What happens when you take five Nordic artists and offer them residencies in rural/remote West Australia?
Likewise, what about placing six Australian artists in Finland, Iceland, Denmark or Sweden? Spaced 3: north by southeast does just that, as part of AGWA’s Rebels, Radicals and Pathfinders series. What would the outsiders’ fresh eyes make of our local environments and communities? What would we make of theirs?
Half way through the Beyond Bling exhibition my eyes were drawn to a series of banners in the next gallery. Even though my head was already full of inspiration and admiration, I thought I’d take a quick peek into Spaced 3. That ‘quick peek’ turned out to be an hour long, plus a follow up visit the next day. Below is a summary of my highlights, first up, the Australian artists.
In The Mean Time
Deborah Kelly went to Kirsten Kjaers Museum in remote north-west Denmark, where she ran several workshops asking participants to ‘imagine a future’. It was interesting to hear Kelly say that many people found the task difficult. She surmised that people were having enough problems getting through each day without worrying about the future. Those who did produced some thought provoking images of menacing dinosaurs, ethereal mermaids and triple breasted apparitions, to name a few. Kelly turned these images into a dozen beautiful, eerie, eye catching banners, that wouldn’t look out of place in a groovy café or eclectic home.
Barn Wall – I AM GLA[S]D (image above)
Robyn Backen visited a glassworks factory in Rejmyre, a small country town in Sweden facing a dwindling population (sound familiar?). In her piece, Backen explored that magical moment of the day when the sunlight hits a barn wall and casts shadows on the ground. In Reimyre the barns are wooden, not like our corrugated iron, consequently the gaps between the slats make far more interesting shadows. After replicating this image in her piece, Bracken invited people to trace the hidden words in chalk as they appeared on the ground. In an interesting comment about the impermanence of life, the words remained on the ground until the weather or street life saw them disappear. Relocated to AGWA, the installation commands attention as the words move across the gallery floor echoing the moving of the sun. As I tried to make out the words I witnessed something you don’t often see in an art gallery, patrons young and old, lying on the floor trying to decipher the words.
I Am Jet Black Glass
Equally commanding was the second piece by Backen, I Am Jet Black Glass. This piece presents a single row of identical black glasses. At first you wonder about their relevance but then the projection kicks in and a series of sentences play out. One glass has started to speak. The result is a clever reminder of our own uniqueness, and that instead of blending, we need to stand up and present the world with our own voice.
Things I Learnt In A Hot Tub
Keg De Souza ventured to Skagatrond, a small fishing village with less than 500 residents, and was taken in by the importance of the Icelandic hot pools. Finding it difficult to connect with strangers she took herself off to a public hot pool. There she discovered they are not just for relaxing. She found they were places to share local knowledge about the fishing industry, to discuss social issues like the economy, displacement and to do business as well as to gossip. Sitting in the makeshift spa reading the comments outlined in front of me, I was transported to a time of shady deals being cemented in wood-lined saunas.
But what about the artists coming to Australia?
Kayili There Is A Hot Wind Blowing
In the second space I was drawn to another set of banners, this time by Linda Persson who traveled to Leonora. Using mixed media Persson explored the blending of cultures, particularly the indigenous population and migrants who arrived with gold-lust in their eyes. To me the wheels and cogs on display represented how the parts in any relationship are constantly shifting, being molded into something new that everyone can live with, to make the whole work.
East Wing Girls Dormitory
Architect Tor Lindstrand ventured to Balgo, six hours from Halls Creek where he visited the Warlayirti Artists Aboriginal Corporation and researched the old mission. Like many, Lindstrand was taken by the vastness and stillness of the environment, but also the busy ‘hectic’ lifestyle of the 400-strong community. This contrast shows up in his display which are a combination of architectural drawing and aboriginal paintings. Displayed side by side in the gallery, they made me look at the architectural plans in a different light. The plans looked like a marriage between the usual architectural drawings, and aboriginal dot paintings, the trees represented as dots. It was interesting to read that during his time in Balgo, Lindstrand began questioning the benefit of enforcing architecture on culture.
Other, I Usually Don’t mention It
Heidi Lunabba took up residency at the Wangaree Art Centre in Lancelin where she immersed herself into the local community. There she explored cultural norms and how they limit us. Through casual conversations with local community members she produced a series of considered reflections about life in a small town. Some of the themes touched on included sexuality, depression, ageing, and disability.
Overall, Spaced 3: north by southeast is a fascinating look into the commonalities shared across borders. The importance of community shone through for me, particularly how much we rely on each other regardless of our position and circumstance in the world.
When visiting this exhibition, I strongly recommend you start by checking out the maps outlining where the artists came from and went to. Make sure you pick up a handbook too and if you have time, visit the space at the end of the exhibition where you can listen to the artists recollections about the experience.
Participating Artists were: Robyn Backen (NSW), Michelle Eistrup (Denmark), Gustav Hellberg (Sweden), Deborah Kelly (NSW), Danius Kesminas (VIC), Tor Lindstrand (Sweden), Heidi Lunabba (Finland), Dan McCabe (WA), Linda Persson (Sweden), Keg de Souza (NSW), Sam Smith (NSW).
Spaced 3: North by Southeast was presented by the International Art Space Board.
Where: Art Gallery of Western Australia
When: until January 7th
For more information go to artgallery.wa.gov.au.