Curator: Julie Gough Artists: The 1491s, Ólöf Björnsdóttir, Trudi Brinckman, Darren Cook, Rebecca Dagnall, Sue Kneebone, Nancy Mauro-Flude, Jeroen Offerman, Perdita Phillips, r e a, Keren Ruki, Christian Thompson, Martin Walch, Siying Zhou Long Gallery, Salamanca Art Centre, Hobart 14 March – 28 April 2013
Art is a means to imaginatively explore and test one's views. As Marcel Proust once wrote, "Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world only, our own, we see that world multiply itself and we have at our disposal as many worlds as there are original artists." Testing Ground exemplifies this notion.
Opened as part of Tasmania’s Ten Days on the Island festival, Testing Ground is an ambitious and diverse exhibition featuring the work of fourteen national and international artists. Large projections are juxtaposed with still photographs, prints and sculptures. Curator Julie Gough, herself a mixed media and installation artist, has created a visual laboratory - a space to cultivate curiosity and experimentation, to test and to be tested.
Gough’s insight as an artist is evident in her insistence that art is as much about the process as it is the final product. This process involves self-reflection and sampling different mediums to visually articulate perception and identity. However, Testing Ground is not just about the artistic process, it is also about testing the audience.
The eclectic mix of work encourages various modes of engagement: you can wander between work, lean close and listen, sit back and laugh. The installation is designed to openly entice viewers. Rather than being segregated by internal white walls, work is exhibited in dialogue with its surrounds, amongst the chunky wooden beams that form the internal skeleton of the Long Gallery. As there are no didactic labels, viewers are informed by a numbered map and helpful catalogue. The links between artworks seem, at times, tenuous. This is, however, a deliberate curatorial strategy to resist straightforward encounters and interpretations.
Many works are visually alluring. Once ensnared, viewers are drawn into considering deeper themes. Tasmanian artist Nancy Mauro-Flude’s newly commissioned Valetudo is one such work. With its vivid, glistening sequins, the ornate healing flag is magnetic. It blends Haitian Vodou Flag traditions with the form of a lotus while alluding to Tasmanian Aboriginal elder Auntie Ida West. Hidden within the work is an augmented reality level accessible by the smartphone app Layar. Delving from the physical into the digital is an interesting secondary mode of engagement, one that is surely going to increase in coming years. Valetudo encapsulates Gough’s assertion that the works in Testing Ground refuse “to be bound by any single medium, technique or story”.
A dreamlike quality pervades much of the work. Like a pallid mirage, white draped neo-classical sculptures are reflected on the thin film of a perfectly still lake in Adelaide artist Sue Kneebone’s Continental Drift I, II and III. Adrift in the salt lake of Kneebone’s great-grandparents’ pastoral property, the allegorical sculptures are far from home. They have been digitally acquired from London’s Hyde Park where their original purpose was to celebrate the British Empire by representing the exotic continents of Asia, Africa and Europe. While the muted tonality is soothing, the tranquillity is shattered by the incongruity of the grandiose sculptures. Kneebone explains the work is partly about being white and out of place. It explores the implications of being what poet Judith Wright terms “born of the conquerors”. Kneebone’s work attests to Wright’s observation that “Our history in this land, we as European-Australians, has been one of not listening, not understanding, not looking after”. This is particularly evident in her fourth print, Planning for Paradise, in which Kneebone has returned pastoralist Sir Thomas Elder to the desolate land he futilely tried to transform using wells, dams, fences and camels. By visually bridging past and present, Kneebone reveals the disastrous legacy of Elder’s attempts at an antipodean paradise.
The many worlds presented in Testing Ground offer an array of insights into nature, culture and place delivered through captivating and often innovative means. Testing Ground will tour Australia over the next two years.
Amy Jacket is a writer and PhD candidate at the University of Tasmania.