For those visiting during Art Basel in Hong Kong (29–31 March 2019), the smell of fresh paint may still be in the air at the latest heritage conservation project, The Mills, which opened on 16 March to encompass the Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textiles (CHAT), joining the ranks with ex-prison complex Tai Kwun, along with Eaton HK—a retro...
Firenze Lai says that she knows her studio of a few hundred square feet intimately; from the textures of its surfaces to the way the breeze blows into the room. The spaces depicted in her paintings are equally intimate. When curators seem to be at a loss for words to discuss troubled times, fear of containment, and the feeling of being completely...
In Meiro Koizumi's three-channel video installation, The Angels of Testimony (2019), the central frame features an interview with Hajime Kondo about his time as a solider of the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The conversation centres on war crimes perpetrated in China, including the beheading of Chinese prisoners for...
Justene Williams talks about her new work for The National 2017: New Australian Art.
Carriageworks, Art Gallery of NSW and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia present Nicholson's new work at the first edition of this six-year biennial.
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’ practices working at the same 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 served as a place for 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 fiberglass 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 discusses her diverse arts practice and giving new life to found objects. See Pleasure & Reality at NGV Australia. Free.
'I want the viewer to try to take it all in - it's one performance across many screens.'Handmade sets, costumes and a collection of CRT TVs are the foundation of Justene Williams' video installation 'Crutch Dance' (2011). The artist wanted to draw attention to the prevalence of screens in our lives and how we are 'bombarded with images and...
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