moments in modern Korean history, from which he emerged as a pioneer of abstract...
Justene Williams, Big City Big Hat (2011). DVD still. Image via Frieze.
If there was an award for Best Australian Exhibition of 2010 That Too Few People Saw, I would give it to Justene Williams's four-room extravaganza at Penrith Regional Gallery, a good hour from central Sydney.
Interested in the supernatural, mysticism and shamanism, Justene Williams believes that art is magic. Through the Australian artist's videos, performances, photographs, installations and sculptures—which are also informed by history and wider cultural systems such as religion, rituals and mythology—Williams offers an inquiry into the lifespan of histories, objects and beliefs.
Williams first gained recognition in the 1990s as a photographer, a practice that stemmed from her experiences of working in retail shops where she took quick snapshots of shopping malls with disposable cameras. Later, her projects expanded to include car shows, strip clubs and other scenes of suburban Australian life. Williams also extensively utilised staged settings such as in ‘Bunny Boy’ (1997), a series of 13 photographs of a man who poses before a red backdrop. Dressed up in a bunny outfit that is more commonly associated with a feminised sexual trope, the male model’s cheerful, cartoon-like makeup contrasts with his downcast expression and slumped posture—his arms crossed over his chest as if in self-protection—hinting at the precarious state of his masculinity and his apparent acceptance of its fate. The works produced during this period are marked by their blurring, distortion and intentionally lo-fi aesthetic, which was characteristic of several artists working at that time in Sydney.
Upon moving to Boston in 2005, Williams discovered that her lack of a green card meant that she could not work but could devote her time entirely to art-making. Working on an almost non-existent budget, she gradually shifted from still photography to constructing costumes out of discarded materials and performing impromptu in them before a camera. Bighead Garbageface Guards Ghost Derr Sonata (2008)—one such work created in her basement in Boston—is a six-channel black-and-white video installation inspired by the Swiss nightclub Cabaret Voltaire, which was a key location of avantgarde performances, poetry readings and music concerts in 1916. Williams often references the works of Dada artists associated with the nightclub in her videos; in one film, she plasters herself in found photographs and other paper materials akin to Kurt Schwitters’ Merz collages and constructions. In another, she performs in a geometric and segmented outfit reminiscent of Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s puppets designed for Cabaret Voltaire.
Williams’ reinvigoration of salvaged objects and the works of early 20th-century avantgarde artists have come to define her practice. In her video installation Crutch Dance (2011), 12 second-hand television monitors show the artist running on a found treadmill, then dancing on crutches in a room where the walls are covered in red, yellow, white and black triangular patterns. She wears a cardboard costume in a corresponding design, the colours of which recall the geometric compositions by Piet Mondrian that were inspired by dance and movement (such as Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942–3). By staging Mondrian’s paintings as moving sculptures, Williams playfully challenges the domination of early abstract art by male artists. Similarly, the dancers’ clothing in the live performance A Metal Cry (first presented at The National: New Australian Art at Carriageworks, Sydney, 2017) was derived from Italian Futurist Fortunato Depero’s costume designs for an unrealised performance in 1916. Dressing her dancers in costumes with accordions or chimes sewn into them that made noise as the performers moved, Williams turned their bodies into instruments in an exploration of the production of sound.
Mannequins have been integral to Williams’ practice for some time; she uses them in performances as props, often in a futile attempt to bring them to life. For her 2018 solo exhibition Project Dead Empathy at Sarah Cottier Gallery in Sydney, she replaced dancers with fibreglass mannequins with absurdly long body parts or limbs arranged in comical poses. One mannequin titled Concord (2018), for example, flaunts its elongated left leg. Another stands upside-down on a chair (Communion, 2018), while all but one of them wear virtual reality glasses as if engrossed in an otherwise invisible, exclusive play.
Graduating with a BVA from Western Sydney University in 1991, Williams received her MVA from Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney, in 2006. Selected solo exhibitions include No Mind, No Disco, Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, Adelaide (2016); The Curtain Breathed Deeply, Artspace Sydney (2014); and Handbag Hammer Meditation, La Centrale Galerie Powerhouse, Montreal (2013). Williams’ work has also featured in a number of group exhibitions, notably the 20th Biennale of Sydney (2016), for which she collaborated with the Sydney Chamber Opera to restage the 1913 Russian Futurist opera Victory Over the Sun; Pleasure & Reality, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2015); Performa 15, New York (2015); and Right Here Right Now, Penrith Regional Gallery (2015).
Williams lives and works in Brisbane.
Justene Williams was on the road to Sydney when we first spoke ahead of her solo exhibition, Project Dead Empathy, at Sarah Cottier Gallery. The back of the car was full with the stuff that comprises her anarchic installations, and I imagined over-long mannequin arms stretching around headrests as we spoke.
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Over the past six years, young Melbourne artist Esther Stewart has established herself as one of Australia's most collectible and celebrated contemporary artists. Her distinctive paintings utilise bold geometry and impossibly precise lines, and often reference contemporary architecture and design.We recently caught up with Esther, ahead of her...
Navigating a major art fair can seem a bit daunting if you're not a pro, and this year's Melbourne Art Fair is jam-packed. There are 40 galleries showing work across venues in Southbank from August 2 to 5, with leading contemporary artists from Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia.So we got the art fair's director Maree Di Pasquale to pick...
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