La Trobe GradShow, 2011

Art school graduate shows are one of the great hunting grounds for artistic talent – a way to gauge the interests of the emerging contingent of art producers. You can generally get a flavour of what’s cutting through with the next batch of artists, what styles are of interest, what social issues are playing on their minds and the new uses that technologies are being put to in the service of creative expression.

La Trobe uni in Bendigo professionally presented their recent graduates in the Phyllis Palmer gallery and adjoining hallways of the building. Anne Mawson’s Mapscape stood out instantly, a collision of overlaid and gridded imagery. Sections of maps, graphic and abstract layers, embedded receipts, all gave the work a sense of psychogeographic topology. This was a conceptual expression of our understanding of landscape, filtered through the conduits of technology. Google maps and internal mental trajectories of places we can only partially know through the translation into symbol. Presented as a series of 6 large mixed media works on paper, bringing to mind Robert Rauschenberg, each component gridded again into sections of 4, the subtle hint of time also comes into play (6 x 4  = 24).

Another series of works, this time by Liz Fleming, at first jarred with its intense close-up imagery of body parts. Simply too close for comfort, and appearing like a fetishistic homage to the technological advances in camera development, the works gradually overcome this initial effect and the pure impact of the content itself begins to declare itself. Warming up with further time, like good art should, ideas about the intense scrutiny of the individual begin to arise. The contemporary desire for constant photographic proof of our existence, the focussed attention on ourselves and our sharing of this across the virtual universe is a touchstone of our age. The particular attention in some of the images on blemishes and imperfections can easily be seen as a counterpoint to the airbrushing hyperrealism of commercial advertising.

The abstract works of Kathryn Davies were another stand out. Recalling Sean Scully’s abstract paintings (although not evident in this particular image above), Davies works are bold and all-over canvas declarations. Utilising grids, repetition and symbols, the paintings evoke a form of coded language, like hieroglyphs floating across flattened planes. The subtlety of the painted layers though again generated a slow reveal effect, opening up a more textured and deepened field of vision. Scratchings of text, earthen tones and the symbolic connotations of the forms also spoke of history and the marking of time.

Overall, and running the risk of sounding like a blow-in academic art wanker (which I undeniably am) there was a feeling that the show was a little light on for conceptual risk-taking and boundary pushing that you love to see at the coalface of emerging art. The absence of a sculptural component in the course, a field in which the more adventurous conceptual art tends to be produced, might be a contributing factor and was a tad disappointing, but alas, such is the nature of the degree at this institute. Still, there’s a spark of energy that’s evident among some of the works, and that is always a joyous prospect.

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Runs until 2 December.

(published on Golden ArtNet)

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