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

In a year charged with politicized tensions, mastery of craft trumps truth-to-power commentary
The US writer, who died last week, brought a quality of inestimable importance to the modern novel: a mind that was...
The $21M painting was the highest price ever paid for a work by a living African American artist at auction
Royal bodies, the ‘incel’ mindset and those Childish Gambino hot-takes: what to read this weekend
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
The rapper and artist have thoughts about originality in art; Melania Trump tries graphic design – all the latest...
The dilapidated Nissen hut from which Rachel Whiteread will take a cast
Yorkshire residents complain that the concrete sculpture of a ‘Nissen hut’ will attract excrement, vandalism and litter
Poul Erik Tøjner pays tribute to Denmark’s most important artist since Asger Jorn
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...
Photographer Dragana Jurisic says her account was deactivated after she uploaded an artwork depicting a partially naked...
In further news: open letter protests all-male shortlist for BelgianArtPrize; Arts Council of Ireland issues...
From Sol Calero’s playful clichés of Latin America to an homage to British modernist architect Alison Smithson
Everybody’s favourite underpaid, over-educated, raven-haired art critic, Rhonda Lieberman, is as relevant as ever
‘Prize & Prejudice’ at London's UCL Art Museum is a bittersweet celebration of female talent
The curators want to rectify the biennale’s ‘failure to question the hetero-normative production of space’; ‘poppers...
A fragment of the brutalist Robin Hood Gardens will go on show at the Venice Architecture Biennale
‘Women's role in shaping the history of contemporary art is being reappraised’
Three shows in Ireland celebrate the legendary polymath, artist and author of Inside the White Cube
The legendary performance artists will partner up again to detail their tumultuous relationship in a new book
An open letter signed by over 100 leading artists including 15 Turner prize-winners says that new UK education policy...
Naturists triumph at art gallery; soothing students with colouring books; Kanye’s architectural firm: your dose of art...
Avengers: Infinity War confirms the domination of mass culture by the franchise: what ever happened to narrative...
The agency’s founder talks about warfare in the age of post truth, deconstructing images and holding states and...
From hobnobbing with Oprah to championing new art centres, millennial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is following a...
A juror for the award last year, Dan Fox on why the Turner Prize is and always will be political (whatever that means)
The argument that ancestral connection offers a natural grasp of the complex histories and aesthetics of African art is...
One of most iconic and controversial writers of the past 40 years, Tom Wolfe discusses writing, art and intellectual...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

March 2018

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018