Seductive talents

Diana Klaosen

Three major group shows recently highlighted the healthy state of contemporary Tasmanian art practice. The local artists on display (one exhibition also had an interstate contingent) gave a good overview of the state’s current artistic trends.

Body Bag showed at The Carnegie, Hobart Council’s contemporary art space. The participants, from the dynamic Letitia Street studios, were asked by curator Malcom Bywaters to utilise the body as a metaphor for island. While it is doubtful that all 10 of the exhibitors entirely addressed this theme, varied and engaging work resulted and the participants are among the state’s best emerging artists.

Neil Haddon’s resolutely geometric painting, Slip No 2, with its skewed perspective, effectively uses high gloss household enamel on aluminium. However, it requires an anecdote in the catalogue essay to fit the work into the curatorial theme. Colin Langridge, a talented designer and sculptor of some sophistication, reverts to a style of sculpture that is figurative, yet almost primitive in execution. His work depicts a human vertebra. Richard Wastell, arguably one of Tasmania’s most important younger painters, offers a striking, large 4-panelled oil of a forest view with quasi-realistic elements and a kind of trompe l’oeil in play throughout. Sally Rees makes interesting use of video projection and Matt Warren’s video and sound installation is minimal and compelling.

At the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, the new Director of Contemporary Art Services Tasmania, Michael Edwards, curated Group Material. This was a show with potential, despite the scant dimensions of the TMAG’s new gallery space. Too many of the works had also been exhibited previously.

Group Material showcased the work of 6 important artists: Ben Booth, Neil Haddon, Anthony Johnson, Anna Phillips, Lucia Usmiani and Kit Wise. All are currently, or were recently Hobart-based. All incorporate everyday items or substances in their art-making. Appropriating and recontextualising these materials, the artists extend the discourse between art and consumer culture.

Standout exhibits include Anna Phillips’ 2 works featuring solidified shampoo, bathwater and colouring. One is a seductive gold blob, plinth-mounted; the other 3 replicated aqua towels, hanging on bathroom rails and again made from Phillips’ tactile and seductive shampoo mix. Lucia Usmiani’s wall and floor piece comprised silver-coloured bases of hundreds of soft-drink cans, overlapping like the patterning of fish scales. Usmiani is a dedicated practitioner of tremendous originality and the sheer beauty and ingenuity of this work made it a real crowd-pleaser.

The other exhibition recently curated by Malcom Bywaters at the School of Art’s Plimsoll Gallery features some very exciting work by artists with Tasmanian connections as well as interstate practitioners. I’m not sure why it was entitled Boogy, Jive & Bop, as the exhibition did not seem to address any of these, though the work was undeniably ‘hip.’ Moreover, the catalogue, via artists’ interviews, made extensive reference to September 11, an event not mirrored in the works. Perhaps the catalogue was intended as an ‘add-on’, or even a kind of discrete exhibit in itself, reminding us that art-making persists even in the face of the worst disasters.

Among some very stimulating pieces, Jane Burton’s Type C photographs, The Other Side, depict glowing, deserted telephone boxes at night with an eerie surreality. Stone Lee was born in Taiwan and now lives in Launceston. His 3 strange assemblages are fascinating in their simultaneous identifiability and recontextualisation of materials. All entitled Everydayness, they utilise acrylic media, newspaper and found objects. Danielle Thompson created some highly seductive and beautiful lightjet photographic prints full of abstract movement and lush colour. Shaun Wilson is an engaging artist and his hypnotic video My Sweet Mnemonic Wonderland also uses vibrant colour and slow, contemplative movement. This talented artist’s work provides a good foil, both in medium and style, to the other pieces in Boogy, Jive and Bop.

Given that these are some of Tasmania’s newest artists, it was heartening to see the intelligence, talent and originality on display in all 3 shows. On a related note, the work of Megan Keating, melding pop culture and an obsession with military symbolism, features in Body Bag and constitutes the first show at Hobart’s newest commercial exhibition space, Criterion Gallery in the CBD. With its sound artistic ideals this will be a venue to watch.

Body Bag: Somewhere Over the Rainbow, curator Malcolm Bywaters, Carnegie Gallery, March 18-April 18; Boogy, Jive & Bop, curator Malcolm Bywaters, Plimsoll Gallery, March 5-28; Group Material, curator Michael Edwards, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, March 18-May 2

RealTime issue #61 June-July 2004 pg. 41

© Diana Klaosen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2004