First of all, the VAC at La Trobe needs some praise for consistently putting on great contemporary art shows. For a region bustling with creative output, there’s frankly not enough quality contemporary art venues, and the VAC deserves mention and praise for holding up its end of the bargain, so to speak.
The Honours students from La Trobe have moved into the main gallery space and command a solid presence in the space. All of the work was of a high standard, it’s accurate to say, and that bodes well for the artists and the institution from which they have emerged. Sometimes, in these sorts of shows, there’s a twofold approach of identifying the talent that already exists in the artistic production with also identifying the potential for further development. This latter process is fraught with subjective readings and intuition, but is also one of the exciting ways of looking at emerging art. It’s almost as if you are looking deep into the art and searching for a burning ember of heat that fuels the potency for more output and productivity.
The paintings of Linda Wheeler are glowing with this potential. Apparent in her handling of the paint, the composition and the content, is an artist capable of controlling her expressive intent. But somehow even more apparent, is the potential for growth, development and a strengthening of her image making. Recalling a contemporary German influence of painting, Kippenberger comes to mind immediately, the materiality of the paint is celebrated in evident brush strokes and drips. The use of mountainscapes also plays into a romantic edge, but this is counterbalanced by slippage into abstraction, particular the use of dots across multiple canvases. This tension between figuration/landscape/abstraction is well maintained. The dots reading like sun flares, rain drops or perhaps as nodal points in a network of connections across the 8 different canvases on the wall.
Elisa Stone’s photograms of watery panoramas are equally engaging. These large-scale images, running horizontally on the wall, play against the gravitational forces between the subject and the presentation. The images of water, apparently captured on a vertical trajectory (ie: light flowing downward through the water, to the film) when displayed on a wall allowing for the horizontal plane of viewing, distorts the natural perception of gravity and you half expect the water to slide down the walls and onto the floor. But captured in a frozen moment of liquid motion, the works also emphasise an uneasy sense of time. Somehow time is slowed in perception, rather than stopped, and the watery images merge and wander in your peripheral vision.
Close up, the works reflect patterns of nature found in granite (the slow solidification of liquid rock), cellular formation, fire and vast meteorological phenomenon like cyclones captured from space. This translation across micro and macro scales expresses a profound connection to natural and universal forces and in a different way to Wheeler’s paintings also reflects a romantic edge increasingly evident in contemporary art.
A parallel connection of concerns links the accumulative works of Maree Santilla and Ann Berg. Artefact, museological categorisation, history and collection are all evident across both artists’ work. Berg’s use of living plants, growing from old newspapers, drags the dominant historical feeling of her work into the present, reminding us that from within the bones of the past, the future still continues to grow. Recalling works by Mark Dion, Berg looks to collide the systems of historical classification with those of art and, ultimately, to drag both systems from their often hermetically sealed enclosures.
Santilla’s inclusion of furniture, especially in black and red, together with partial ceramic figurines, evokes a particularly Asian influence. The figures, like lost clay soldiers or ancient greek kouros sculptures, are heavily weighted with anthropological connotations. Lost civilisations and the very idea of civilisation itself – rendered in art and carried forward beyond its own existence – are touchstones.
The show is very well balanced and considered, each artist afforded their own space without one dominating the space at the expense of others. The undercurrent of concerns that run across the artists’ works provide for some very interesting correlations between the pieces in the space and create a sort of conversation that helps to bring you back and forth through the room. And it must be said, View Street is truly a cultural centre, not only for Bendigo and the region, but when you think of Dudley House across the road (closed unfortunately for my visit to see the clay sculpture of Suzie O’Shea) and the Bendigo Art Gallery, and to my delight, the discovery of a wonderful park just behind, it’s a very special place for Victoria.