5th TarraWarra Biennial

TarraWarra Museum, Australia

‘Endless Circulation’, co-curated by TarraWarra Museum Director, Victoria Lynn, and the co-founder of Discipline journal, Helen Hughes, stays close to its moniker. While a circle may imply repetition in perpetua, it does not determine directionality. The exhibition plays on this flexibility by contrasting the circulatory patterns of mega-events, such as biennials, with journals and text-based publications. This model frames two sub-themes around which the 27 selected artists cluster, pertaining to the past (Australia’s colonial history and the memory-life of materials) and motion (artworks that circulate, either literally or metaphorically).

A cameo of Australian history appears in Helen Johnson’s painting Empire Play (2016). Its scene of supplicating figures derives in part from Soldiers of the Cross (1899–1900), an illustrated lecture produced by the Salvation Army narrating the birth of Christ and the early martyrs, in a blunt act of Christian proselytizing. The image has the compositional solemnity of a Giorgione painting, undercut by Johnson’s mordant appropriation. Conversely, Vincent Namatjira’s untitled suite of new portraits of Australian Prime Ministers infuses political history with wry wit. The seven portraits have their expressions of rote congeniality undone by Namatjira’s blistering painterly style: the faces are transformed into cartoons, their smiles distorted into grimaces, as if held too long for a photograph.

Vincent Namatjira, Bob Hawke, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 91 x 67 cm. Courtesy: the artist and THIS IS NO FANTASY + dianne tanzer gallery

Vincent Namatjira, Bob Hawke, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 91 x 67 cm. Courtesy: the artist and THIS IS NO FANTASY + dianne tanzer gallery

Vincent Namatjira, Bob Hawke, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 91 x 67 cm. Courtesy: the artist and THIS IS NO FANTASY + dianne tanzer gallery

Wukun Wanambi’s HD video Nhina, Nhäma, Ga Ŋäma (Sit, Look and Listen, 2014), is more celebratory, depicting ceremonial performances in the artist’s homeland of Yirrkala, Arnhem Land,
in northern Australia. However, the montage of six vertical channels is tightly cropped, as if the details of each scene are deliberately withheld. The soundtrack – the rhythmic beat of clapsticks against a backdrop of ocean waves – binds the sequence and atmospherically embodies the theme of endlessness.

Robert Andrew makes colours metaphoric in Transitional Text – BURU (2016). Three panels covered in white chalk have their powdery surfaces attacked by an electromechanically operated water gun formed from the components of a 3D printer. As the water abrades the chalk, a layer of red ochre is exposed. Over time, the purged areas spell the word ‘Buru’ – Yawuru for ‘country’. (The ochre is sourced from Yawuru in Western Australia, where the artist’s forebears hail from.) The paint recalls bullet holes and the water trickling down the surface indents the chalk, revealing a line of blood-red ochre: it’s unmistakably a response to the history of Aboriginal genocide. Material transformations are also evident in Julia McInerney’s the light, and the Light – Virginia Woolf Piece II (two anchors melted down and recast) (2014): two shallow baths filled with salt water installed on the museum’s floor. Akin to Andrew’s work, the whiteness of the salt water variously suggests whitewashing or muteness, a blankness masking suppressed histories.


Robert Andrew, Transitional Text – Buru, 2016, aluminium, ochres, oxides, water and electromechanical controllers, 270 x 240 x 60 cm. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Andrew Curtis

Robert Andrew, Transitional Text – Buru, 2016, aluminium, ochres, oxides, water and electromechanical controllers, 270 x 240 x 60 cm. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Andrew Curtis

The circulation of matter structures Masato Takasaka’s mouthily titled new installation (which is too long to include here); essentially an oddball assortment of studio objects, some betraying the artist’s Japanese heritage (including junk-food packaging), others tracing Takasaka’s long-standing interest in constructivist design. The whole ensemble is a work-in-progress whose components are open to continual remix.

Known for moulding objects to be carried by participants through urban environments, Bianca Hester similarly relies on a practice of mobilization. In July 2015, the artist recruited performers to carry long metallic sticks to beat a path between Te Kopuke/Mount Saint John and Te Tokaroa/Meola Reef in New Zealand: the footage of the performance forms the dual-channel HD video, Constellating Bodies in Temporary Correspondence (2015). 


Bianca Hester, Constellating bodies in temporary correspondence, 2015, video still. Photograph: Joe Jowitt

Bianca Hester, Constellating bodies in temporary correspondence, 2015, video still. Photograph: Joe Jowitt

Within the coherence of ‘Endless Circulation’, the Melbourne Artist Facilitated Biennial (an exhibition of 24 artists nested within the TarraWarra Biennial, led by Christopher L.G. Hill) seems incongruous. An ad hoc aesthetic governs the disparate collection of works and, while some are charming, their very provisionality sits at odds with the curatorial tautness of the rest of the biennial.

If circulation is the biennial’s explicit leitmotif, invisibility is its implicit one. For every work that dramatizes an historical event or a material transfiguration, there is an indirect acknowledgment of that which remains hidden from view. In keeping with the parlance of circularity, you might say, two sides of the one coin.

Main image: Helen Johnson, Empire Play, 2016, acrylic on canvas, fabric, painted steel, 300 x 220 x 30 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Mary Mary, Glasgow.

Sophie Knezic is a visual artist, writer and lecturer based in Melbourne.

Issue 183

First published in Issue 183

Nov - Dec 2016

Most Read

A report commissioned by the museum claims Raicovich ‘misled’ the board; she disputes the investigation’s claims
In further news: Jef Geys (1934–2018); and Hirshhorn postpones Krzysztof Wodiczko projection after Florida shooting
If the city’s pivot to contemporary art was first realized by landmark construction, then what comes after might not...
Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018