…from one of our all time fave artists, Mariana del Castillo…
The power of art as a social tool.
Two years ago the Bega Valley Regional Gallery formally instituted an annual Contemporary Indigenous exhibition, to be held every July in concert with Naidoc Week. The last two exhibitions, Contemporary Primitive and The New Black, celebrated a diverse range of work by five indigenous artists with innovative practices that transpose traditional techniques away from the stereotypical into a visual currency that more succinctly reflects their own socio-historic reality.
This year the tables have been turned. Bridged metaphorically by the superlative work of indigenous artist Danie Mellor, six non-indigenous artists were invited to contemplate the concept of Atonement. All have responded to what can only be regarded as contentious territory with a sensitivity that reminds the viewer that we all share an ethical responsibility in the process of reconciliation, and that the resolution of the parlous state of indigenous affairs remains a shamefully neglected blight on our (seemingly not so)fair nation.
At the foreground of the exhibition, in just a whisper of an echo of the Aboriginal Memorial at the National Gallery of Australia, stands a towering sentinel of gas bottles. Sculptor Geoff Farquhar–Still found inspiration for this piece in the pukumani poles at the Art Gallery of NSW; the overwhelming sense of presence and connectivity, of the physical and emotional experience of the poles, impacted profoundly on his approach to his own work. The way of all things 2011 became an immutable embodiment of expiration.
Imants Tillers, recognised as one of Australia’s foremost contemporary artists, has two works in the exhibition: the first, Nature Speaks: AX 2002, is from a series made in collaboration with Papunya artist Michael Nelson Jagamara; the second, Nature Speaks CV 2011, was painted specifically for the Atonement exhibition. Featuring a fragment of the Walt Whitman poem One’s self I sing and a litany of extinguished Tasmanian aboriginal tribes, the work is both an expression of regret and a call to brotherhood.
Nicola Dickson’s exquisitely decorative paintings – exploring the blending of the exotic and civilization – spring from imagery first created in 1807 by Barthelemy Roger in an atlas describing the voyages of the French explorers Francis Peron and Nicholas Baudin in Pacific and Australian waters. The work is a delicate reminder of the imposition of colonialism on the natural order of the time.
Alex Asch also explores imposition, though of a more strident nature; his work reflects on the harmful introduction of perverse government policy from The Intervention to the mooted suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act, and the insidious harm compounded by ‘lifestyle’ (tobacco, refined sugar, grog…) If deaths in custody weren’t heinous enough, consider deaths through no-brand legislation.
Simon Maberley’s reliquaries pay tribute to indigenous people he has met at festival’s and political and/or environmental campaigns over the years; events and relationships that shaped him philosophically and fed his appetite for compassion. The narratives are personal, the social awareness true. The blown glass vessels symbolise the precious nature of the fundamental tenets of respect held within.
Mariana del Castillo tackles the fraught subject of the Stolen Generation, with a beautifully sewn tableau of the doll/child, left abandoned on an uncompromising straight-backed chair, the spectre of abuse lurking, grinning, from the closet. The loaded elements tell the story, the narrative stitched together with painfully prescribed care, cockroaches scuttling in the background.
Danie Mellor, the one indigenous artist in the group, rounds out the party with the seductive display of colonial accoutrement; specifically the pomp, circumstance (and bling) used to dazzle indigenous populations into accepting imperialist rule. The artist explores the correlations of ceremony and initiation (hierarchical and secretive) that exist between two seemingly diametrically opposed cultures. Dignity, one suspects, resides with the natives.
Atonement is a fabulous show – strong, emotive…groundbreaking, even.
This is sensitive, taboo territory, notoriously difficult to navigate and consequently usually given a wide berth by non-indigenous practitioners. But for artists with an evolved social conscience, who are appalled by the ongoing inability of this nation to reconcile the tremendous wrongdoing still perpetuated against the first people of this land, Atonement represents an infinitesimal step towards at least some measure of moral reparation.
Politics aside, this is a quality show in every sense – and seriously worth the drive. On until August 6th.
More snaps here, including a peek at the opening.
Mariana del Castillo now showing
jas hugonnet galley www.hugonnet.com.au
Image: Nostalgia’s Companion 2010 Mixed media 300 x 370 x 190cm
A peculiar accomplice In her latest body of work, del Castillo presents a series of recycled objects cloaked in grey vintage Australian war blankets. With a deft hand she has created tableau’s that are plagued with the eventualities of life; a distillation of eroticism, moral struggle, memory and nostalgia. Constantly battered by undercurrents of Catholicism, she seeks revelation through concealment in these meticulously sewn objects.
Just in: snaps of Mariana del Castillo’s show in CMAG’s Gallery 4 glass space…
1. the state of being disregarded or forgotten 2. an imaginary place for lost or neglected things 3. (theology) in Roman Catholicism, the place of unbaptized but innocent or righteous souls (such as infants and virtuous individuals)
As a child growing up in Ecuador the nuns would show us Hieronymus Bosch’s (1450–1516) painting of ‘The garden of earthly delights’, pointing to the right hand panel of hell and proclaiming loudly that the consequences of insolence would land you in this ghoulish place. Staring at the panel of hell it appeared to me more like a circus. I was drawn to the central panel depicting purgatory or limbo it was a joyous free for all without inhibition or reason. Heaven or the Garden of Eden depicted in the right hand panel although full of animals appeared subdued and sombre and without mischief.
In my art practice I have always preferred the well worn found object, items that bare the presence of human existence so it felt strange when I was drawn to the yellow caution tape and started sewing the strips in to workable pieces. It holds a certain contemporary currency we have all seen it wrapped around scenes of disaster. In this instillation I have combined elements of realism and absurdity with mystical qualities that arouse and reveal past and present memories and emotions.
Word is that the show’s lit for night viewing – so it’s at its optimum after dark.
For more info go here.
The Gang’s hitting the ‘Berra this coming weekend – looks like we’ll be making a bee-line straight to Civic …
Alex Asch, The golden pig toucher, mixed media
Mariana del Castillo, The revelation, mixed media
Bob Georgeson, Mons, mixed media
The exhibition, Construct: Sculpture in the house, is about to come down – so for those who missed it, we’re posting it for posterity. And what a beauty it was…
(Megsie’s) Curatorial overview:
This show follows closely on the heels of Bermagui’s Sculpture on the Edge and quite consciously so. The happy circumstance of a vacancy in our exhibition program provided us the opportunity to extend the sculptural schematic to an audience already primed and receptive, and to introduce them to work of a more intimate nature. Whereas sculpture historically conjures up notions of monumentality – of sentinel endurance and poised grandeur – wrought and forged and intrinsically conspicuous, the work of the artists in Construct is at once familiar and private and inversely monumental in terms of an almost epic domesticity. This exhibition still tackles all the big questions – sex, life and the universe – but in a visual language that tugs at our collective memory through a construct of the careworn, abandoned flotsam of everyday life. Indeed all three artists, whether in 2D or 3D, employ a complex layering of emotion, material and intent to throw light on specious social mores that give us pause to contemplate the myriad absurdities of life.
Ecuadorian born artist Mariana del Castillo and American Alex Asch met at art school in Canberra some 20 years years ago, and have been practicing in a symbiotically simpatico capacity ever since. Though maintaining strictly separate practices, what they do obviously share is a genuine love of material and a clear understanding of the connotations inherent in the use of that material. Both are committed recyclers, unerringly identifying the beauty of discarded ‘detritus’ – which in turn delivers both narrative and a multi-layering of poetic embellishment to their respective practices.
Del Castillo’s work is quite clearly influenced by her Ecuadorian roots. These ‘tableaus’ are imbued with the magic-realism found in the wider South American literary culture, and taking them in is akin to curling up with a favourite South American author. They’re so lyrical and mystical. So enthrallingly visceral. Each work an encapsulated narrative, a tender balance between a private biographical circumstance and the greater universal consciousness. This is, fundamentally, women’s business; cradling all the joy and pain that life entails. It stands both poised and literally pregnant with enshrined privacy – for which del Castillo makes no apology. We really don’t need to know the intimate particulars to feel the pith and the pathos. Nor does the ‘secrecy’ interfere with our intuitive appreciation of her rich aesthetic detailing.
Alex Asch’s aesthetic approach tends more toward the minimal. He is both drawn to naturalistic materials (metals and glass as opposed to plastics) and driven by the intellectual fascination vested in the re-invention of the found object. In this he subscribes to the school of Du Champ – with a Bostonian take, of course. His work invariable has a humorous edge – sagacious observations of the ironies in life – and he’s not one to shy away from socio-political concerns. (As anyone who has seen his recent Guantanamo Man series can attest.) But Asch’s brand of sedition is a soft-shoe shuffle; he pokes and prods gently at the wider social conscience – if only to ensure that the home fires of compassion still retain some spark. Invariably he cocks an eye at risible enigmas – the Ready to Wear piece, for instance, was prompted by the haute couture/prêt a porter scenario, and contemplates the brittle absurdities of the cat-walk and high fashion industry.
While maintaining very disparate practices, what Mariana and Alex do patently share is a genuine love of material and a clear understanding of the connotations inherent in the use of that material. The overriding sensibility is one of infinite charm and exculpation – of salvation in simplicity, beyond and despite the reckless inhumanity of our time. There’s something almost Shaker in Asch’s work which yet sits astonishingly well in apposition with del Castillo’s arcane ‘catholic’ memorabilia. Each, in their own way, pays homage to The Relic.
The voice of the third person in the show is that of Bermagui artist Bob Georgeson (winner of the SEMAG exhibition held here earlier this year.) His most recent work is photomontage – often a dense construct of compelling, symbolic imagery of a psycho-sexual nature that delves into the straticulate hypocrisies of social convention. His ongoing Bridal series explores the conflicts inherent in the romance versus reality conundrum of the time immemorial mating game. Captivated by bridal magazines found in op-shops, he strives to reconcile the modesty of the veil with the louche sexuality of the garter. For Georgeson, the bride is the universal sacrificial lamb, central player in a coyly titivating ritual that masks a darker purpose. Here love and desire are caught in the erotic mesh of a carefully marketed and mannerly, staged drama – where bridezilla secretes the excesses of her cheap and sleazy hen’s night in the demure folds of unimpeachable white, and the complexity of the marriage bed wreaks havoc on the romance. In this modern day Dickens, Miss Havisham gets her wedding day, but the bouquet wilts and decays regardless. Georgeson is a dadaist at heart, and consequently at odds with cultural and intellectual conformity. His practice is a balanced assemblage of decorous imagery offset by a quiet cynicism, and is at once mesmerizing and repellant in its contrivance of an inevitably deviant beauty. And yet surely we can detect just a hint of tenderness for the very vulnerability of that doomed dream.
Construct: Sculpture in the house is a complex show, representing astute artistic handling of both media and concept. There is a fascinating visual dialogue at play in the room. And – glued together by diverse sentiment and strung on humanist ideology – an almost unfathomable yearning for the safety of the (metaphoric)womb.
Alex Asch, Guitars, mixed media
Alex Asch, collage series
For more snaps, go here.
(above) Klaus and Megsie with artists Bob Georgeson, Mariana del Castillo and Alex Asch.
Last Friday night was the opening of Construct: Sculpture in the house at the Bega Regional Gallery, and what a great show [even if we do say so ourselves!! n(Ed)] This was Megsie’s first curatorial outing in the Gallery (she’d inherited an almost fully booked 2 year program with the job – but happily there’s the odd blank for her to play with, and this is the first…)
The exhibition is an Eden-Monaro special, featuring the work of Queanbeyan artists Mariana del Castillo and Alex Asch, and Bermagui artist and winner of the recent SEMAG show, Bob Georgeson. We’ll bring you the show proper, with the curatorial overview, shortly. But for now, sit back and enjoy a bird’s eye view of the social rounds.
More snaps here.