Blaze Nine @ CCAS (2015)

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BLAZE NINE Blaze is an annual showcase of emerging contemporary art in Canberra. Blaze Nine coincidentally showcases the work of nine ACT emerging artists: Madeline Bishop, Michele England, Anja Loughhead, Sacha Pola, Jacob Potter, Dan Savage, Chris Sutevski, Jo Walters and Danny Wild. When people are exhibited together because of their perceived quality as artists, it’s often difficult to establish an overarching thematic interest amongst work - unusually, the case is not so with this exhibition. If this group were anything to go by, it would appear that what it means to be human is playing heavily on the minds of these emerging artists. Nostalgia for our past and our travels through life to the inevitable end, and what it means to be Australian, appear to be of paramount importance to Bishop, England, Loughhead, Pola, Savage and Walters. The other recurring theme present in the work of Potter, Sutevski and Wild is the ever-present desire to thoroughly dissect and interrogate their respective mediums, and in the process reveal deeper meanings within their materials and techniques. Alexander Boynes Curator Blaze Nine

MADELINE BISHOP It may sound like a long bow to draw, yet Madeline Bishop’s video series Shutter Relief shares parallels with Samuel Beckett’s classic, Waiting for Godot. Much as Vladimir and Estragon wait in vain for Godot in the play, Bishop’s subjects Lynn and Julian are left holding poses for photographs that are never taken. In this liminal moment that would usually last a couple of seconds at most, Bishop stretches time and leaves her subjects hanging in limbo, declaring that the work is “a comment on the climactic nature of the shutter release and the idealisation of the decisive moment in photography.” While Bishop keeps her subjects anticipating the release of the shutter as they stare down the lens, we are left to our own devices to formulate clues as to who these people are, what their relationships with each other may be, and the rooms in which they appear. As the pose is held for a three-minute duration, what is surprising is the realisation that the context in which the figure is placed reveals more about the subject and who they may be as people, than their trained eye contact, facial expressions or (albeit limited) actions. In the same way a visitor may glance over a new friend’s bookshelf or record collection upon first visit, humans instinctively seek out clues to gain a better understanding of what interests their acquaintance may hold. Is it safe to assume Julian likes gin, bananas, and cooking in his tagine? I wonder if Lynn is good at Scrabble, and should I read a Jasper Fforde book? It’s in this moment that there is a switch between what may have at first felt like a mutual connection between subject and viewer, and the realisation that the subject is wearing their pose as armor. This is the instant when the viewer becomes the voyeur, and something deeply personal once again becomes anonymous.

TOP: MADELINE BISHOP, Julian, 2015, digital video still 3’20”, 16:9 BOTTOM: MADELINE BISHOP, Lynn, 2015, digital video still 3’20”, 16:9

MICHELE ENGLAND For Blaze Michele England continues her investigation into climate change, her concern for the environment, and contemplates how one might reconcile themselves with their carbon footprint in the twenty-first century. England began to focus on these themes when completing Honours in Painting, approaching her making process with strong references to art history, most specifically altars from the Renaissance period. In her travels throughout Europe, England spent a great deal of time looking at altarpieces in cathedrals and museums, and their meanings as places for deep contemplation. By borrowing and subverting this historical motif conventionally reserved for religious worship, she aims to address contemporary global issues, intending for them to hold the same gravitas as the objects which had inspired them. In her polyptych Contemplating our Habitat, England deliberately overloads the viewer with visual stimuli, contrasting mining machinery, figures in Hazmat suits and hazard stripes with the trappings of interior design and home dÊcor. It is through this saturated palette that the viewer is drawn into the work, much the way Pop Art or advertising does, however once engaged it quickly becomes apparent that there’s a barb in the tail. England uses the symbolism of the home to speak of the conundrum facing contemporary society – our overwhelming reliance on fossil fuels for them to function, juxtaposed with the looming reality of climate refugees due to the unwillingness of society to seek alternative means of energy. Abstract and potentially difficult futures are represented through paint by identifying the fossil fuel industry as one of the causative factors of anthropogenic climate change and subsequent extreme weather events. It is through this continued investigation of her concerns for the contemporary world that England hopes she can open a dialogue about our shared responsibility to ensure a positive future for our environment.

RIGHT: MICHELE ENGLAND, Contemplating our Habitat, 2015, mixed media polyptych, dimensions variable

ANJA LOUGHHEAD Anja Loughhead is an emerging photographer and installation artist with a practice that is heavily informed by her grandparent’s experiences as new immigrants to Australia. Loughhead uses her Finnish heritage as a device to address the inhumanities that immigrants were subjected to in Minister Calwell’s White Australia Policy, and it’s accompanying ‘Populate or Perish’ slogan. Loughhead uses the propaganda and government policies of the mid-twentieth century to directly underline the inhumanities still suffered in Australian refugee camps in 2015. Presented in Blaze is an expansive 44-panel installation entitled Bonegilla Bound. Bonegilla Migrant Reception and Training Centre was located near Albury–Wodonga and operated from 1947 until 1971, accommodating over 300,000 new immigrants to Australia. By drawing on Bonegilla publicity material and newspaper articles, Loughhead seeks to highlight the absurdity of the White Australia Policy of the period and hold a mirror to present-day Australia in what she feels are direct parallels. Utilising terry towelling nappies as worn by babies of the period, Loughhead takes specific aim at the 13 child mortalities suffered in the Bonegilla camp, adorning the wall like dirty washing (or policy) hung out to dry. Serving as both commemoration and canvas, the nappies provide a ground for the media’s accuracy of reportage to be questioned, with clippings and photographs of the period directly printed onto the soft fabric. The pairing of an article so loaded with innocence and vulnerability sits in stark contrast with the harsh reality that babies were dying of malnutrition in a sweltering migrant camp in our own country. More than six decades on, this country’s approach to refugees and migrants, and comparisons to Sisyphean labour don’t go unmissed, Loughhead stating “Bonegilla Bound questions Australia’s approach to immigration policy in fear that we are constantly repeating ourselves.”

ABOVE: ANJA LOUGHHEAD, Bonegilla Bound (installation photograph) 2015, digital inkjet print on terry towelling nappy, each panel 60 x 60cm, 44 total

SACHA POLA Native Canberrans have a strange relationship with the beach. While frequently used to promote Australia as an attractive destination to the rest of the world, for many locals it’s a place visited only a few times a year, despite being just a two-hour drive away. Sacha Pola shares this strange ambivalence towards the coast, appreciating its loaded role in Australia’s aesthetic history, whilst not feeling overly fond of it as a place in his own life. Above everything, Pola realises its pre-existing loading in Australian culture, and uses it as a lens through which he allows his narratives to play out. Although this country has a vast and fascinating centre, the allure of the beach is probably Australian culture’s strongest icon. It has played host to Aboriginal massacres at the hands of white colonisers and some of our most bitter racial tensions since, yet is also a place that families spend carefree holidays in the sun and hope to one day retire. This plethora of activity has drawn artists to represent it for centuries, Charles Meere, Max Dupain, Brett Whiteley Vernon Ah Kee and Anne Zahalka are but a handful who have produced iconic images of lives played out on the beach. Pola’s paintings approach lonely figures in this environment through the language of magic realism, the beach and its symbolism acting as anchor points to the absurdity in the work. A nude figure showering a shark between the flags seems perfectly normal, when placed within the ordinariness of Australian beach culture. In this mirage we are enticed into the world of lifesavers and sunbathers, the crash of the waves, and the squeak of our thongs as we shuffle away from the water in search of an ice cream. As Pola eloquently declares “The beach is where Australians are born, come of age, fight and relax – together, for better or worse, and until death do us part.”

LEFT: SACHA POLA, A Little to the Left, 2014, 80 x 120cm, acrylic on board ABOVE: SACHA POLA, Not Guilty Pleasures, 2014, 40 x 70cm, acrylic on paper

JACOB POTTER Relationships between painting and music have existed frequently throughout the history of both art forms, the strongest of these beginning a century ago. Jacob Potter responds to music in a way not dissimilar to Mondrian representing Jazz and Boogie-Woogie in his seminal works of the 1930s and 40s. Where Mondrian had Monk and jazz, Potter has the grunge of Sonic Youth and the Australian post-punk of Eddy Current Suppression Ring or Total Control. By channeling the spontaneity and chaotic freedom found in these genres, Potter’s process is a live and physical experience, as he makes his works in response to the blasting noises and synth squeals that come through his stereo. Where Mondrian emphasised the importance of improvisation to liberate form, Potter takes his cues from wild new sounds while painting ‘live’ to inform his work. Noises that shock, leave Potter reeling “What the hell is that sound?!” and have him chaotically scrambling to represent the moment before it fades. It’s in this free-for-all that works are splashed, scratched and poured in paint, cut-up, glued together, bound and wrapped together to create a new whole. Beginning with an unstretched canvas, both sides are painted on, elements are cut out and patched with orange onion bags or sewn up with wool, and eventually a decision is made as to which side is ‘the work’. Potter applies the practices of the DIY music scene by working purely within his means and never throwing anything out, however by these same rules nothing is ever safe from modification until it’s hanging on the gallery wall. It’s in this cooling-off period after chaos that Potter considers if he’s pushed the limits of his materials far enough, “most of the time I am not in control of the material and the work teeters on disintegration and there is an anticipation of the image falling apart. Finding that tipping point is a focus when I create these works.”

LEFT: JACOB POTTER, Funny Dude, 2015, 55 x 54cm, acrylic, canvas, wool, wood RIGHT: JACOB POTTER, Lava Level, 2014. 80 x 41cm, acrylic, canvas, wool, wood

DANIEL SAVAGE Often appearing as the central subject in his work, Daniel Savage makes photography, video and performance art that critiques society’s attitudes towards gender, race, ability, sexuality, belief, and the human body in it’s infinite variations. In recent years Savage has begun to produce work that addresses his own ability, and in the process question how and why images are used in society to manipulate the way individuals are perceived “when images are just shadows and distorted, thinly veiled versions of a subjective truth.” His most recent series Print by Numbers, continues this investigation into how contemporary imagery is read and the way it shapes our perception as individuals. A series of full length, life size portraits printed on clear vinyl, each manipulated differently in the printing process emphasises imperfection. The illusion that the figure is melting or fading away critiques the flaws inherent in photography, often considered a ‘truthful’ form of representation. By visibly declaring the ink required to produce an image upon the surface of the work, attention is drawn to the subject and the constructed nature of images as they are translated: subject to camera, to computer, to printer, to surface and ultimately viewer. More importantly, what this technique specifically aims to address is the imperfection of humanity, and the way we perceive individuals within social structures. By presenting a series of diverse individuals in series, and dressing them all in the same non-descript black singlet and shorts, Savage leaves us to our own devices and assumptions to form decisions about his subjects. In doing so, he asks us to question the way we perceive individuals and the preconceptions we may associate with them.

LEFT: DANIEL SAVAGE, Print by Numbers - Daniel, 2015, 195 x 68cm, inkjet print on vinyl RIGHT: DANIEL SAVAGE, Print by Numbers - Dannae, Link, Harry, 2015, 195 x 68cm, inkjet print on vinyl

CHRIS SUTEVSKI For someone who spent an entire year of Honours in Printmedia and Drawing investigating as many different ways to visually represent a single rock as possible, Chris Sutevski is not averse to a serious challenge. By working through an array of invented drawing systems, codes and formulas, Sutevski seeks to push the boundaries of visual representation, often reducing subjects to their smallest parts in order to gain a holistic visual understanding of them. To put it simply, he leaves no stone unturned. Exhibited in Blaze are three interconnected works that take their cues from Vincent van Gogh’s The Rock of Montmajour with Pine Trees, a lesser-known sketch by the artist from 1888 in pencil, pen and ink. Sutevski responds to the original drawing in a different manner with each work he creates, however his intention to ‘redraw’ the drawing in order to unpack the fragments that constructed it, remains the same. He first responds to the original by digitally tracing the exterior of every single mark that van Gogh has made to create the drawing; painstakingly cataloguing well over 7,000 individual elements it has taken to create the work. These notations are recorded in a series of books, one to a page, effectively reading as an index of glyphs from an unknown language. Secondly he responds by creating a three-dimensional version of each of these notations by CNC milling them from sheets of timber, and presenting them as a giant dismantled jigsaw piled on the gallery floor. The third response presents a sheet of black acrylic on the gallery wall, the notations cut away to reveal a drawing both present, and absent. Through this interrogation Sutevski not only investigates “how a drawing operates when dismantled into individual marks and is reorganised”, but succeeds in creating something far greater than the sum of its parts.

LEFT: CHRIS SUTEVSKI, Vincent Van Gogh, The Rock of Montmajour with Pine Trees, 1888, Scale 1:1 (1-400), 2015, 400 page book, 20 x 13 x 1cm, white TOP: CHRIS SUTEVSKI, Vincent Van Gogh, The Rock of Montmajour with Pine Trees, 1888, Scale 1:1, 2015, 40.5 x 61cm, laser etched acrylic BOTTOM: CHRIS SUTEVSKI, Vincent Van Gogh, The Rock of Montmajour with Pine Trees, 1888, Scale 1:1 (801-1200), 2015, 400 page book, 20 x 13 x 1cm, white

JO WALTERS It’s extremely rare to find an emerging artist as intertwined with their practice as Jo Walters. Working primarily in sculpture and assemblage, Walters explores the interchangeable existence between personal life and practice traditionally reserved for performance artists - her artwork is an extension of her body, her body is an extension of her artwork. No matter how one looks at it, what makes this meshing all the more surprising is that in the process, she manages to avoid literal representations altogether. Throughout her life Walters has suffered a debilitating chronic illness, which has in the past left her bedridden for years at a time. In many ways this experience has been as important to her arts practice as any time spent making in the studio, and has helped her achieve an incredibly philosophical approach to life, art, existence, and the absurdity of it all. After years of fighting her situation she arrived at the ultimate paradox: accepting that what was imprisoning her was also the key to her liberation, and by embracing this limitation it could lead to a transcendence of physicality. Included in Blaze are three recent works that address historical, social and economic narratives, taking their form as quasi-anthropomorphic medicine chests. Walters uses this domestic staple to explore society’s collective anxiety regarding status and identity as projected onto the body, and what these stereotypes have meant for the body that does not look or behave like the prescribed norm. To quote Walters, “From freak shows to medical paradigms, the work finds it’s resolution in an imagined subversion, evoking the possibility for a transcendence of what it means to be human and tied to our mortal, corporeal selves.”

LEFT: JO WALTERS, Medicine Chest II: Specimen, 2014, 118 x 46 x 16cm, wood, paint, metal, paper, perspex, LED and halogen lights RIGHT: JO WALTERS, Medicine Chest I: Spectacle (detail), 2014, 132 x 40 x 14cm, wood, paint, metal, paper, LED and halogen lights

DANNY WILD Danny Wild is an artist that works between kinetic sculpture, sound, performance, two and threedimensional video, graphics, and combinations of all of the above. With such a dramatically diverse practice it’s no surprise that Wild draws a great deal of his inspiration from the oversaturation of information in the Internet age. According to Andrew Keen, author and web 2.0 authority, users uploaded 72 hours of YouTube video and 216,000 new photos on Instagram per minute, in 2014 alone. It is this sheer excess that Wild marvels at, but also seeks to address though his own visual framework. Last year when out walking with his young family, Wild began taking mundane photos of suburbia on his smartphone – wheelie bins, letter boxes, light posts, driveways and houses, amongst many other unmemorable things. When one eventually culls their digital photos, these are often the first things to be deleted to create more room for shots of cats, food, sunsets, cats, your friend pulling a dumb face, and cats. What separates these images from the masses of digital landfill created everyday is the context in which they are placed. By creating a structure for these photos to exist, these ordinary images draw strength from each other, and when seen in situ it becomes impossible to see anything as unnecessary or unimportant. By crudely collaging and animating these elements together, Wild creates fictional worlds that are incredibly familiar and strangely foreign at the same time. Wild recently travelled to New York, and decided to use this construct to speak about the feeling of wonder and excitement when experiencing a new environment, thus his work in Blaze, 48 Hours In A New Place was born. Using ‘cut-out’ techniques, Wild creates blocky collages of places visited and things he’s seen, a pastiche of ephemeral images scrolling across the screen like a visual representation of Musique concrete, or the digital naïve. Accompanying the video elements are field recordings made on location, which Wild has responded to with modular synthesiser sound. By crafting each element of this work to run at a different duration, Wild allows time, sound, and visual memory to be uniquely experienced in his constructed environment, creating a unique experience for each viewer.

TOP: DANNY WILD, 48 Hours in a New Place, 2015, digital video still BOTTOM: DANNY WILD, 48 Hours in a New Place, 2015, digital video still