Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), 5th March - 8th May
NEW16 is the highly anticipated annual showcase of emerging Australian artists. The exhibition has recently opened at Melbourne’s hub for contemporary art, ACCA (Australian Centre for Contemporary Art). This year the exhibition has been conceived by nationally renowned curator Annika Kristensen who has personally selected and commissioned nine artists, to create eight projects, all under one roof. ACCA is the perfect playground for these budding contemporary artists and Kristensen’s curatorial approach highlights the prevalence of audience engagement and interaction in a gallery context.
The exhibition’s theme is said to have taken form naturally, as all commissioned works were created under the sole intent of the artists. Nevertheless, Kristensen has identified a common thread evident through a visual and curatorial conversation between the artists and artworks of NEW16. Ultimately, the exploration of varying relationships is paramount in this exhibit; with a focus on the connection between the viewer, the artists, artwork and architecture, and their engagement when moving through the exhibition space.
At the crux of contemporary art today, artists are exploring new ways to engage the viewer, through a focal concern in challenging institutional boundaries and norms. Kristensen’s clever curatorial choice to bring Catherine or Kate’s installation to the forefront of the exhibition sets the tone at the entry point. The curatorial premise of NEW16 is encapsulatedhere through an evident exploration of the unconventional, reminiscent of the Dadaist’s of the early 20th century. The small ‘boxey' entry room is decked out in every respect with the witty and somewhat ironic work, My door is always open, unless it’s closed (2016). The installation takes form as an imperfect work space featuring; a photographic muddled montage, a wheelie desk, a creaky ceiling fan with an off-centred upside-down fan dial.
The traditional white walls of the exhibition space have been tainted with a dull pastel brown, meeting the stark white walls of a traditional gallery space at eye-level. These elements play host to the artists conflicting relationship working as a duo and their aspirations with the conflicting intention to both conform with, and negate the institutional context. The lingering quirks and questions emanating from this piece force the viewer to question, and try to make sense of their place within the space; furthering the common thread of tensions and thresholds within relationships prevalent in the new through a curated attention to detail.
After passing through the narrow doorway into the main gallery space, Liam O’Brien’s
impressive projection At Arm’s Length (2015-2016), covers the initial right wall and captures immediate attention with its visual reflection of society’s current obsession with social media. O’Brien’s clever choice of social commentary as subject instantly grabs the viewer’s attention and intrigue through the element of relatability. It is disappointing however, that curatorial choices fell-short in regard to inclusivity and accessibility. At Arm’s Length’s integral layer of sound seemed overlooked due to the limited availability of headphone’s, and only a small bench seat positioned in-front of the projection.
In consideration of the theme Kristensen has identified throughout NEW16, her curatorial choices here raise a question of intent regarding audience engagement, as well as the opposing wall being left completely bare, un-used and almost redundant. The empty wall lacks purpose from a curatorial perspective, hosting only a small secondary video installation at the very end of the gallery by Tanya Lee. As a result Lee’s relevant social comment, Curtilage (2016) appears overshadowed at the far end, and an afterthought on the curator’s part; despite the work being a very relevant, humorous and interesting take on the uncharted boundaries and interactions between neighbours, and clear connection to O’Brien’s work. With the sound layering of O’Brien’s projection so important to the communication of thematic conversation between works, and Lee’s extension of this, it is inevitable to question why the choice was made to limit headphone accessibility to only three when this wall could have hosted multiple and made for a greater, more accessible experience for gallery visitors.
The main exhibition space also hosts two additional works including; Anna Varendorff and Haima Marriott’s collaborative kinetic sculptures and Mason Kimber’s architecturally inspired mural with contemporary frescoes. Varendorff and Marriott’s minimalist installation, Here there are infinite arrangements (2016), encourages audience involvement and brings forth contemporary arts exploration of the interdisciplinary. Consisting of a simple arrangement of several moveable brass sculptures on wheels, the audience is invited to experience the cross-over between visual art and music through sight, touch and sound.
The combination of sensory elements and the works ability to entice audience participation, undoubtedly assisted the curatorial decision to position this work as the central focus of the main room. The colourful trio of spotlights overlapping the installation, paired with the varying hertz emanating throughout the gallery as the audience interacts and moves the structures about the space, has made this the work by far, the most popular and a clear curatorial triumph for Kristensen.
Kimber’s collection of work’s fill the back wall in it’s entirety and plays foley to the architecture of the exhibition space, with a large monochromatic mural taking geometric form, hosting several frescoes. This multifaceted work succeeds in bringing the outside in, and like Catherine and Kate, attempts to break down institutional aesthetics. It is clear here that Kimber is purposely conversing with the past, referencing the art of Ancient Rome and attesting to its continued influence throughout history.
The final section of the exhibition consist's of three separate installation works by artists; Jacobus Capone, Gabriella Hirst and Julian Day. The works have been presented in three separate rooms with a distinguishing start and end point, created through Kristensen’s carefully curated light positioning and architectural choices. The stand out of the three works, from a curatorial perspective, was by far Hirst’s comical performative piece titled Force Majeure (2015-2016). The video installation depict’s the artist atop a grassy cliff overlooking ominous clouds and a dangerous ocean below, as she stands in the eye of a raging storm. Hirst is depicted, struggling with the wild winds, attempting to paint her surroundings in the rain on a wooden easel that she is continuously forced to wrestle with. The scene is typical of a Romanticist work juxtaposed by the hilarity of her actions and continued failure caused by the reality and seriousness of her situation.
The highly considered curatorship here compliments Hirst’s work in every aspect. The audience is met with a series of curious light boxes highlighted with spotlights in the entry hallway, immediately instilling intrigue. As the corner is turned, Hirst’s comical and performative take on romantic painting is highlighted by the two strategic nib walls framing the video projection to draw focus. The almost deafening and somewhat consuming audio of the storm fills the space creating a complimentary ambience to the visual projection. Movement throughout the room and engagement with this work is encouraged through the sequential and natural flow of the installation as the curatorship intensifies the experience of Force Majeure.
Julian Day’s bright pure white installation made for the perfect exit point of the exhibition. White Noise (2015-2016), takes form as a large-scale paper installation, complimented with its overlapping vibrational sound element. The piercing white noise is amplified at intervals onto the paper reams as they cascade down the wall from the ceiling, unravelling at varying lengths on the gallery floor. The highly institutionalised piece, brings forth a clear conversation with the past in its visual and symbolic reference to Malevich’s White on White of 1918. In conversation with art history, Day has, at the same time, negated and conformed to institutional norms. A clear connection and link with Catherine or Kate’s unconventional aesthetic and intent at the entry point of the exhibit. White Noise adds a sense of completion to the exciting journey of contemporary art on show in NEW16.
ACCA’s annual showcase of new art by new artists provides an in depth and dynamic insight into the ever-changing contemporary art world in Australia. The curators decision to present all works with only minimal information listed on the scattered didactic wall panels added to the adventure of the exhibition and enabled the viewer to meander through at ease and without expectation. A simple guide brochure is available to visitors assisting in identification of works and their position within the gallery space. It was however, disappointing to find that no catalogue was available for further reading and understanding of the artworks on show. Nevertheless, the consistent curated conversation between works emphasises the complex relationships between art, artists and audience, and is explored through a wide array of interdisciplinary artistic mediums. Kristensen’s cutting-edge curatorial practice highlights a focal concern with audience engagement and contemporary arts innate ability to incite inclusivity and accessibility to all.
Written by Jessica Clark.