On show at John Curtin Gallery, participating artists selected from 12 regions of Western Australia reveal there is a rich vein of regional art ready to be mined.



Open Borders co curators, John Curtin Gallery Director Jane King, independent curator Annette Davis and John Curtin Gallery Curator Lia McKnight.  Photo Ezra Alcantra Photography.

The 2023 Open Borders Regional Arts Triennial at John Curtin Gallery is the culmination of a state-wide series of exhibitions and performances over 2022/23. The triennial has evolved from a broader three-year project called Mycelium, established in 2020 as a response to the destabilising effect of the pandemic. Held in all 12 regions of WA, artists responded to the theme of ‘open borders,’ in comparison to the closed regional borders many endured during COVID. Just 40 artists were selected from these exhibitions for this survey of regional art at John Curtin Gallery, presenting a rare opportunity to explore the diversity of art making across the state, while providing participating artists an even rarer opportunity to exhibit at a purpose-built professional city gallery. The exhibition is co-curated by newly appointed JCG Director Jane King, JCG curator Lia McKnight and Albany-based independent curator Annette Davis, who says regional artists were blown away by seeing their work professionally lit and displayed in a venue such as John Curtin Gallery, as well as everything the gallery can provide. “It’s just life changing,” she says. “As a regional artist and curator, I just don’t have the words to describe how important it is that the gallery has committed to this regional triennial.”

The three curators visited all 12 regional exhibitions over 2022/23, meeting artists and curators before making their selection for the show, aiming to include at least one work from every region. King says John Curtin Gallery is excited to contribute to the viability and success of artists, curators and art organisations across the state. “The exhibition is a celebration of our many wonderful regional artists and curators, and an  acknowledgement of the stories they have to tell.”

Included is Dwellingup-based artist Monique Tippett with Borders 1 – 3, 2022, a group of three jarrah logs with the addition of aluminium fluorescent strips echoing the familiar tape used by loggers, mining and industry, and “markers for destruction and salvation,” said the artist. South West artist Helen Seiver uses a natural border in her work, The Nullagine River, investing layers of meaning in her work. Davis says Seiver mended, darned and repaired a found blanket to create the work. “She stitched the work as well to represent the aspect of mending and repairing a relationship. The significance of the Nullagine River is that she’d started collaborating on the work with someone who lived near the river, but when COVID and borders came into place, she wasn’t able to keep up contact, but nonetheless continued with the work as a way of reconnecting.” Davis says the cooler tones in the work represent the negative thoughts and conversations which were part of the collaboration, and the warmer tones the more positive aspects of their conversations. “The tangled threads on the back of the work refer to the tangle of stories and emotions they both shared,” she says.

Stringlines by Geraldton artist Marianne Penberthy takes its genesis from a box of old work clothes belonging to her late husband. McKnight says Penberthy didn’t quite know what to do with them, or why she was keeping them, but didn’t want to get rid of them. “She decided to make twine with them, so it was a long, slow, meditative process. A textile artist for more than 30 years, she has lost a lot of her sight due to a brain injury, so now what she is doing is making twine. When you are making twine from fabric, when you rip it up it makes a particular sound. To her, it almost felt like a scream, while at the same time being therapeutic.”

McKnight says Penberthy is very interested in the environment and our impact on the environment, as well as colonisation. “Hence the use of wooden survey pegs,” she says, “and thinking about the ways we break up the environment and create borders and structures.” Using survey pegs in the work also refers to her husband, who was a carpenter, and included is decades-old string lines on some found in his toolbox.

As intriguing, considered and fascinating as the triennial exhibition is, a virtual cavalcade of funding is required to see it continue. King says its a job in itself to manage it. “It’s all in the funding,” she says. Like John Curtin Gallery and regional artists, we can all only keep our fingers crossed for a return of this all-important event.

Open Borders Regional Arts Triennial 2023 is on show at John Curtin Gallery until 8 October. 

Stringlines, 2022, twining string repurposed from old work clothes, survey pegs, dimensions variable, by Marianne Penberthy. Photo Sharon Baker.

Stringlines, 2022, twining string repurposed from old work clothes, survey pegs, dimensions variable, by Marianne Penberthy. Photo Sharon Baker.

♦ Borders 1 – 3, 2022, solid jarrah and aluminium, 83 x 45 cm each by Monique Tippett in Open Borders at John Curtin Gallery.


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