Dark Heart: The 2014 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art

Art Gallery of South Australia
1 March – 11 May 2014

Lynette Wallworth and Pete Brundle Always Walking Country: Parrngurr Yarrkalpa 2013, video still.

Dark Heart had a profound effect on me. It changed the way I perceive the world, and made me "feel something" – even if that "something" was an acute sensation of vertigo and nausea.

It all began with Ian Strange’s Landed, a replica of the artists’ childhood home dropped into the pavement of North Terrace Boulevard directly in front of the Gallery. The house and all its exterior fittings have been completely blackened, and yet there are signs of life: the light at the front door has been left on; the fan on the rooftop continues to spin. The entrance to the house faces North Terrace, greeting passers-by with a haunting welcome. It tilts up and away from the viewer as if pausing for a moment before falling away into the depths of Hell. Landed, in all its hollow blackness, brings forth powerful connotations of a dark past, childhood nightmares, domestic misery and entrapment. And this was just the beginning ...

From a distance I spotted another inky black object looming in the balcony window and I couldn’t wait to get a closer look. This curious textile is part of a sculpture series called ARMOUR, undeniably Dani Marti’s craftsmanship. Made from sensuous black materials of licorice-like rubber, velvety leather and industrial nylon rope tightly woven and knotted to form bulbous folds that drip heavily into the upper and lower levels of the gallery, creating lineage between the three levels of Dark Heart. These gigantic, weighty organisms hover above the floor, catching the light and casting exceptional shadows. They are reminiscent of suspended bodies; entirely vulnerable and voluptuous they hang immobilised, beckoning to be touched. As Morgan Falconer describes in the catalogue "They are tributes and fetishes [who] reek of bodily yearning ..." Marti’s ARMOUR weavings threaten to love, protect, punish, sexualise, entangle and suffocate.

Approaching a small monitor positioned at the entrance to the lower level galleries, I came into contact with a video of Shoufay Derz’s face hung at eye level. The artist lies peacefully, eyes closed, with her face and neck painted a rich indigo. Golden silk moths fly and flutter around her, multiplying and laying eggs on the surface of her skin. Watching the moths crawling all over her sent shivers down my spine and yet the artist remains almost motionless. Depart without returning brings together conflicting emotions referencing peace and fear, religious ritual, life, death and rebirth. Also grabbing my attention and keeping it was Ian Burns’ large-scale Clouds machine, a massive windmill-like sculptural assemblage built from ladders, chair legs, mini-umbrellas and other random pieces of hardware. Internally it produces projections of clouds and rainbows and externally it forms words from filaments in light globes. Bizarre and brilliant; it is entirely captivating.

Brilliance was also present in the installations of Fiona Hall, Rosemary Laing, Ben Quilty, Alex Seton, Lynette Wallworth with Anthony and the Martu artists collective, Trent Parke, Julia Robinson, and in Patricia Piccinini’s stupendous Skywhale. The Dark Heart catalogue is dark and glossy like the show it accompanies, replete with full-page imagery by all of the participating artists. Looking through it is like experiencing the show all over again; unfortunately the writing doesn’t help recall the experience as accurately.

The standout for me was Richard Lewer’s video projection titled Worst luck … I am still here. It is based on a true story about a failed suicide mission that ended in tragedy for a Perth-based eighty-one year old pensioner Herbert Bernard Erickson (Bernie). The video shows the artist sitting in front of an overhead projector. He puts the first transparency up – a simple drawing of Bernie and the narration begins … The next transparency shows a woman, “my partner Julie and me, we’ve been together for more than twenty years. She’s the love of my life. The best thing about my life.” The story continues that Julie suffers a serious stroke rendering her permanently disabled and in constant pain. The couple makes a pact, they sort out their affairs and then Bernie smothers his wife, then their dogs, whispers sweet nothings, then proceeds to fail to electrocute himself. The clunkiness of the animation and the imperfections in Lewer’s drawings make the work raw and human. The inclusion of the maker’s hand and voice in the work make it somehow more heartfelt.

With all this weighty feeling – my heart was made heavy, my body weary but I was enriched with greater understanding and acceptance of life’s darkness. Knowing that for every shadow there is light.

Dark Heart: The 2014 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art was curated by AGSA Director Nick Mitzevich

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