Visual Arts Program

Adelaide Festival 2000 3 -19 March

Five liquids: ink, varnish, milk, blood and water are major players in Peter Greenaway's opera Writing to Vermeer. As you might expect the liquids, or their simulcra, actually appear on the stage, blood and water in particular abundance. This arcane, obtuse and fabulous production has to be seen as a keynote to the 2000 Adelaide Festival and, when considering the visual arts, it may then be asked: "Was there, apropos Vermeer, a fantastic painting exhibition on during the Festival?"

Well no. There was a show called Warm Filters/paintings for buildings, curated by Linda Marie Walker and Anton Hart, which took a broad interpretation of painting to Elizabeth House and its North Terrace environs. A sort of integration of art and architecture, art and commerce, art and daily life was handled in the show. It was also, in a way, a response to Slovenian artist Matej Vogrincic's humorous artwork car park members only in which many toy cars were glued to the side of a building. In Venice and Llubliana, Vogrincic has dressed buildings in clothes. It was the work of Annette Bezor, two large oil paintings of computer-distorted Orientalist faces strung up on the old John Martin's carpark wall like Hong Kong movie banners, which took painting to the streets, a flash of brilliant colour and art in the laneway. (Some may have recalled The Hero Walk, Pat Hoffie's interventions in the 1994 Adelaide Installations Festival in which she placed giant images, painted in the Phillipines by professional banner painters, on the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide Oval, the South Australian Museum and St Peter's Cathedral). Jacky Redgate's contribution to Warm Filters , a series of family pre and post migration photographs were engaging, her brother with red hair and red jumper full of 1950s childhood expressions, the contrast between Britain and Australia at times large, at other times negligible.

The timing of Artists' Week in the first week of the Festival which meant that it coincided/collided with Writers' Week was not a good move. Nor was the holding of some Artists' Week sessions in different venues, as some of these venues were too small and others too far away. The scattered nature of the program, formed by Brenda Croft, Andrea Kleist and Ewen McDonald meant that there was no centre, no heart, no meeting place for Artists' Week. There were many meeting places of course, all the galleries and openings and forums and parties and bars and clubs, but there was no convivial place outside Elder Hall where those who did attend Artists' Week could sit nearby and talk. Thus a strategic point of accidental intersection was lost.

The NAVA forum on The Future of Art held at the Mercury Cinema was very well-attended but failed to deliver vision or futurology to an audience which expected more or other than whining about funding. There were no representatives of youth or even relative youth on this panel, nor of local artists or artworkers (several of whom could have performed without airfares); its last, more considered, forum in 1998 produced some thoughtful papers.

The logistic success of Writers' Week over Artists' Week relates not only to the greater perceived public accessibility of writing over art but to the convivial surroundings enjoyed by the audience. It is al fresco, there is food and drink, it is possible to move freely from forum to conversation, from solitude to listening, from smoker to non-smoker. It is an event. Artists' Week was once held in the Pioneer Women's Gardens where Writers' Week pitches its big open tents. It was 1988. The chief reason to discontinue using this site was that artists need to show slides, and videos, and you can't darken a tent. This type of reasoning may have been true in 1988 but by now there must be technology that could solve the display of visual material by illuminated screens. In any case Elder Hall could not be darkened. Two tents like those they use forWriters' Week would mean that a steady diet of Artists' Talks in one tent could be balanced by historians, critics, writers, and more artists in the other tent. Let's do it this way and let's get local representation, experience and knowledge on the controlling side of things.

The issue of Aboriginal culture in Australia straddled the Festival 2000 visual art program with some force. The opening of the Aboriginal Cultures Gallery at the South Australian Museum, with a display which will strongly influence the way that we and our children see Aboriginal Cultures, and Australia, for the next ten or twenty years, was a significant historical moment. So was Beyond the Pale, the Adelaide Biennial of Contemporary Australian Art curated by Brenda L Croft, which showed only Aboriginal Art. To the viewer au fait with contemporary Aboriginal art the Biennial, while containing many valuable artworks, lacked rigour and structure. It showed the range of work being made by Aboriginal artists across the country but little that was shown was new or unfamiliar. There is nothing radical any more about Aboriginal art being seen in State Art Galleries. It needs to be asked whether affirmative action of this kind is not even a little dated. A much more thought-provoking show could have been made by pulling together Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal works concerned with land, identity, family, narrative and history. Common Ground would be the title I would suggest for this 2002 Adelaide Biennial. To return to talk of Vermeer, the artform of painting in Beyond the Pale was ably represented by Long Tom Tjapanangka, Mitjili Naparulla, Kitty Kantilla, Lena Nyabi, Gertie Huddleston and Gloria Petyarre.

From Appreciation to Appropriation:Indigenous Influences and Images in Australian Visual Art curated by Christine Nicholls for the Flinders Art Museum, had a strong program of forums that were not well-publicised but overattended in an inadequate space. Many people were interested to hear about this issue which has been on the Artists' Week agenda since its inception in 1982. From Appreciation to Appropriation included works by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artists and asked the viewer to consider the past and the present in the light of what we now know. The show ranged widely from James Cant's images of a corroboree to Imants Tillers' fairly direct copies and Ian Fairweather's dry goauches. There was an impressive and comprehensive video on Elizabeth Durack by Film Australia (1997) and some Eddie Burrup artworks. I missed the forum at which Durack spoke, but wonder, heretically, whether Durack's identification with Aboriginal culture, to which she is no stranger, is perhaps no broader a stretch of the imagination than that of someone who discover their Aboriginality late in life and tries to picture it. Ownership, identity, culture, borders, boundaries, history, all these large issues arise repeatedly and are not easily resolved.

The karra exhibition curated by Vivonne Thwaites at Artspace brought together Aboriginal photographer Agnes Love with installation artist Jo Crawford and printmaker Chris de Rosa in a collaboration to talk about the River Red Gum, its history and future. Three massive tree trunks respectively of a youthful, mature and elderly tree, made from printed diaphanous fabric, dominated the space. Part-museum display, part-didactic forest, part-plant nursery the show wrestled with presenting information and transforming it into art. At the University of South Australia Art Museum Monument to a lost civilisation, the big international show by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, (neither of whom made it to Australia) a series of models and plans for an imaginary museum also tested the audience's patience in being part-display, part-plan, part-museum, part-illustration.

At Tandanya 3SPACE - 21st Century Indigenous Explorers, a show with its own CD, included the work of Darryl Pfitzner, much of which is heavily didactic though some delicate emtional works use materials like bones to find a voice. Including work by both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artists over four venues, regional and urban, Essential Truths: readily to hand curated by Malcolm Mackinnon and Reg Lynch, was picked up in the backyard and determinedly down to earth. Spectacular work by Nalda Searles using seeds from Xanthorhoea, and Dan Murphy, whose Lacuna, a giant reclining nude made from mattress springs, lay outside the Festival Centre box office, bring the bush into the city as something true and inescapable. For valuable international flavour Greenaway Art Gallery imported the work of Txomin Badiola and Padro Mora, two Spanish installation artists, while at the JamFactory Gallery Margot Osborne in The Return of Beauty put together a delicate and exquisite collection of works amongst which Catherine Truman's wall sculptures stood out as evincing a complex and developing aesthetic.

It was ink, virtual and the kind that comes in books which occupied the Experimental Art Foundation and the Contemporary Art Centre. A generous sense of extension was provided by the large program of forums, musics, books, talkings, that was verve: the other writing curated by Teri Hoskin. Appropriately Bill Seaman's video Red Dice threw old technologies in with our nascent understandings of new ones. The EAF held Kevin Henderson for a week performing with Julie Henderson (no relation). This work was not challenging in the manner suggested by its title Between the eyes evil shaved but did reward engagement. Participation in the work, by reading aloud, afforded a sense of understanding not able to be gained by only being a spectator. Arguably this is a new, or hang on is it a really old paradigm for art in the twenty-first century? To not only look at art made by artists but to engage through art in the creation of a new experiment, another view of your own life thus transforming art and its role from being another product to be consumed into a heightenend awareness of existence, history, stories, feelings. Doesn't Aboriginal art on one level also say something like that?

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