ADAM JOHN CULLEN, Certain Remnants, 2017, hydrostone, plaster, oxide, cotton, marble, limestone, dimensions variable. Photo by Jessica Maurer. Courtesy the artist and Alaska Projects, Sydney.


Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney

“Primavera” is the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia’s annual exhibition showcasing the work of Australian artists under the age of 35. Opportunities for young artists are more abundant today compared to when “Primavera” launched in 1992 (by Edward and Cynthia Jackson in memory of their daughter Belinda, a jeweller who died when she was 29 years old). While the exhibition series might exclude practitioners who find themselves “emerging”at a later age, it still provides a unique snapshot of early-career Australian art practice.

This year’s iteration, curated by Sophia Kouyoumdjian, was themed “Ancient Futures,” and considered “existence, from the personal to the universal, in relation to archives, collections or the act of collecting.” While the use of archives and collections is overwhelmingly prevalent in current art practice, particularly in an institutional context, Kouyoumdjian approaches this in a fresh way. The works on display are wholly resolved, rather than an assortment of objects presented as the result of research. While there are a wide range of approaches across the eight included artists to this “question[ing of] natural and human-made archives, from the physical to the digital,” the presentation is a unified experience, with darkened lighting in the museum’s central exhibition space creating an atmosphere that bolsters a sensation of mining physical, emotional and psychological layers.

TOM POLO, front view of In a Part of Your Mind, I Am You, 2017, multimedia painting installation, dimensions variable. Photograph by Jessica Maurer. Courtesy the artist and Station, Melbourne.

TOM POLO, rear view of In a Part of Your Mind, I Am You, 2017, multimedia painting installation, dimensions variable. Photograph by Jessica Maurer. Courtesy the artist and Station, Melbourne.

LAURA HINDMARSH, still from Finding Focus, 2016, black and white video shot on 16 mm film: 4 min. Courtesy the artist.

This sense of excavation is signalled at the entrance of the exhibition, with the work of Adam John Cullen, whose Certain Remnants (2017) is an installation of broken and scattered objects. The artist has used cast plaster plinths as sculptures containing embedded forms, including past artworks and found items. Their spontaneous placement give the impression that they have been long abandoned and are waiting to be rediscovered, and raises questions about the intrinsic value of these objects.

Nearby, Tom Polo’s installation In a Part of Your Mind, I Am You (2017) explores theatrical and cinematic influences and the ways humans “perform” for each other in social spaces. Polo has constructed a space that is similar to a backdrop found on a theater set, featuring the artist’s signature colorful, ambiguous, abstracted portrait paintings on one side, while the reverse is covered with a collection of haunting masks made of matte-black Cinefoil. Referencing the Roman monument, the Mouth of Truth, which is fabled to bite off the hands of liars, Polo invites comparisons between an age-old cautionary tale and contemporary constructions of self.

JACOBUS CAPONE, still from Dark Learning, 2015, seven-channel HD video with color and sound: 22 min 21 sec. Courtesy the artist.

Kynan Tan, still from Data Erasure, 2017, computer-generated video with sound, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist.

“Primavera” presented several moving-image works that demonstrate the diversity of the medium. Laura Hindmarsh’s 16mm film Finding Focus (2016) is a collection of gestures and erasures, featuring the artist walking then running across a dry lakebed, attempting to reach a gradually receding point of focus. Like the waters of the lake itself, the image vanishes through overexposure in the strong Australian sun. Jacobus Capone’s Dark Learning (2015) is a multi-channel video installation that situates the artist, performing ceremonial-type gestures, within a sublime, inhospitable landscape. Kynan Tan’s Data Erasure (2017) is a computer-generated video projection that visualises the different types of data that construct our world. Alongside scrolling fields of code, we see an animated conveyor belt on which a series of hard drives is slowly crushed. In an eerily matter-of-fact manner, Tan’s work captures the infinite quantities of data humans leave in our wake, and the impossibility of that data’s complete erasure.

The photographs and sculptural relief work of Nicole Foreshew and the works on paper of Elena Papanikolakis complete the picture at “Primavera.” Papanikolakis is working in a long tradition of collage using archival material, and the resulting works are rich vignettes. Foreshew’s photographs reveal the Wiradjuri artist’s homeland scarred from mining—a literal and conceptual excavation of the earth.

Teelah George’s Sky Piece (2016–17), constructed from offcuts of the artist’s paintings and other materials, marks the entrance and exit of the exhibition. George made the painstakingly embroidered piece while listening to various oral histories of women, and the sky it encapsulates makes a fitting opening and closing statement to the show, tying the universality of what is above us all to the personal gestures and histories embedded in the artworks at “Primavera.”

Primavera” is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, until November 19, 2017.

To read more of ArtAsiaPacific’s articles, visit our Digital Library.

NICOLE FORESHEW, Baluga (Dark, Fire Has Gone Out) II, 2017, minerals, salt, wood, charcoal, synthetic polymer glue, approximately 170 × 70 cm. Courtesy the artist.

ELENA PAPANIKOLAKIS , Unbound, 2017, synthetic polymer paint, marker, binder medium, pigment inkjet prints on Hahnemühle paper, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist.