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There and back

Kate McMillan

Perth-based visual artist Kate McMillan is Collection Manager at the John Curtin Gallery. Her partner is Matthew Hunt.

James Lynch, Earliest Memories (2004, installation) James Lynch, Earliest Memories (2004, installation)
photo Acorn
Like so many towns in the Western Australian wheat belt, Kellerberin is dissected by the Great Eastern Highway. Two and a half hours east of Perth, it is a strange and remarkable place in which to find oneself, particularly in the context of producing art. The International Art Space Kellerberin Australia (IASKA) program, initially set up to support international contemporary artists from non-English speaking countries, now includes a broader range of work. This year’s program and exhibition, curated by IASKA director Marco Marcon has grown from an 18 month series of residencies and includes a range of Australian artists.

The title of the exhibition, From Place to Space, proves to be a surprisingly accurate description of the process and ultimate manifestation of the IASKA project. Most of the work traverses the playful and personal, but there’s also a sense that the artists are trying to capture something that is slipping away. Perhaps they have found this to be the inescapable destiny of country towns, where populations are ageing and younger people are leaving in record numbers. Ironically this may also be why Kellerberin is so supportive of the IASKA project.

Some works in the exhibition are more successful than others. Wilkins Hill’s The Samboy International Challenge (2004) is oddly mesmerising: a video that contains a series of sometimes funny credits, facing a wall of incomplete circles under a green tent-like construction. If only the work was explored further, even in some accompanying text. Sadly it is the only piece in the exhibition where none is provided.

White Cock (2004-5) by Hayden Fowler is hard to pin down, but it stayed with me. I found myself enjoying the anti-aesthetic of his gold-framed video projection of a cockerel that crows and moves every now and again, despite being attached to its perch by a gold chain.

The most atmospheric work is Untitled (2005) by Anna Nazzari, the sound and quality of the black and white DVD akin to early Dada films. I was disappointed, however, to so quickly comprehend the narrative which explored the never-ending presence of the train-line that hugs the Great Eastern Highway.

Sean Cordeiro and Claire Healy present Maintenance (2004), comprising large orange geometric shapes protruding from the portals of an abandoned farmhouse, as if a new support structure is emerging from within and taking over. Both beautiful and sad, this work responds eloquently to the dynamism of the surrounding landscape so often overlooked by the unsympathetic eye.

Youth Club (2005) and Afternoon Tee (2005) by Bruce Slatter are plinth-based models of recreational areas within Kellerberrin. Though beautifully constructed, something of the town and the artist seemed to be missing in this work–perhaps this is the point. I had hoped for more evidence of the complex social interweaving of these places–the tension between the memorable and the mundane experiences of outback life.

In Frontyards (2004), Izabela Pluta sensitively records the attempts by Kellerberrin residents to transform the red dusty soil of their front gardens to reflect the lives within. The photographic process she employs flattens the landscape from a bird’s eye perspective; bits of rubbish, children’s toys and rubble mingle with carefully tended plants, enlarged on 2 metre vinyl prints. Pluta makes us aware of the minuteness of detail and the narrowing focus that occurs when our frames of reference encroach on us.

Matthew Hunt reminds us that escape is in fact possible in Helipads (2004). The artist painted a series of helicopter landing pads on an abandoned concrete slab, formerly an engineering works that could not sustain itself. While dealing immediately with the population decline in rural areas, the work also makes reference to wider social issues of asylum and escape. In the exhibition Hunt displays 9 images of the site.

Tom Nicholson’s After a Marching Season, Kellerberrin (2004-5) is a work inspired by an image of local students holding a Union Jack on the occasion of George V’s coronation in 1911. The artist organised 2 banner marches through the town, which concluded with a communal meal.

Raquel Ormella focuses on physical remains. In Remnant (2004) she traces cardboard outlines of items she happened across in her journey through Kellerberrin’s streetscapes. These things are clumsily, but somehow carefully, depicted on cardboard while the names of birds who rely on the maintenance of local natural habitats for survival are painted over the work. The cardboard cut-outs sit casually propped up with water bottles like the set of a children’s play. Ormella is one of my favourite Australian artists and her work provides a whimsical but sinister dimension to the exhibition.

James Lynch’s Earliest Memories (2004) consists of 4 DVDs and a ‘stuffed log’ set up as a viewing platform for monitors sitting on the floor. This comic style runs through the video as well: like a collage, hand drawn animations interact with actual footage of the town focussing on the early memories of some of the townspeople.

The Nat and Ali duo presented 2 of what may be their last works as artistic collaborators: Honk 4 Art and Feeling Groovy (both 2004-5). The work contains all the self-mockery that has made their work so successful and unique. Nat, 7 months pregnant, dances along railway tracks in a bathing suit and cowboy boots in Feeling Groovy. Honk 4 Art, part of a video series produced throughout outback Australia, shows the 2 artists pitched with camping chairs and knitting needles on the side of the Great Eastern Highway, dressed in anything they could lay their hands on from the Kellerberrin op-shop and holding up placards to passing motorists and road trains.

IASKA is one of the only contemporary art spaces in Western Australia to regularly develop and tour exhibitions in regional Australia. From Place to Space had its shortcomings, but also featured some very strong work. The exhibition is a commendable demonstration of the range of ideas that can arise out of such a program. From Place to Space will tour to 13 regional venues around Australia in 2005-2006.

From Place to Space, curator Marco Marcon, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, March 31-May 8

Perth-based visual artist Kate McMillan is Collection Manager at the John Curtin Gallery. Her partner is Matthew Hunt.

RealTime issue #67 June-July 2005 pg. 40

© Kate McMillan; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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