Visual Arts at the Festival

An engaging Visual Arts Program awaits during Perth Festival, maintaining focuson local artists while including national and international artists.

Gemma Weston, Perth Festival Visual Arts Program Assosiate. Photo Jess Wyld.

Across Perth, galleries are readying for an annual feast of the visual arts, with artists leveraging, aligning and bouncing off the Perth Festival 2022 theme of Wardan (ocean), with imagination, wonder and depth. While COVID restrictions saw an intentional celebration of local artists in 2021, 2022 sees works by artists from other states, and a trickling of internationals. Perth Festival Visual Arts Program Associate Gemma Weston says the parameters have shifted this year, though not substantially. “While there’s still a focus and commitment to local artists, we’re beginning to rebalance towards international and national inclusions,” she says.
 
Indeed, Perth audiences will be the first in Australia to experience Lessons of the Hour (2019), a powerful new film installation by acclaimed British filmmaker and installation artist Isaac Julien, in a landmark exhibition spread across John Curtin Gallery and SAMSTAG Museum of Art at the University of South Australia for both the Perth and Adelaide Festivals. Lessons of the Hour was produced on a movie-scale budget with multi-location film shoots and specially mounted performance sequences. The work is a poetic meditation on the extraordinary life of pioneering human rights activist, abolitionist, freed-slave and orator, Frederick Douglass, covering three of his speeches, including the powerful “What to the Slave is the 4th July,” delivered in 1852 at an Independence Day celebration in Rochester, New York, considered one of the world’s most influential historical speeches.
 
At Fremantle Arts Centre, local and interstate artists join those from the local African diaspora for Undertow, with works in mediums from large format cyanotype, neon, site-specific intervention, photography, to sculpture and film. Weston says it’s a moment to look at the intersection of histories. “Curator Glenn Iseger-Pilkington has envisioned a very rich and varied combination of stories about the ocean and its resonance. It’s very poetic and broad, with beautiful material threads through it,” she says.
 
A duo of shows Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery matches Portals of Love and Loss by renowned Aboriginal artist Sonia Kurarra curated by Emilia Galatis, with Ariel’s Song by Luisa Hansal (Vic), Jess Tan (WA/Vic) and Wade Taylor, curated by Weston. She says Kurarra’s sense of colour is unparalleled. “She hasn’t had a solo in Perth since 2009, so the exhibition is much anticipated. There’s a new commission, in large layered Perspex, and we’ve just secured a wonderful selection of working drawings which really give some insight into her process and practice. She starts working and doesn’t stop until the work is done so the works are an incredible visualisation of her memory. Her work is based on the Country around Fitzroy River, and I think it will be very special.”
 
Ariel’s Song, its title borrowed from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, places contemporary artists in conversation with a survey of surreal and stormy works from the University of WA Collection by WA painter Audrey Greenhalgh (1903-91). Weston says she wanted to draw out some of the works in the collection depicting the ocean. “The exhibition highlights and celebrates practices which are ambitious in their own way, but are very much based on a slow buildup of other-worldliness through meditative and psychological processes.”
 
Bedside Manner is both a gesture across the airwaves and across the oceans from Finland-based artist Jessie Bullivant. At a yet to be disclosed radio outlet, a series of news bulletins will be read by a midwife, the two different professions of midwife and news reader colliding in an interplay of roles exploring care, authority and trust.
 
At the Alex Hotel, Tarryn Gill and Benjamin Barretto, together with lighting designer Nemo Gandossini-Poirier create a new reality with dreamscapes experienced from the bed, exploring the way oceans evoke an enigmatic combination of fear and fantasy.
 
The Art Gallery of WA joins with Propel Youth Arts to present a Family Day in celebration of its exhibition Ever Present: First Peoples Art of Australia. All ages workshops, talks, food, dance and music sets a festive atmosphere where visitors can connect and listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and people.
 
Our Language is one of the first major projects by Claire Bushby as curator at DADAA. “She’s a really talented curator,” says Weston. “It explores language and culture and celebrates the diversity of arts practice in WA.”
 
At Holmes à Court Gallery, artists respond to an electronic database containing all known European and
Asian shipwrecks in WA from multiple angles, and at PICA, twin exhibitions by emerging Aboriginal artists Katie West and Amrita Hepi (Qld) reveal powerful statements of intimacy and power. Weston says the two artists are now less emerging and becoming established voices, so it’s a show not to be missed. “Katie has been working with Perth-born Rotterdam-based curator Eloise Sweetman on a number of things internationally, and Amrita is both an artist and choreographer who was recently commissioned by the Art Gallery of NSW and for The National 2019: New Australian Art.
 
With 2022 being her third Festival as Visual Arts Program Associate, Weston says she’s not sure what the experience would have been like without a pandemic, as she has nothing to compare it to. “Each festival has been so unique. Each has had a thematic focus around a central Aboriginal word, so each has almost its own unique circumstance. It’s important to acknowledge Festival Director Iain Grandage and his work in establishing the Noongar Advisory Circle for the festival and the importance of acknowledging a connection to place and to Country, and the responsibility that comes with that. It’s been an incredible experience for everyone, and a real opportunity to do work that’s valuable and important, and makes change for the better.”
 
Supported by Wesfarmers Arts, the 2022 Perth Festival Visual Arts Program begins 5 February.

Lessons of the Hour, 2019, framed photograph on matt archival paper, mounted on aluminium, 160 x 213.29 cm by Isaac Julien.

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