Ted Snell is the director of the University of Western Australia’s Cultural Precinct, and currently the WA art reviewer for The Australian.
In the dark of night, illuminated by stars, the imagination blossoms. The Aboriginal people of Western Australia gazing up into the dark canopy above them identified five naughty youngsters and wove together a story about them, and how they scattered when a spear was thrown. We now call those five stars the Southern Cross. In South Africa, the indigenous communities, seeing the same stars, conjured up different narratives that told local stories to explain their world.
Shared Skies brings together artists from the midwest region of Western Australia and the Western Cape region of South Africa whose works “reflect ancient understandings of celestial mechanics and local peoples’ relationships to land”. These communities, now linked by one of the largest scientific projects in the world – the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) – provide narratives that bring together the various communities embraced by this extraordinary project.
Artists have traditionally transformed humble materials into works of great beauty and meaning. This alchemical process of converting dross into something significant is at the heart of David Brophy’s practice. In his work for the Hatched National Graduate Art Exhibition at PICA earlier this year, a blue tarpaulin with ‘Presence’ cut precisely from the plastic was magically transmuted into a wave crashing onto a distant shore. He explains: “I utilise household items in an attempt to describe the phenomenology of surfing. The resultant artworks transcend the intrinsic history of these appropriated objects. Through process-based practice, the everyday is transformed to portray the sublime.”
The sublime in this case is that dual emotional response of fear and attraction, induced by the immensity of nature. Like all art of significance, it’s difficult to detail precisely why this canopy of blue incised plastic with the word ‘Presence’, projected in light through it evokes so many memories and sparks so many synaptic linkages, but it does.
Like the Arte Povera artists of the 1970s in Italy, Brophy’s seductive play with materials opens up possibilities of interpretation and reflection. Found objects bring their own history, and it is the slow reveal of that layered story in the expanded context of the artist’s narrative that gives his work such resonance and power. Although the catalyst, these objects are transformed through a variety of processes that incorporate “… a diverse range of media and conceptual approaches to making, including sculpture, installation, painting, drawing and digital media”.
The transformation is conceptual, initiated through meditation rather than the manipulation of objects and material. His aim is to capture the sense of the profound in the momentary, which is achieved through the process of bringing his mind to rest so he can pare back his actions until they are the minimal intervention required to initiate an act of conversion and reimagining for the viewer. With a background in viticulture and environmental science, it’s not surprising Brophy displays an understanding of physical, biological and information sciences. Beginning with found objects and materials, or his direct experience of the natural environment, the final simplicity and elegance of his work is the result of a long journey of distillation, reduction and refinement.
It was a process initiated by his time as an installation assistant at PICA, the Fremantle Arts Centre and Venn Galleries. Collaborating with other artists and curators and seeing how they worked with space to create new ways of interpreting artworks was the trigger to explore how his own creative practice might embrace the presentation of his sculptural work in a gallery environment.
Now completing his Bachelors degree at Curtin University, Brophy has an exhibition in Bali in October, work in the group exhibition New Blood Rising at Elements Gallery in November, a collaborative video performance with Elise Rietze planned for the end of the year, and a forthcoming residency at PICA.
GEORGE EGERTON-WARBURTON: ADMINISTRATION IS OULIPIAN POETRY
The Perth Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA) has begun a program of survey exhibitions of younger Western Australian artists. These exhibitions provide an overview of their careers to date, and document their achievements. The first was Tarryn Gill and Pilar Mata Dupont’s Stadium Series, just 10 years after they
graduated from Curtin University. The current survey exhibition is by George Egerton-Warburton, who graduated just five years ago from Curtin. While this may not seem like a long period of professional engagement, the energy and commitment these artists have shown in developing their careers has generated considerable success and a remarkable body of works.
Egerton-Warbuton’s work explores chance and unpredictability. His performative works, the objects and paintings he creates and the events he organises are the result of “… setting up particular conditions for an uncontrollable reaction to occur”. Not surprisingly the results are frequently anarchic and almost always amusing and profound in equal measure. The Chicken Stampede, as part of Next Wave’s No Risk Too Great Festival in 2010
was one such event, which morphed into a procession orchestrated by the sound of 500 chickens stampeding down Smith Street, Collingwood.
For his solo exhibition at PICA, Egerton-Warburton is producing a new film, which will be incorporated into an elaborate installation that includes the artist’s three previous single-take films and a giant mobile structure and assemblages made of found materials collected from Perth and regional Western Australia.