Photography was not always the immediate, disposable medium it is today. In her first solo exhibition, BEYOND THE LAUGHING SKY, photographer Natalie Azzopardi presents a series of works that explore the photographic tradition prior to the digital age. The exhibition at the Huw Davies Gallery, PhotoAccess, Manuka, draws on the artist’s imagination to offer another way of thinking about photography.
Azzopardi describes Beyond the Laughing Sky as a “cabinet of curiosities” that brings to life the imagined world of a child. This refers to the unclassified natural science objects, oriental artefacts and other treasures amassed by European collectors from the 17th to 19th centuries. Through referencing the past, the works reflect the photographer’s interest in “the way people used to interact with photography”. This refers to the fact that it was once an expensive and laborious medium that was reserved for significant subject matter. Like her previous work, the exhibition showcases images with a nostalgic quality that confronts what the photographer sees as “the over-saturation of photography in society”, which has meant that the medium “is not revered in the way it once was”.
A central theme of the exhibition is the interplay of two-dimensional photographs and three-dimensional objects. Each photograph depicts an object encased in its own glass dome, which were each hand-blown by glass artist Madeline Prowd. The objects, although of little monetary value, have personal significance for Azzopardi, all being things she owns. The photographs will be displayed alongside a range of objects that have a similar meaning for the artist. When asked why she did not photograph this second group of trinkets, Azzopardi comments that “some things don’t resonate in a photograph in the way they do in the flesh”.
The working process behind each photograph in Beyond the Laughing Sky matches its nostalgic theme. The images have been hand-coloured, an old fashioned technique the artist has “always wanted to try out”. Azzopardi only coloured the objects protected under the glass domes, and intentionally left the rest of the image in its original black and white state. By doing so, the object assumes the status of an artefact, like items contained in curiosity cabinets or the modern day museum. To achieve this effect, she used a light tent and artificial lighting to cultivate a nostalgic and unnatural environment.
It is refreshing to see the work of an artist who not only respects the photographic tradition, but engages with it to present an imaginative reflection on how she once saw the world. The exhibition is sure to encourage audiences to reflect on their own childhood imagination and how photography has the potential to bring it to life.
Beyond the Laughing Sky opens at 6pm on Thursday December 8 at the Huw Davies Gallery, PhotoAccess, Manuka, and continues until Sunday January 29.
Print is everywhere – books, newspapers, magazines (like this fine one you’re reading), posters, stamps, fingerprints, shoe-prints. Three artists exhibiting at CCAS Gorman House this summer prove how exciting and experimental print can be when they exploit its everyday, pop culture pervasion.
Alison Alder uses screen-printing to make large-scale video projections about nuclear activity in Australia, pushing print into another dimension. Alder is the Artistic Director and CEO of Megalo Print Studio and Gallery, an organisation that really puts Canberra on the map as a print powerhouse. She has been making political posters since the 1980s, but her work in Dirty Water also references vintage magazines and postcards, and old films. As well as the video projections, this exhibition includes a series of poster-sized prints based on old magazine covers, with the titles Fall Out and Half Life.
Rather than using print to develop his work, Clem Baker-Finch uses found print as a starting point. For Self Titled he takes clippings from covers of trashy magazines and uses a computer program he devised to weave text into the image. The results are undeniably humorous, but also a little unsettling. Baker-Finch’s large digital prints boldly point out our trust in photography and print journalism, even of the tabloid variety. They also illustrate the extremely tragic nature of celebrity, writ large with text from the articles the cover image refers to, and also more highbrow tragedies such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet and The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf.
U.K. Frederick engages with print differently again, printing directly from found objects: old vinyl records. In the tiny concentric grooves of the record, white paper between the black lines, we can see where the music has been stamped into the vinyl. We can also see all the scratches and irregularities that have occurred over the life of the record, proof that someone has bought, played and loved it. In Frederick’s exhibition Lament, you will be able to not only see the prints of the records, but also hear music digitised from the same records. In the small Cube space, it is a complete experience that may take you to a different time and place, via powerfully moving rock songs from artists who were taken from the world too soon.
The different ways these three artists engage with print makes their work very fascinating and very contemporary. Print lends itself to work that has a strong sense of process and experimentation, leading to surprising results. Interesting things also happen when media collides, and print works brilliantly with video, photography and the found object in these three exhibitions. Print may be everywhere, but these big, bold exhibitions will take it and you somewhere else.
View the three abovementioned exhibitions at CCAS Gorman House. Opening 6pm Friday December 9, continuing until Saturday February 11. Annika Harding is the Gallery Administrator at Canberra Contemporary Art Space, and a freelance writer.
IMPRESSIONS: PAINTING LIGHT AND LIFE, portraits from 1885 to 1915, is on now at the National Portrait Gallery. The exhibition captures a distinct mood in Australian art history where reality and imagination intersected. A conversation with Dr Sarah Engledow, curator of the show and historian at the NPG, began by mulling over contemporary artist Ben Quilty’s remarks on the opening night. “Not so long ago he would have thought that a show like this was very uncool,” Sarah says. “It was a shock to him to realise how much you miss out on by dividing the world into cool and uncool.”
As Quilty complimented the work of artists such as Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts, George Lambert and Dorothy Sutherland, who were contemporaries of their day, just like he is of today, Sarah adds, what we should look for in anyone’s work is the “humanity of the exchange between sitter, portrait artist and viewer”.
I have to agree. The show abides by the idea that by making art the perfect expression of one time and one place, it becomes for all time and of all places, originally proposed by painter Tom Roberts. Timelessness is especially evoked in Reflections, 1898, pastel on paper, by A. Henry Fullwood. Years apart, the viewer and artist have observed this figure marching over a glossy wet street, finding splendour in the ordinary. The simplicity of the subject in The sisters, 1904, by Hugh Ramsay, oil on canvas on hardboard, is effective. The sisters seem to stare out bored with our attention. Not far from this work is a portrait of a woman; light blankets her in Sunlight effect, c.1889, by E. Phillips Fox, oil on canvas.
Striving for sincerity the works that take pleasure in their execution over a laboured narrative, such as A summer morning tiff, 1886, by Roberts, oil on canvas, offer an immediately jarring but honest depiction of ‘a sunburnt country’. Swept up in a dusty wind Girolamo Nerli’s subject whirrs static through the canvas, presenting a fleeting but sensual pause for thought in Portrait, c.1890, oil on canvas.
Seemingly random events, rather than a tightly controlled scene, piece together as a tableau of modern life. Engledow explains, “I guess, for me, one of the nice things about this show is its interconnectedness. It doesn’t set out to present any curatorial or art trajectory or commonality except a commonality of experience. The most moving thing to me is just how important they thought modes of representation were.”
Even though Impressions may seem like a soft touch, the rebellion needed to paint in such a breakaway style is an approach that finds parallels through to contemporary art. It has a lasting impression, you could say.
In a few days the National Gallery of Australia will pull back the curtain on Renaissance 15th & 16th Century Italian Paintings from the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo,an exhibition of over 70 works of art created more than 500 years ago picturing the early to high Renaissance of northern and central Italy. The paintings and altarpieces have never travelled outside Europe and resurrect an epoch of rapid social, intellectual and artistic growth. From 1400 to 1600 artists symbiotically depicted culture, religion and hierarchy with a turn of hand which was unprecedented.
The golden age of creativity was inspired by esoteric knowledge but managed to combine, with flair, philosophy, science, whimsy and succulent imagery. This accounts for why the visual arts became a cross-pollinating field where artists were not shy of perspective, colour or symbolism. All of the above is found in Birth of Mary c.1502-1504, oil on canvas by Vittore Carpaccio – take note of the checked floor drawing our eye back to other rooms, receding ceiling beams, shelving, internal steps and a wealth of shadowy folds in their costume. A host of characters, including a pair of rabbits, retell the narrative. Other hallmark elements of the period come together in Sandro Botticelli’s The story of Virginia the Roman c.1500, tempera and gold on wood panel. Aesthetically cast as an ode to the classical period the drama within the work floats the idea that art was political and politics was artful.
I spoke with Simeran Maxwell, of Exhibitions, who assisted in bringing the show together. “It’s not a complex story we are trying to tell,” she says. “It’s beautiful work from a collection which is so far away.” What impact does she feel the show might have on a techno-savvy, secular or younger audience? Simeran answers, “We now have iPads and that may be what goes down in history as the groundbreaking contribution of the 21st century (I hope not, but maybe) and in these beautiful works viewers can trace a series of important artistic and technological changes. We are not necessarily looking for reverence… there is a special experience that you have with these works.”
The Renaissance emerged from the Gothic era. With the benefit of hindsight, shifts in ways of thinking run with changes in art itself. First to go was the excess of the “glitz and glamour of Gothic gold and flat colour – but it was not entirely lost,” says Simeran. Neroccio de’ Landi’s Madonna and Child c.1470-1475 is saturated in gold and can also be a starting point to think about the changing face of the Christ child and Madonna, changes of Benjamin Button proportions!
Closer to the Gothic period, Christ’s face has the qualities of adult and child. He is held at an objective distance, foreboding his fate of death and resurrection. Titian’s Madonna and Child in a landscape c.1507, oil on wood panel, is a move towards the high Renaissance. We find Christ represented as fresh, sweet and blissfully unaware of what is to come as he plays with his mother. This was a consequence of Humanism. Humanism combines a religious rhetoric with the attitude that Roman and Greek antiquity was a style that, although inimitable, should be the foundation for the progress of art.
Early Renaissance works did not commonly depict the lives of your average person despite being promised to impact upon them. Move along from 15th to 16th century works and you will notice that citizens are included in the later images, for example Moroni’s Portrait of a child of the house of Redetti c.1570, oil on canvas, Melone’s Portrait of a Gentleman and Cavazzola’s Portrait of a lady. Cavazzola and Melone’s work highlight how the ideas of the Renaissance also became a language of representation.
Cavazzola realistically paints the fall of fabric, depth of field and places the lady’s hands over a ledge, a gesture of space. In the gentleman’s portrait we see a detailed landscape that includes a sub-scene of smaller figures, a hilltop home, and trees swaying in what appears to be an encroaching storm.
In these portraits the artist was able to encode a thin biography of a patron or even put forward an authorial comment. “Symbolism was huge in the Renaissance; an apple was never just an apple,” Simeran explains. This is uniquely echoed in Carlo Crivelli’s Madonna and Child c.1482-1483, tempera and gold on wood panel. Ripe and healthful fruits surround the pair, as well as a cucumber that was a common signifier of the Resurrection.
It goes without saying that Christianity was a cultural driving force. Religious images were intended to be instructive tools for worship, encouraging contemplation. Although sometimes didactic, the images were not designed for passive consumption (unlike our pop icons of today). Hinting at their demise is the tender but solemn expression shared in Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna and Child(Alzano Madonna) c.1488, oil on wood panel. And in Saint Sebastian c.1501-1502, oil and gold on wood panel by Raphael, the Saint is painted holding the arrow used in his torture.
The ascendancy of the Renaissance was the focus on human concerns and value of man as an agent for change. While there is no carbon copy of the world they created, the Italian stratified, self-conscious and politically diverse culture can mirror the way we revere 21st century global icons and entangle religion, wealth and power.
Looking for a little reprise from the craziness of this time of year? SWEET DREAMS may well be the antidote you’re after. Combining sublime singing with magical puppeteering, it is a show designed to take you off to a dreamland, “a new world where nothing is obvious or literal and things appear and disappear in front of you,” the show’s Artistic Director, Roland Peelman, tells me.
Sweet Dreams sees The Song Company, Australia’s finest a cappella vocal ensemble, joining forces with acclaimed shadow puppeteer Stephen Mushin, whose work you might recognise from the music video for Lior’s I’ll Forget You from a few years ago. Together they create a show that “connects music, art and singing,” explains Roland. The Song Company is a Sydney-based group of six fulltime, professional singers led by Roland whose repertoire covers all kinds of music from the very contemporary to the very old; from songs just penned, to songs that were written in the tenth century.
Collaborations are not new for the group; they are always on the lookout for artists “to explore the possibilities of singing with,” Roland explains. But puppeteering is new to them. “It’s been quite stressful,” admits Roland. What I hadn’t quite realised when I began chatting with him is that the singers actually get involved in the puppeteering themselves. “Yeah, that’s the whole idea, a real collaboration,” exclaims Roland. “It’s not just the singers standing out front with Stephen doing all the work behind!” Sure enough, when I re-read the media release it talks about the singers manipulating the puppets and becoming the shadows themselves, whilst singing – quite a feat in multitasking I would imagine! And it seems they have also been involved in making the puppets, designing the show and developing the story – hence the stress! But after two years the show has emerged bit by bit and Roland assures me they are now “cooking with gas!”
Roland describes the music selected to accompany this visual spectacular “as evocative songs with an emotional undercurrent. It is music that transports you to a different place.” To help you on your journey songs have been chosen from around the world including Maori, Mandarin, English, Russian, Aboriginal and Spanish songs.
A show using puppets that invokes imagination and dreams could easily be categorised as a kids show. Certainly Sweet Dreams is designed to “delight children and the child within us all,” says Roland, but rather than being a kids show (it’s definitely not The Wiggles) think of it more as having meditative qualities to help you re-discover your inner child, and really what better gift can you give yourself than that for Christmas?
Sweet Dreams is playing at The Street Theatre on Saturday December 10 at 6pm. Tickets are available through the venue’s website.
In March this year Canberrans trundling through Civic were privy to something a little different happening around the city centre: ART. The old Dick Smith shopfront in the bus interchange was the hub of activity (rebranded as SmithDick), but events were happening everywhere – in disused shopfronts as well as at established locales like Smiths, Lonsdale St Roasters, The Street, and the CTC. There were performances, dance jams, exhibitions, weirdnesses without name – all happening as part of YOU ARE HERE, a multi-arts festival funded for three years in the lead up to the Centenary of Canberra in 2013.
Last year’s festival was co-curated by Yolande Norris, independent curator and a co-director of TINA’s Critical Animals this year, and Boho Interactive’s David Finnigan. For the 2012 You Are Here, Norris is back, this time with Mr Fibby frontman Hadley as co-curator. Finnigan, fresh from a stint at the UK’s Battersea Arts Centre, moves behind the scenes as a festival producer.
The three of them have, as Hadley says, “a lot of shared experience” but, as three people under 30, also haven’t had time for their brains to ossify. Which means that what you can expect from You Are Here is a bunch of interesting stuff, presented in locations and at times that maybe you wouldn’t have thought were ‘right’ for art, because essentially, You Are Here is about making arts and culture accessible.
The 2011 festival was a blast. The theatre component – in particular Max Barker’s piece Tom, Bob and Me and Tom Doig’s Selling Ice To the Remains of the Eskimos – was compelling, and thrilling to see in the dimly lit caverns of SmithDick. It was this part that was the best innovation of the festival – to see a bunch of strangeness happening where there’s usually void. It’s a feature of the festival which is largely thanks to the very generous support of Canberra CBD Ltd. With their help, You Are Here gives audiences new opportunities to experience art, and to meet, observe and create in the heart of a city that has an unfair reputation as a cultural desert.
“Canberra has a very vibrant arts scene,” says Hadley, and to prove his point, while last year’s festival had a heavy loading of interstate imports, this year’s is going to be much more locally flavoured. “We’ve been talking to great local theatre makers, the local poetry scene, the drag king and queen scene and performance art scene,” says Hadley. While they can’t reveal much of next year’s program, the curators have also been working at bringing ex-Can artists home for the festival, “as a way of saying that there is life after Canberra, but also that there still is life in Canberra.”
You Are Here 2012 will be happening in various venues around Civic from Thursday-Sunday March 8-18. Details on the festival can be found closer to the time at youareherecanberra.com.au .