Fuel for Thought: oil, energy, conflict and art
Vol 28 no 1, 2008
How are artists responding to peak oil, the search for alternative energy sources and conflict over resources? Artlink goes global in search of answers. The issue includes artists who have used alternative energy or whose work reflects the negative effects of an oil-based economy, with some powerful imagery by artists from the Middle East, East Timor, Iraq, the Philippines, Australia, California and Chicago. Burnt out petrol bowsers share the space with artwork which looks forward to a post-oil energy scenario. A video animation by Chinese artist Qiu Anxiong offers a profoundly moving experience on mankind's disastrous love affair with industrialisation. Australian artists include Charles Green and Lyndell Brown as official war artists in Iraq, as well as Alison Clouston, Zina Kaye, Madeleine Kelly, Carmel Wallace, Pamela Kouwenhoven and more. Editor Ian Hamilton.
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This exhibition launched the Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art into a world which may not be as wonderful as we would prefer. Erica Green's selection of artists and works mixed certainty with uncertainty. It contained wondrous things but the portents were mixed. In a previous age where the world could be represented by a Mercator map projection it remained possible to envisage it as a series of landmasses separated by water and neatly divided into national principalities. The later 20th century unraveling of the once Austro-Hungarian empire, then the crumbling of the Soviet empire sowed the seeds of uncertainty about national borders being fixed and inviolable. More recently the concept of the world as a biosphere in which humanity as the dominant species shares common futures and fates with other species and environments has inflected the practice of a diversity of Australian artists with strategies aimed at getting the viewer to re-imagine the present world and its fate.
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Narelle Autio Siren VI 2007, from the series The Place in Between pigment print, 107 x 88cm (framed). University of South Australia Art Collection.
The strength and interest in Wonderful World lay in its ability to create a sense that the diverse works had things to say to each other. In the lower gallery area one of Jon Cattapan's 'mega cities' hung alongside a city-theme video by Daniel Crooks. Facing these works was a large multi-panel landscape by Philip Wolfhagen. Crooks' video and Cattapan's painting along with Narelle Autio's The Place in Between photo series incorporated notions of liquidity but in Autio's imagery, liquid was something arrested or confused as a body plunged into a pool is translated into mutant form. Crooks' videos city source material created a hall of mirrors experience in which people and trams materialized like fairy floss while Cattapan's ciphers spanned their city effigies with traceries of lines which resembled power leads and computer circuitry. These various images seethed with implied malevolence or disturbing ruptures; Crooks' video offering the all-seeing black bud eye of a CCTV camera and Cattapan a volcanic lip view into the hot, toxic passions, intrigues and global connectivity that pulse beneath the comforting everyday world. Wolfhagen's liminal clouds also spoke of liquidity but in a Romantic language that intoned awesome dread of an aspect of nature as a grinder of bones, a persona reinforced by the presence of James Darling and Lesley Forwood's rendition of a river system, composed of bone-like mallee roots. In the company of these works and particularly when seen through the prism of Cattapan's forcefields of colour blooms and patterns, the heraldic striations and roundels that defined Ningura Napurrula's depiction of her country and its ancestral history, contradicted any reflexive reading of this image as 'Aboriginal art' but rather as conceptual circuitry. For a moment it was possible to believe that all the works in the room were humming with shared secrets about the true nature of the world 'as everything'. In the adjoining cinematic space Simon Carroll and Martin Friedel's film History of a Day wrapped the viewer in a series of 'days' which for all their restless revolving, gyrating and morphing, insinuated through repetition the idea that despite the sensual seductions of cinematic imagery, the human imagination must have stillness in order to reflect and understand. But was it the kind of desired stillness found in Anne Zahalka's subverted (perhaps contaminated?) museum dioramas? Here the cold comfort of threatened or even extinct creatures 'captured' in typical pose and environs was given an added chill factor by the presence of predatory helicopters or rising seas. Or was it the kind of stillness that emanated from a reading of Robert MacPherson's nesting boxes as silent witnesses to vanishing species? In the ebb and flow of fearful wondering Susan Norrie's epic multi-screen Undertow pitched the delicacy of fragile hope and the bloom of youth against apocalyptic fragments of human hell and environmental damnation. Wonderful World marked the Samstag Museum's eruption within the cultural landscape with the stealth of lava on the prowl.
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Articles in this issue
- Artrave: Artrave
- Editorial: Editorial
- Featue: Writing images with words: an inheritance of ambiguous faces
- Feature: A rusty sign at the end of a bloody empire
- Feature: Chance encounters: Pamela Kouwenhoven and Peter McKay
- Feature: Conducting Mobility
- Feature: Hyperlexic, desalinated but not scary
- Feature: Obscure dimensions of conflict
- Feature: Power and art in East Timor
- Feature: Rabih Mroué and Lina Saneh interview
- Feature: The error of our ways: Madeleine Kelly
- Feature: The revolution will not be televised: the changing landscape of film and video production in the Arab world
- Feature: The whistleblower of Discovery Bay
- Feature: The winding way
- Feature: Watching as the enchanted land meets its end: Qiu Anxiong
- Feature: World tree: sounds of a bigger picture. Alison Clouston and Boyd
- Preview: Biennale of Sydney 2008: Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev
- Preview: Handling the Adelaide Biennial
- Review: Economy
- Review: Fierce or Friendly: Humans in the Animal World
- Review: from time to time one talks to the moon: Aldo Iacobelli
- Review: Making it Modern The Watercolours of Kenneth McQueen
- Review: Migratory Projects: The Drive Out Cinema
- Review: Of
- Review: ON' n 'ON
- Review: Our Lucky Country - (Still Different)
- Review: Replay: Christian Marclay
- Review: Robert MacPherson, Vernon Ah Kee and Jeremy Hynes
- Review: The Road to Here
- Review: Wonderful World
- Review: [the space in between] Book project