'Poems are like sentences that have taken their clothes off.' Marlene Dumas' poetic and sensual refrain accompanies her figurative watercolours on view in Possibilities for a Non-Alienated Life, the fourth edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) in the southern state of Kerala, India (12 December 2018–29 March 2019).Dumas' new series...
The paintings of Ellen Altfest are ethereal in their detail. Fields of minutiae come together as pulsating images; small brushstrokes of oil paint accumulate over a series of months to single out seemingly innocuous subjects, such as a hand resting atop patterned fabric (The Hand, 2011) or a deep green cactus reaching upwards from beneath a bed of...
On the rooftop of the former Rio Hotel complex in Colombo, it was hard to ignore the high-rise buildings, still under construction, blocking all but a sliver of what used to be an open view over Slave Island, once an island on Beira Lake that housed slaves in the 19th century, and now a downtown suburb. The hotel was set alight during the...
Vincent Namatjira, Welcome to Indulkana (2018). Synthetic polymer paint on linen. 122 x 304 cm. Exhibition view: Lightness of Spirit is the Measure of Happiness, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne (7 July–16 September 2018). Courtesy the artist; Iwantja Arts, Indulkana and This is No Fantasy + Dianne Tanzer Gallery, Melbourne. Photo: Andrew Curtis.Back to Reports
Born in 1985 in Amman, Jordan, Lawrence Abu Hamdan is an artist and fellow at the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at the New School, New York. With a background in DIY music, Abu Hamdan's practice is centred on sound and its intersection with politics, and takes on a variety of forms—including performance, graphic work, audiovisual installations, photography, essays and lectures. The artist received his PhD from Goldsmiths, University of London in 2017, which involved a series of forensic audio investigations that were conducted as part of his research for Forensic Architecture.
In 2012, Abu Hamdan created the audio documentary The Freedom of Speech Itself (2012), which spotlighted the UK's controversial use of voice analysis in order to determine the origins and authenticity of asylum seeker's accents, which resulted in a number of wrongful deportations. The 30 minute video is composed of a series of testimonies from lawyers, phonetic experts, asylum seekers and Home Office officials that highlight the geopolitics of accents as well as the act of listening. The work has also been exhibited as a sound installation alongside sculptural compositions of voiceprints, whose undulating, cartographic forms bind together the notions of voice and territory. Made from acoustically absorbent foam, the sculptures illustrate the frequency and amplitude of two different voices saying 'you'.
As part of his PhD research, the artist—alongside Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture—worked with survivors' of Sayndaya prison in Syria to construct the architecture of the prison through earwitness testimonies. This research was incorporated into a sound and light box installation commissioned by the 13th Sharjah Biennial, titled Saydnaya (the missing 19db) (2017). The light box illustrates that the whispers of inmates became four times lower since the beginning of the 2011 protests. This decrease is visually illustrated in the light box, along with two different voice levels demonstrating the level of whispers before and after 2011 and a third, normal conversational voice to illustrate the stark disappearance of voice over time as a direct consequence of violence and suppression. A sound piece was also played back from a dimly-lit mixing desk/sound board whose volume controls reacted autonomously according to the voices heard in the room.
The artist received the 2018 Abraaj Group Art Prize for his commissioned piece, Walled Unwalled. Projected onto a glass plate, behind another sheet of holographic foil, the work presents a series of narratives of legal cases that were constructed from evidence collected 'through walls'. In a 2018 Ocula Conversation with Mohammad Salemy, Abu Hamdan discusses the work explaining that he is 'after the condition that is depicted through the stories that are heard or experienced through walls; most explicitly through digital walls, or in terms of surveillance, when the film or camera is used to see, particularly in the context of a prison.'
In 2017, Abu Hamdan's work Rubber Coated Steel (2016) won the short film award at the Rotterdam International Film festival. His exhibition Earshot at Portikus Frankfurt (2016) was the recipient of the 2016 Nam June Paik Award. Solo exhibitions include Hammer Museum L.A. (2018), Kunsthalle St Gallen (2015), Beirut in Cairo (2013) and The Showroom in London (2012).
With humour and wit, Vincent Namatjira explores the complex issues of colonial history and its living consequences on Aboriginal Australians in his bold and dramatised portraits.
Born in Alice Springs, Namatjira was sent to live with foster families as a child when his mother passed away in a car accident. After finishing high school, he returned to Hermannsburg to join his extended family and began reconnecting with his Western Aranda heritage. Painting, which he picked up in 2011, became one way of exploring his family history, and his humorous portraits of historical figures garnered attention in 2014 when the Queensland Art Gallery purchased all of the works presented in a solo exhibition at Marshall Arts, Adelaide (now Galerie Zadra).
Painting with broad strokes in acrylic, Namatjira often exaggerates the physical features or expressions of his subjects to create portraits that appear to dilute the seriousness of history, distilling the power dynamics of the historical moment with his use of humour. Recurring characters include Captain James Cook, members of the British royal family, and politicians, many of whom appear in the series of paintings Namatjira submitted in Sydney Contemporary 2017 to show with THIS IS NO FANTASY dianne tanzer + nicola stein. Standing in groups of two or three, the historical and contemporary figures are rendered with oversized heads or slanted faces, such as the stern-looking Barack Obama and Donald Trump in Mr Obama and Mr Trump (2017). Namatjira also frequently inserts himself in his works; in Captain Cook with the Queen and Me (2017), the artist's broad smile and informal gesture—with arms thrown over the shoulders of the other two on his sides—contrast with the rather surprised faces and stiffly hunched backs of the Captain and the Queen. In an interview with Ocula in 2016, Namatjira explained that he is drawn to figures of power because of their seeming disconnection from the more remote parts of the world such as the Aboriginal community in which he lives. Yet, as leaders and decision makers, their impact has been and continues to be felt internationally. By distorting his subjects in the manner of a caricaturist, Namatjira lifts the figures of power from their zones of influence and strips them of dominance traditionally accorded to them.
Another pivotal figure who frequents Namatjira's paintings is his great-grandfather Albert Namatjira, the celebrated watercolour painter, who was the first Aboriginal person to be granted restricted Australian citizenship in 1957. Albert has been an inspiration for the artist since the onset of his career; in a 2018 interview with Ocula, he observed that his great-grandfather's contribution to their country made him determined to find his own path, 'and not follow anybody else's'. Namatjira has dedicated several works to the elder Namatjira, notably Rex Batterbee and Albert Namatjira (2018), which pictures the two significant Australian watercolourists and close friends side by side before a vast landscape that they painted. In 2018, Namatjira was a finalist for the prestigious Alice Art Prize for this painting. The series of paintings purchased by the Queensland Art Gallery in 2014 also included depictions of his great-grandfather.
Working from his studio Iwantja Arts at Indulkana in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, South Australia, Namatjira is equally devoted to addressing Australia's colonial history and its ongoing consequences as well as celebrating Aboriginal communities in his paintings. For the TarraWarra Biennial 2016: Endless Circulation, for example, he created a series of portraits of the seven prime ministers who had served during his lifetime and whose policies determined the lives of Aboriginal Australians. Between 11 November 2018 and 3 February 2019, Namatjira participated in the group exhibition Weapons for the Soldier at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery, which attempted to shed light on the forgotten stories of Indigenous men who fought for their land. He presented a six-panel work, painted on army materials, each depicting an anonymous Aboriginal soldiers. Namatjira also honoured Aboriginal celebrities and leaders in the series 'Legends', included in his solo show Legends at THIS IS NO FANTASY dianne tanzer + nicola stein in Melbourne in the summer of 2018, which showed portraits of singers Archie Roach and Gordon Bennett, political activist Eddie Mabo, and footballer Nicky Winmar, among others.
Namatjira has exhibited internationally, including at the 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (2018-2019); Art Basel in Miami Beach (2018); Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia (2017); the 10th Mildura Palimpsest Biennale (2015); and the British Museum, London (2015). His works are also in the collections of the British Museum; Queensland Art Gallery; Flinders University Art Museum; and Artbank.
In Indonesian New Zealander artist Sriwhana practice, language, sound, and bodies function as both subject matter and medium. While Spong's earlier work examined histories of the so-called East through the lens of Euro-American exoticisation, her later sculptures, films, and performances have focused on the body and its relationship to history, place, and time, drawing the artist into the orbit of women she refers to as 'mystic writers'.
The ephemeral nature of dance and performance has been Spong's longest-standing interest. Comprising her 2012 Walters Prize finalist work Fanta Silver and Song, the films Costume for a Mourner and Lethe-wards reimagine a lost choreography originally performed by the Ballets Russes—a Paris-based dance company active in the early 20th century. For the sculpture The Stranger's House (2012), Spong returned to the Ballets Russes as subject matter, this time remaking a failed theatrical backdrop designed by Australian modernist painter Sidney Nolan for the original production of Icare—an act described by the artist as 'breaking-and-entering' into the legacy of a canonical white male artist. For her film Fourth Notebook (2015), Spong created a choreographic score from the rhythm of words in a letter written by the celebrated Polish-Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky as his mental condition deteriorated from schizophrenia.
In 2015, Spong began a series of furniture-based works bearing the initials of peers and women of influence in her life, including mystics, artists, and collaborators. Inspired by American artist-poet Florine Stettheimer's Portrait of Marcel Duchamp and Rrose Sélavy (1923), which bears the initials 'MD' around the frame's edge, Spong created VS!MF!TB! (2015)—a set of tables intended as a gift for their namesake to later to work on.
From 2016, Spong has created percussive instruments as part of an expanding 'personal orchestra'. Drawing from the Balinese Gamelan and the tradition in which each village has its own tuning system for producing uniquely pitched instruments, the artist creates records of place and the people with whom she collaborates (Like the above-mentioned furniture series, each instrument is named for someone). Instrument D (Vera)—a set of chimes made from aluminium cast French fries—pairs with Costume for Instrument D (Vera)—a silk dress dyed in Coca Cola and patterned with vegetable oil. Both draw on the use of common food items in Balinese culture as daily offerings, transforming everyday foods into mediums of contact with the sacred. So does Villa America (2012)—a brightly-coloured silk banner dyed in Fanta and one in a series of banners inspired by American musician and writer Ian F Svenonius' 2006 essay 'The bloody latte: Vampirism as mass movement'. The essay is a historical account of beverages and their circulation as acts of colonial bloodsucking, but Spong's dyed silk banners and dresses are more than unalloyed reproaches of colonisation and global capitalism as homogenising forces; the works consider the power of collective experience by acknowledging these consumed substances' effect as at once toxic and joyous.
Over recent years, Spong's practice has been informed by a constellation of women mystic writers and creators. These include Margery Kempe (c 1373-c 1440)—the Christian mystic believed to have written the first autobiography in the English language, who is the subject of Spong's film This Creature (2016). Similarly, the Lingua Ignota (unknown language) of Hildegard von Bingen—the 12th century German polymath—becomes the locus of Spong's meditation on the female body's relationship to language, writing, and notions of the sacred in her film a hook but no fish (2017). The structure of her recent films—moving across time and place—is inspired by these medieval mystics. Her writing, as it appears in her most recent films, slips between fiction and non-fiction, reflecting Spong's upbringing in New Zealand removed from Indonesian culture, where parts of her Balinese heritage 'had to be fictionalised and imagined in order to exist, to take up space, to speak'.
Her work has been included in solo and group presentations at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth (2018); Pump House Gallery, London (2018); KADIST, San Francisco (2018); Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore (2016); daadgalerie, Berlin (2016); Carriageworks, Sydney (2015); The Jewish Museum, New York (2015); Art Basel Hong Kong (2014); Art Gallery of New South Wales (2013); Guangdong Times Museum (2013); and the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012).
Spong currently lives and works in London.
Samson Young's practice centres upon an attempt to re-present and re-interpret lost or overlooked events of socio-political and personal significance. Formally trained in philosophy and composition, Young approaches complex questions of identity and conflict, without imposing solutions or halting productive dialogue. The composer and sound artist's process is deeply invested in rigorous, historically grounded research that often involves Young gathering 'sound sketches' and recordings that eventually make their way into his multimedia works.
Young has produced a new video and 12-channel sound installation, as part of his ongoing series 'Muted Situations', 2014-ongoing, on view as part of the 21st Biennale of Sydney. The series foregrounds the masked or unobserved moments that take place in our everyday experience. By consciously 'muting' the sonic foreground, the less-commonly noticed layers are revealed. Young has written a series of short instructional texts describing hypothetical situations, a few of which he has already staged, to draw attention to unnoticed sounds. Numbered from one to twenty-two, this expanding set of scenarios range from 'Muted Dance Party', 'Muted Non-Violent Protest' to 'Muted Taoist Funeral Ritual of Hell-breaking'.
In the latest iteration of the ongoing project, Muted Situation #22: Muted Tchaikovsky's 5th, 2018, Young invites the Flora Sinfonie Orchester in Cologne to perform Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony in its entirety. The orchestra, however, has been asked to 'mute' the musical notes, suppressing the pitched foreground layer of the composition, and bringing forth the sounds produced by physical actions in a performance - the musicians' focused breath, the turning of pages, or the clicking noises of the instruments' keys.
On the process of muting, Young writes: '... muting is not the same as doing nothing. Rather, the act of muting is an intensely focused re-imagination and re-construction of the auditory. It involves the conscious suppression of dominant voices, as a way to uncover the unheard and the marginalised, or to make apparent certain assumptions about hearing and sounding.' The process has the effect of disrupting the viewer's expectations; when the piercing shriek of a violin fails to come forth, it feels anticlimactic, ridiculous even. Young's situational experiments reveal what is suppressed, enabling us to become aware of another layer of reality underneath the noise.
Tolarno Galleries has been at the cutting edge of contemporary Australian art for many years. Four artists have represented Australia at the Venice Biennale and the exhibition program attracts the attention of collectors, curators and critics from around the globe.
‘Currency is the common denominator for all artists represented by Tolarno Galleries,’ Max McLean wrote in 2002. ‘Not currency in the fiscal sense – although Tolarno is a commercial gallery, and a highly successful one at that – but currency understood more in the sense of an electric charge, of contemporaneity, and of cultural and intellectual exchange.’
With a reputation for showing fresh (often young) artists, it may come as some surprise to recent visitors to know that Tolarno Galleries was established in 1967. It has shown some of Australia’s – and the world’s – best known artists, from Bonnard to Sol Le Wit and Jeff Koons.
Benjamin Armstrong made his Tolarno debut in 2008 and was lauded by critic Sebastian Smee as "the most dazzling show of the new gallery season... among the strangest, most beguiling works of art produced in Australia in the past 10 years."
Significant recognition followed swiftly thereafter, with invitations to show as part of NEW 09 at ACCA and New Acquisitions at Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2009); Adelaide Biennial (2010); Melbourne Now at National Gallery of Victoria (2013) and Biennale of Sydney (2014).
International galleries also beckoned, with showings in Rome, Beijing, Gwangju and New York. Acquisitions came from the British Museum, London, Monash University Museum of Art, University of Queensland Art Museum, Queensland Art Gallery, MCA Sydney, Art Gallery of South Australia and Art Gallery of Western Australia.
Just this year, Armstrong's 2008 linocut series The shape of things to come was included in and inspired the title of the inaugural exhibition at the newly opened Buxton Contemporary in Melbourne. So it is with great anticipation that Benjamin Armstrong returns with his first solo exhibition since the sculpture and drawings included in Conjurers at Tolarno in 2012.
Invisible Stories: Meditations on Port Essington is Armstrong's new series of linocut prints - an intense, complex and highly nuanced sequence of imagery. The work relates to the Australian historian and multi-award winning author Mark McKenna's book From the Edge: Australia's Lost Histories (2016). McKenna's book explores the central drama of Australian history: the encounter between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.
From this account Armstrong's imagination lit up with visions of scenes that began to take hold...
Invasion is Cook's most ambitious project to date — a full year in production, with a cast and crew to rival a small film, and a subliminal text that speaks to a narrative shape distinct from the usual storyline. What is notable about an initial encounter with this series of eight images is their chorus of detail and ironic look back, with tongue firmly in cheek, to B-grade movies of the past.
The aesthetic of the 1960s is beautifully captured, down to the muted London light, grainy skies, heightened drama, tweed suits and mini-skirts. In each image, the many (human) protagonists encounter a group of invading aliens but our focus remains with the larger, overwhelming and dominant threat; people do not command the scene. Attention is shared over each element of photographic compositions that appear painterly in their layering and visual rhythms. Unreality is an intrinsic part of Cook's concept.
In Invasion multiple versions of the subject populate generic London city locations: a subway, a telephone box, the Thames riverside, Somerset House and city streets. Cook's images challenge our ingrained belief systems, yet do not offer judgement. 'I was never taught Aboriginal history at school, only about the European settlement of Australia.'
In the sestercentennial anniversary year of the commencement of the voyage on HMS Endeavour by the artist's namesake, Lieutenant James Cook RN, Michael Cook's Invasion turns the Indigenous gaze to create white people as the 'other' — to allow the insights possible from slipping into another culture's shoes. Given current global unrest, this narrative has broad relevance. Its aesthetic layering and double-edged resonances, along with the pleasure of its humour, have created a story with disarming charm and compelling visual power.
Michael Cook is considered to be one of Australia's most exciting contemporary artists. In 2016 a sellout solo exhibition of his work was exhibited at Art Basel Hong Kong.
His work is currently on exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in Colony: Frontier Wars and was recently show at the Musee d'ethnographie de Geneve, Switzerland; National Gallery of Singapore; AAMU Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art, The Netherlands; and Taba Naba at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco. Exhibitions in 2015 included Personal Structures - Crossing Borders at Palazzo Mora during the 56th Venice Biennale; Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilization at The British Museum, London. His photographic series Majority Rule was the stand out success of the 19th Biennale of Sydney: You Imagine What You Desire, 2014. Cook's photographs were exhibited in the 7th Triennial of Contemporary Art at Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, 2013.
Michael Lett opened in 2003. The gallery's focus has been on engaged, distinctive practices of both emerging and established artists making new work based (for the most part) within the Australasian region. The gallery represents a core group of artists and practitioners, however the program is also opened to allow opportunities for other artists (including those from Europe and America) on a project basis. In May 2014 Michael Lett moved to a new location. The gallery has two floors of exhibition space and is located in an elegant building, formerly a private bank, built in 1928 in Auckland’s central city.
Gallery hours are Tuesday - Friday, 11am - 6pm and Saturday, 11am - 3pm.
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