Preparing to win the $25,000 Mandorla Art Award

LYN DI CIERO

Britt Mikkelsen after winning the the major $25,000 St John of God Health Care Prize at the Mandorla Art Award last year. Photo Peta Stenhouse.  

As the 18 March deadline for entries in Australia’s most significant thematic Christian art prize looms, Britt Mikkelsen, major winner of the prestigious $25,000 St John of God Health Care Prize at Mandorla Art Award last year, says don’t be disheartened if you’re not overly Christian. “A lot of people find the idea of this being a religious art prize a bit daunting, but I think what you need to remember is there are key terms and key universal ideas the committee put together which are really universal, and of the time. That’s what I found with the theme last year. It’s really important to connect when you enter an art award, especially one that’s themed, otherwise I don’t think there’s an integrity in the work.”
 
Her dramatic winning work, 8200 Souls, is a resined, blanketed figurative form pierced with 8200 holes to represent each homeless person across Australia, and is lit internally.
 
At a Theme Forum held at Holmes à Court Gallery in West Perth, the venue for the upcoming 2022 exhibition, Mikkelsen elaborated on key areas in her preparation to enter. She says professional photography is hugely important. “If I hadn’t had a professional photographer take photos of the work, it probably wouldn’t have been shortlisted in all likelihood, because it was very, very hard to photograph well. If you’re capable and it’s a painting or whatever that might be okay, but for me it was the best money I spent – absolutely, because that’s what the selection panel see – they see the picture. I think the artist statement has to be really thought provoking and evocative, but it’s the picture they see at the end of the day.”
 
“The other thing is finish. One of my considerations, because it was lit internally, and this is obviously not going to apply to everybody, but it could be a different consideration, is that, do I have a cord sticking out of this figure or not? My decision was it would’ve completely ruined the work, so I spent a lot of money on a battery system in the knowledge that if I was lucky enough to win, which I was, which is fantastic, that I would probably have to hardwire it, which I also did. But that decision I think was important, you know? And it’s about those little things sometimes, that I think make the difference.”
 
While the theme last year was from Micah, chapter six, verse eight, which included the words, “to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God,” Mikkelsen pulled out three terms to work with: justly, mercy, and humbly. She remembers many homeless people near where she lived and how greatly it had affected her. “I remember being in Sydney, this was a little while before that. It was the first time I actually sat down with somebody who was homeless and had a chat. She was a 16-year-old girl. Her name was Gail. And, you know, it was a horrible, typical domestic violence story where she ran away from home. But what struck me at the end of the conversation was she thanked me, because she goes days without someone seeing her and talking to her.”
 
“I think that’s the thing about homelessness – it makes us feel uncomfortable. It makes us question our own humility. It makes us question our own goodness, and when do we have the energy to engage? When do we not have the energy? It was these sort of juxtapositions I was interested in. So I knew I wanted to do a sort of ode to homelessness, and have that speak about us being just and fair and humble in our own lives, in order to connect with all people, no matter what their situation was. The work is basically a blanketed figure. There’s no figure inside, just light, representing the fact every soul is a person who shines as brightly as you or me or anyone else. They just happen to have been a really bad situation. I knew I wanted it to be a tattered kind of blanket, and I got hold of a vintage blanket, draped it and it was resined, but instead of just tattering it, I looked into the numbers of homeless people from the last census. There is about 8,200 people who actually sleep rough every day in Australia. It’s probably much, much higher now. So there was exactly 8,200 holes cut in the blanket, so the light shone through – it’s a light for every one of those people. I guess there is some religious connotation with the shrouded kind of figure – and was that something I thought about intensely? No, but, you know, as I was draping it became very obvious there was also those sort of undertones. I was really proud of it and I think sometimes the simple ideas work the best, and I think it was kind of an example of that.”
 
The theme for the 2022 Mandorla Art Award is Metamorphosis – profound and radical change. The biblical reference is Isaiah 43:19: “I am about to do a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” The theme reflects the changes in our world, from the pandemic forcing change to environmental changes affecting humankind. The committee of the Mandorla Art Award says the theme advocates new ways of understanding what these radical changes mean to us today. “Artist’s can help us to understand the depth of these changes and open up new ways of seeing what is possible, what is abhorrent, what is virtuous and what is needed.”
 
Entries for the 2022 Mandorla Art Award close 5pm Western Standard Time 18 March. Enter here: https://mandorlaart.com/2022-mandorla-art-award/

8200 Souls, found object, resin, LED lighting, 64 x 99 x 119cm, by Britt Mikkelsen, major winning work at the 2021 Mandorla Art Award.

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