While the various exhibitions on display at the Queensland Centre for Photography are not curated under a common theme, undeniable formal and conceptual links may be drawn between them. Meandering through the space, you are struck by the recurring themes of nature, ecological concerns, and, most noticeably, the elements; water, fire, earth, and air that are all alluded to in some way. Moreover, the audio aspect of the video-and-sound installation Submerge (a collaboration between Carolyn Lewens, Asmund Heimark and Tim Catlin) lightly permeates the entire space, providing an ethereal soundtrack to all the works on display. This seems apt given their subject matter: they range from fantastical seascapes and whimsical collaged landscapes to monumental glacier-filled panoramas and beautiful night skies splattered with dancing swirls of colour. Another body of work on show, Voicing Concerns, was, more difficult to reconcile with the rest of the exhibitions. These striking, varied, and complex works, all by Queensland College of Art (QCA) graduates Renata Buziak, Sarah Oxenham, Leanne Sauer, Sarah Welch and curated by Ellie Webb, a QCA curator-in-training, were compromised by their placement in the street-facing window, where the reflections of cars, houses, and street lights made viewing difficult.
Inside the main QCP area, Lewens enjoyed the largest space, presenting large and medium-sized digitally remastered cyanotype photograms and hanging sculptural installations. Aesthetically, this is also the order in which they are successful — her large prints are mesmerising: vivid, pulsating, and lurid. Some of them, such as In the Photic Zone, seem to literally bulge off the page and one is entranced by their wonderful gradations of rich Prussian blue. Mysterious forms, that are evocative of underwater sea creatures float in and out of the surfaces. The smaller works, in contrast, are flat and dull, while the sculptures (Waterworks and Medusa) are too reminiscent of science-museum installations for my liking. QCP deputy director Camilla Birkeland explained that these spherical objects are made up of original cyanotype prints that Lewens and fellow artist Neil Stanyer producd, employing actual oceanic specimens. The larger, two-dimensional works are only suggestive of sea creatures (in reality, they are made from ordinary items such as string bags and old jackets.
Peter Annand’s photographic series, The Same River, is dominated by water. It uses digital technology to collage photographs of the Brisbane River and Moreton Bay with handwritten text from letters that Annand’s family sent to his paternal grandfather while he served in WW2. It took Annand sixty years to discover these letters and in his artist’s statement he notes how they are a portal to his family’s lives, made more meaningful by the fact that his own father died when he was eight. The images are personal and poignant without being twee — although some are undoubtedly more successful than others (e.g., Hospital, Cheers for the King, Typewriting). Peter Charuk’s work, glacies lux, continues the theme of water — in the form of ice. Fox Glacier, a large glacier printed over five doors, is impressive. The work’s formal elements are echoed in his artists’ book, on the surrounding walls. Charuk is concerned with climate change and the media’s role in portraying the issue.
Finally, Vivien McLatchie’s series Breath is an appropriate way to conclude the show; capturing the breath of friends and family members against the cold night skies of Canada and Japan, her photographs recall the fluid creatures in Lewens’ prints, and the family theme in Annand’s works. Simple and yet complex, McLatchie’s photographs capture life, the proof of living, breath. Against the backdrop of a black sky — sometimes pricked with vividly bright stars — breath/life dances before our eyes, alternately mauve, smoke-brown, or luminescent blue. The images speak of the transient, erratic nature of life, and of how we return to the cosmos.
Queensland Centre for Photography (QCP) 16 July – 14 August 2011