Featuring Sonja Barford, Kress Beecher, Rosalind Lemoh, Owen Lewis, Fiona Little, Madeleine and Amy Nguyen. At one time, set amongst the cottage gardens, creaky floorboards and palpable history of the Gorman Arts Centre, studio residents of the Canberra Contemporary Art Space are pushing boundaries and forging new histories in artistic practice. This coming together of the very very old and the very very new is not unusual in the arts, yet is rare in the creative landscape of Canberra. In a young city obsessed with cleanliness, modernity and order, it is a rare thing for buildings to survive at all, let alone be handed over to creative industry. Built in 1924 as a hostel for a new, young workforce, Gorman House is today a creative hub and crux of the Canberra arts community. CCAS has claim on three studios within the complex, and each year shares them between a formidable group of emerging talents in the form of the Studio Residents Program.
From essay by Yolande Norris.
Image: installation view, 2008.
The Rat and The Octopus, which shares its name with a traditional Tongan folkloric tale, takes a step towards the convergence of past and present. Memories of this story were revived when Tupou discovered a book given to him in childhood by his grandparents on their return from a visit to Tonga. The work uses and repeats images from stories once passed down from generation to generation via the traditions of story telling - stories that are now kept alive through indirect means such as lost books. There is a very clear sense of loss in The Rat and The Octopus, of removal and distance in regards to the legacies of culture. Tapa, the Tahitian word for the bark cloth common to Polynesian and Melanesian societies, form the basis of nearly all Samuel Tupou's works as he uses its familiar designs to explore the chasms between traditional Tongan customs and life in the fast lane of the information super highway. Visually backgrounded and conceptually foregrounded, tapa provides a constant through which Tupou contrasts and attempts to reconcile aspects of his Tongan heritage with his experience of Australia today. He is isolated by a lack of knowledge in the language and traditional customs of Tonga and feels that through works such as these, disassembled heritage can be reassembled.
Image: Samuel Tupou, detail of The Rat and The Octopus, 2007.
Image: John Conomos, 2009.
Featuring Tony Albert, Daniel Boyd, Andrea Fisher, Helen Johnson, Jonathan Jones and Reko Rennie. The interrogative practices of the artists in I Forget to Forget serve to both expose and assist in the recovery from the cultural and racial problems that continue to unsettle contemporary Australia. Creating works of art that resonate with cultural memory, the artists critically reflect on history and how it configures the present. These creative excursions into the past demonstrate a determination to remember and a devotional struggle to bear witness, The mantra-like exhibition title re-affirms this personal commitment. Their creative explorations into personal and collective memory rehearse the rhetoric of healing and contribute to it. Implicated in a debate not of their own making , the artists inscribe themselves and the viewer into a process of self-involvement. It is only through this process that we can continue to short-circuit and recover from our nation's arrested development.
From essay by Stephen Gilchrist
Image: Tony Albert, exotic OTHER, 2009.
Image: Lucy Quinn, installation view of video still, 2009.
Image: Alex Boynes, 2009.
Someone's left the water running. In the bath, the sink, the toilet too. The bathroom is flooded. So much so it threatens to set adrift, the floor pitching with a sickening tilt. Beneath a single lightbulb in a darkened corner a domestic bathroom is exposed as a victim of its own incapacity. Come alive by mysterious means, or perhaps as the result of human carelessness, this familiar, homely scene is now threatening and distorted. Tidiness, order and safety are lost as the self-made sanctuary of the home is thrown into chaos. In a nation where water is a rare commodity, this dramatic outpouring smacks of decadence. Water, with its dual power to give life and take it away, is ultimately one of nature's most uncontrollable forces. Here the bathroom, that symbol of modernity and feat of human engineering, is overcome, unable to manage the torrents surging through it. It is as though this human system has been reclaimed by nature, reverting to the organic forms it emulates: the river, the waterfall. We have appropriated nature and, in turn, it appropriates us. A piece of suburbia transformed into a wild landscape. On the fringe and in the darkness a canary keeps a lonely watch, his tiny figure dutifully monitoring the danger of our situation. His persistent, joyful song is in direct contrast to his fragility and disposability, bringing to mind all small creatures who are matters for the human cause. Two maps presented on the wall offer similar comfort, these deep expanses, Indian Blue #2 and Pacific Blue #2 are in fact meticulous representations of the open sea. To map the oceans seems an attempt to order the inorderable, a well-intentioned yet futile task, yet for all their seeming absurdity, the regimented grid lines offer clarity and consolation. To a traveller lost they become a whispered promise of survival, a suggestion that there are those who have gone before. The maps, as romanticised objects, conjure idealistic notions of exploration and survival, of conquering the unknown. As much as it may represent our shortcomings, the bathroom floats in precarious balance; a fragile offer of survival against the present catastrophe. It is at once our hope and our undoing.
Essay by Yolande Norris.
Image: Nicholas Folland, installation detail, 2009.
"Deadman Monologue is an adaptation of Nikolai Gogol's short story The Portrait of 1842. In this work a man describes himself entering the room and laying down on his bed. Settling in under the sheets he begins to bemoan the world. Then, with a surly attitude, the deadman tells the awful tale of his ruin. As he narrates the tale of the cursed portrait and the moral dilemmas of being a painter, his absurdist invective unveils the misappropriation of art under capitalism."
Image: Lily Hibberd, installation detail, 2009.
Since the earliest days of white settlement in Australia, the landscape represented hardship and mystery, fear and awe. With no regard for the existence Indigenous Australians had taken over 40 000 years to perfect, the settlers saw a wilderness to be dominated and "civilised", an awful distance to be reconciled, and a misguided hope of replicating something of the old country they'd left behind. Modern times find little changed. The built environments of metropolitan Australia offer a promise of safety and security - the "easy life". The citizen, sealed within his air-conditioned high rise apartment, is oblivious to the realities of his own vulnerability in what remains our most awkward relationship with one of the world's most unforgiving environments. The city is an illusion of triumph and a symbol of dominance, yet Mother Nature is ever-present, strange and unpredictable. Boderlife explores this uneasy association, highlighting an endless struggle for dominance over nature and the struggle for life within it.
from Yolande Norris' essay. Borderline features the work of Julia Boyd, Rachael Freeman, Rose Montebello, Tess Stewart-Moore, and r e a.
Image: installation view, 2009; photograph by Brenton McGeachie.
"The works mine the hard, masculine language and stereotypes of truckin’ culture, juxtaposed against the shiny feminine fineries and scrollwork that lavishly adorn these highway giants. It is through the naming and personalizing of their machines with names like ‘Foxy Lady’ and ‘Steel Cowboy’ that the staunch trucker expresses his presence, or often a theatrical opposing persona, with his truck’s appearance and dressage. Wallwork takes a sincere yet satirical approach to the worship of these Prime Movers with detailed pin striping, cheeky badges, lustrous chrome and hand painted customized identities. Interiors too become sumptuously upholstered throne rooms, providing a home away from home and allowing the trucker to loftily observe his automotive subjects or entice them back into the inner sanctum. The trucker is the king and the machine is his queen. The highways are their kingdom. We are all mere jesters!"
Image: Daniel Wallwork, 2009, installation view.