Local Schmocal

Reviews Feb 10, 2012 3 Comments

So much to see… but what to write? Sharne Wolff solves her dilemma…

This week I’ve been in a dilemma. In the last few weeks I’ve been in three capital cities. I’ve seen Picasso at The AGNSW, MatisseDrawing Life’ at GoMA in Brisbane, the incredible MONA collection and Wim Delvoye in Hobart. With most of the commercial galleries still closed or exhibiting group shows, I managed to catch Elizabeth CummingsMonotypes Tables and Other Pieces’ at King Street Gallery in Sydney and the Australia Day landscape exhibition at Tim Olsen Gallery. But all of these have been well and truly covered in the arts pages of our broadsheet newspapers…What do I write about for The Art Life?

Whilst contemplating a story I sat in my post lap-swimming attire at the local Polish café in Lennox Head – the table covered with ithingy’s and brochures of many of the shows I’d seen while I hoped for inspiration or a new angle. At least three people – strangers – except for the café’s owner, Marius, commented on one catalogue lying on the table as they walked past. In each case we had a conversation that went pretty much the same way:

“Wow…is that a photo?”

“Yes, it’s by an Australian artist, Petrina Hicks”.

“Amazing. Is it real/where did you get it?”

“You can see the real thing at the art gallery in Lismore – the exhibition has just opened and they have several of her photographs, along with some really interesting art by other Australian artists.”

“You’re kidding”…

All of these conversations were referring to Hicks’ lightjet print ‘Shenae and Jade’ 2005, a work that for me is beautifully ambiguous and obviously evokes a mixture of emotions amongst the café goers – curiosity, amazement and repulsion.

I figure this is somehow a sign to keep my story local this week and write about the exhibitions that opened at Lismore Regional Gallery (LRG) last Friday. Going local, however, certainly doesn’t imply a lack of quality these days as regional museums and galleries (assisted in this case by Museums and Galleries NSW) make inroads into touring quality shows. Regional Galleries are also hand-picking local artists that deserve to have their work shown on a wider scale when they may not have access to the resources available in capital cities.

LRG is the first Gallery of eight in NSW to host a touring exhibition from Bathurst Regional Gallery entitled ‘Light Sensitive Material: Works from the Verghis Collection’. Curated by Richard Perram, Director at Bathurst Regional ART Gallery (BRAG), it’s an exhibition that includes numerous well-known contemporary artists. All works are on extended loan to BRAG from London-based Australian collector Rachel Verghis – an excellent idea that other collectors might like to think about copying. The work features photographs, digital prints, videos, and sculpture and comprises an amazing line up of artists such as Shoufay Derz, Hayden Fowler, Shaun Gladwell, Newell Harry, Petrina Hicks, Jonathan Jones, David Knight, Rosemary Laing, Vanila Netto, Michael Riley, Julie Rrap and Hossein Valamanesh to name only some. Strangely enough, despite being housed in an old bank and somewhere between a ‘real’ gallery and a domestic home, the LRG copes surprisingly well with this show.

Petrina Hicks, Shenae and Jade, 2005.
light jet print 142 x 134cm, edition AP

According to the catalogue, this exhibition ‘considers the symbolic and literal use of light in art’ and continues with an art historical explanation of that concept. Works variously embody light, use light, illustrate light or are light dependent. Despite the literal use of light in some works, the ‘light’ in others is certainly more symbolic. The broad description also means it’s not hard to imagine that almost anything will arguably fit within it.

With such famous names it’s hard to know which images or works to talk about when space and time don’t permit. Like me, many people reading this will be familiar with Shaun Gladwell’sStorm Sequence’ 2000 which I’ve seen before but without the time to view several loops of the digital video uninterrupted. Luckily the GM of the Council (who opened the show) made quite a long speech and stood directly beside the screen. The most amazing thing about this work for me is its pure simplicity. The artist, dressed in khaki cargos, spins and turns in slow motion on a skateboard. Waves crash almost in silence in the background. The greys and greens of the stormy Bondi landscape merge and are captured by the rain-covered lens as nature and man alternatively clash and then combine forces. This is pure poetry. It’s mesmerizing and meditative. I could have watched it all night.

Any fan of Jackson Pollock couldn’t help but be attracted by Johnathan Jones ‘white poles’ 2003, another work that literally dazzles with simplicity. The bright fluorescent tubes form a perfectly balanced display of randomness to reference Pollock’s ‘Blue Poles’ 1953, currently held by the National Gallery of Australia. The energy and politics in each work are evident, although drawn from different historical sources and meaning.

Oksana Waterfall, The Fortnight, 2011 (detail)
graphite on rag paper 90 x 280cm
Image courtesy the artist and Lismore Regional Gallery

Three digital videos by Hayden Fowler also appear in this show. ‘Goat Odyssey’ 2006 is a 15 minute loop featuring Fowler’s well-groomed goats who appear on the screen dressed in decorative tribal attire. Although ‘free’ to wander the goats appear trapped in a small sterile room reminiscent of many things but nothing in particular. The goats have two doors from which to enter and exit but nowhere to actually go except to re-enter the room. The screen shifts sideways or up and down as the video is edited. A large industrial fan blows continually and is the only sound on the video as the goats interact with it. Fowler’s work is generally concerned with the relationship between man and nature. To explore this idea the viewer’s reaction to the video is projected onto the goats while the goats simultaneously act as metaphors for the human condition.

While all the fanfare of big names goes on downstairs there are also several local artists covered in the current LRG exhibitions, one of whom is barely known outside the Northern Rivers. Her name is Oksana Waterfall. She lives in Mullumbimby and ‘Personal Geometry’ is her first solo exhibition after recently graduating from Lismore TAFE. [It is here perhaps, that I should note I wrote the catalogue essay for Waterfall’s exhibition – but was unaware of the artist or her work before this show].

Waterfall has exhibited seven drawings in this exhibition. By far the largest is ‘The Fortnight’ which is a vast 90 x 280cm drawing on white rag paper where the artist has made portraits of 56 people (and one dog) whom she encountered in her local town over the period of two weeks. Scale is important here because each portrait is drawn standing on the same straight ‘horizon’ but is no larger than around 12cm.

Oksana Waterfall, Fathers, 2011 (detail)
graphite on rag paper, 57 x 57cm.

Waterfall’s other works are all portraits but are of tiny scale and worked in patterns and themes – Mothers, Fathers, Girls or Boys – each standing with an icon of their age or personality. On close examination they are very much individuals. When viewed at a distance, they appear as if looking through a kaleidoscope, or like mosaic tiles on a wall or floor. The drawings celebrate the individual and the joy of small towns, community, hope and human connection. In ‘Short Stack’ (which I hadn’t seen before viewing the exhibition) Waterfall has drawn five young people lying down or asleep and ‘stacked’ one upon the other. It is a smaller work and drawn with good balance of space in the frame. The show hangs quietly in the upstairs gallery at LRG, a local show very sure of its place but also, quite firmly, sure of itself.

‘Light Sensitive Material: Works from the Verghis Collection’

&

Oksana Waterfall ‘Personal Geometry’

Lismore Regional Gallery

Until 18 March 2012

[The exhibition ‘Light Sensitive Material: Works from the Verghis Collection’ will tour to the following galleries during 2012 and 2013: Moree Plains Gallery, Goulburn Regional Art Gallery, Hawkesbury Regional Art Gallery, The Glasshouse Regional Gallery, Tamworth Regional Gallery, Grafton Regional Gallery, Shoalhaven City Arts Centre.

More info from www.mgnsw.org.au.]

Sharne Wolff

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