pacific australia, south-west sydney

news from islands at campbelltown arts centre

Rising Sea Level, Guan Wei

Rising Sea Level, Guan Wei

Rising Sea Level, Guan Wei

CAMPBELLTOWN ART CENTRE’S NEWS FROM ISLANDS IS AN EXHIBITION OF A SCALE RARELY SEEN OUTSIDE OF AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL CITIES AND IS EVIDENCE NOT ONLY OF THE BURGEONING ARTS SCENE IN WESTERN SYDNEY BUT OF THE WISE INVESTMENT BY NSW STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS IN MULTI-PURPOSE ARTS CENTRES IN THE REGION. A WONDERFUL OPENING EVENT COMBINED AN ABORIGINAL SMOKING CEREMONY, TRADITIONAL DANCE AND CONTEMPORARY AUDIO-VISUAL SPECTACLE, ALONG WITH A PREVIEW OF AN ENGAGING, IMMERSIVE EXHIBITION OF 20 ARTWORKS IN THE CENTRE’S GALLERY SPACES, INCLUDING NEW WORKS AND COMMISSIONS.

As we arrived we witnessed New Zealand born Michel Tuffery’s massive projection mix, First Contact, onto the facade of the centre juxtaposing traditional South Pacific performances, from found silent film footage, and their contemporary equivalents. Tuffery’s dynamic vision was melded with iconic patterns and a modern oscilloscopic wave, evoking both ocean and new technology. It seemed to aptly match one of the key questions Aaron Seeto posed in his curator’s statement: “How are ideas of ‘locality’ reinvented within…larger social and geopolitical frameworks which swirl around us like water surrounding islands.”

The large opening night crowd comprised local and visiting artists from around New South Wales and the western Pacific rim along with Campbelltown residents, many of them part of the huge South Pacific diaspora living in the region. There was a palpable sense of occasion and celebration with the smoking ceremony conducted by Uncle Ivan Wellington segueing into Mayor Mollie Thomas’ speech to launch News from Islands.
Echoes of Polynesia dancers

Echoes of Polynesia dancers

Haka director Paraone Taitin and members of the South West Youth Peer Education program presented the Haka Peruperu (part of Reuben Paterson’s new work Te Puu Oa: the first step in the history of walking). More welcoming came in the form of a spoken and sung Maori powhiri, with the female participants displaying powerful voices. Traditional dance from the Campbelltown-based Cook Islander group, Echoes of Polynesia, successive groups of children, adolescents and adults, was performed with grace and vigour in brightly coloured costumes and high, feathered headdresses. It was here that we saw and felt the full effect of Tuffery’s First Contact as images of the live performers mingled with their forbears.
 The Boat (2001), Dacchi Dang

The Boat (2001), Dacchi Dang

Inside the centre Aaron Seeto has presented works both traditional (exquisitely crafted clothing, shields, bags) and contemporary (photography, video, traditional clothing wittily reworked with modern synthetics, and a range of installations). The large scale walk-in installations (see the photographs on this page) by Guan Wei (a painted oceanscape room with cultural and political dimensions) and Dacchi Dang (a fabric walled refugee boat gathering images from the past) are particularly engaging, while Simryn Gill offers Magrittean wit and Michael Mel provocation in the video of his performance, Am I Black or White (Mel performed another work in person on the next day). It’s a very satisfying exhibition, constantly intriguing both from work to work and in its overall cultural perspective, with contributions by artists from Samoa, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, New Zealand and Australia.

Thirteen of the artists have been in-residence during the program, there have been artist and curator talks, a related Campbelltown Community Project and there’s an invaluable, handsomely designed accompanying 120-page book of essays and interviews edited by Claire Armstrong.

News from Islands runs to almost the end of October, offering an opportunity to visit Sydney’s south-west to see an impressive exhibition at an innovative regional gallery now making its mark on the Australian cultural landscape. RT

News from Islands, curator Aaron Seeto, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sept 1-Oct 28

RealTime issue #81 Oct-Nov 2007 pg. 4

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2007