Don’t let the distance between the major art cities of Europe and America, to Australia, fool you to believe that the Australian art is too far away to keep up with the major players. Let us face it, we live in a globalized world, but we still have the hot spots and reference points that dictate the trends of Contemporary Art today, and we do have the division between the trendsetter, so to speak, and the Outsider Art. But, the recent success of the Australian artist Fiona Hall has turned, yet again, the art’s eye towards the continent, so rich in cultural diversity, and rich in the originality and different forms of expression. Like everywhere else, the artists of Australia struggle and the art that they create suggests that struggle, but it also references the global and relevant social issues of the world today and at the same time focuses on the issues at home. The look inwards and at the world that surrounds them are unique visions that differ from the cities dictating the trends.
In the world of the constant fights, re-evaluation and the fast-paced lifestyle, the ‘I’, our identity, is constantly challenged and provoked. The accepted values are dismissed, the labels are brutally taken off and we must acknowledge the fact that we have entered a state of questions. Fighting against the cliché Australian identity, many Australian artists use different mediums and forms of expression, and video art, especially used in a sculptural installation, seems to be one of the contemporary trends of Australian art today.
The boom of the video art that happened in the 1960’s also reached the distant shores of Australia years later, and today, video art in Australia is one of the major expressions that the artists use. Major galleries and Art centers promote and explore the history of this medium. Such is the case with the exhibition Video oediV, at Campbelltown Arts Center and also the exhibition Light Moves Contemporary Australian Video Art at NGA (National Gallery of Australia). With the two mentioned exhibitions, the video art and its poetic works of contemporary Australian artists, put to the front the desire to explore the moving body in space, and to re-evaluate the language of contemporary storytelling. The artist, Rosie Deacon, one of the participating artists of the Video oediV exhibition, explores the clichés linked to the Australian identity with the use of the video as part of the space installation that transforms the gallery. Small video screens show footage of the artist interacting with the tourist shop employees, while on a large projection screen, Deacon is seen dancing in goofy decorated costumes, while rapping in seemingly never-ending clichés of Australian identity.
The two major galleries, important not only because of their commercial success but also influential for the promotion of the major Australian artists on the International Art scene, are Anna Schwartz Gallery in Melbourne and Roslyn Oxley 9 Gallery in Sydney. If we take a look at the current or the past shows, in both of the galleries, we will be aware of the eclecticism in style and issues explored by the artists. This eclectic nature is a global issue, and Australian art is also very much in following the trends. Exploring issues regarding space, movement, history heritage, identity, digital media, and major issues regarding the state of the world we all share, Australian art is proving to be fruitful and thriving. The last show at the Anna Schwartz Gallery in Melbourne showcased the work of the artist Callum Morton. Known for his architectural work, that explores the state between what we know and the altered reality, his latest project, Reception, completely mesmerized the public. Creating a space of the gallery within the space of the gallery, Morton also created a life-size robot of the curator Anna Schwartz. It is this attitude of not being afraid to be ’silly’ that must be celebrated as a trend in Australian art. By saying this, I am not suggesting that the project of Morton is silly, not at all, but the openness of the curator to allow for herself to be presented as a robot, on purposely, slightly off, is something that many would not do. This openness to art and the celebration of all its forms, is something that could be viewed as a trend that is also evident in the exploration of all the different mediums, displayed in the recent Sydney Biennale, where we saw, apart from sculptural, installation and paintings, a large number of ceramic works as well.
The country’s rich cultural diversity and history are part of departure for many of its artists who are not afraid to look inward and to question the nature of Australian art. Such is the case with the artist Natalie Thomas, who is part of the collaborative duo nat&nat. She is the curator of the nattysolo.com, an ongoing performance project that considers the social side of contemporary Australian art today. This need for revision of the contemporary scene is also evident in the works of curators of major art institutions in Australia, who are announcing their joint effort for the production of a new biennial of contemporary Australian art. The distance between Australia and the hotspots of the art centers possibly influences this reflection and the need to re-evaluate and re-shape and constantly challenge from within. This position, maybe even of feeling a little bit vulnerable, is quite possibly the place where the strength of Australian art is hidden.
Editors’ Tip: Art in Australia from Colonization to Postmodernism (World of Art)
This book is a must-have if you are willing to investigate and understand the development of Australian art, from its past to the contemporary examples of its art today. The author, Christopher Allen, provides a crucial nexus of historical and cultural information particular to the continent, dividing the book into six different chapters Colonization, Settlement, Unsettlement, The Uninhabitable, Escape Routes, and Homeless. Arguing that Australian art has a history of its own, the book explores the social and geographical circumstances of the country and its art.
All images used for illustrative purposes only. Featured image: Fiona Hall - Wrong Way Time, 2012-15, (detail), enamel on mantel clock. Image via australiacouncil.gov.au