"An exhibition like Future Remains is really exciting to work on as a curator,” Dr Shelley McSpedden, a senior curator at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), tells Broadsheet. “When I was given this project, I initially spent about six months looking at different artists and their work. I was considering who I was excited by, who was inspiring, and who was doing interesting things. And then, how do these artists fit together to create a bigger narrative that responds to the time we are living in?”

The 2024 edition of the Macfarlane Commissions is the fourth in an ongoing partnership between ACCA and the Macfarlane Fund, a philanthropic venture dedicated to supporting artists. The series aims to give early-to-mid-career artists an opportunity to do something ambitious in scale or that they haven’t been able to do before. “We work with artists over a long period of time, supporting them to take risks and push their practice in ambitious, new directions,” McSpedden says.

The Macfarlane Commissions is one of four major exhibitions ACCA hosts annually. Themes explored in the works include Australia’s colonial legacy and the impact of capitalism in our lives. “I think we are living in a moment of polycrisis,” McSpedden says. “All of the artists in Future Remains explore histories in some way, and how we come to understand the past better. But they also consider how we might shift and reshape these legacies and inheritances to change the world, or foster new ways of understanding it,.”

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The artists within the exhibition all have a strong focus on materiality. Collectively, they work across multiple media, including moving images, sculptural installations, large-scale embroidery, bronze work and ceramics. “While the artists may be using different materials or processes, what they all have in common is their interest in ‘the stuff of the world’ – physical matter – which they use to unpack histories and cultural narratives,” McSpedden explains. “They then reassemble those materials to create new ways of seeing the world.”

On display are: a sprawling multi-part weaving by Kim Ah Sam, which threads together connections to her grandmother’s Kuku Yalanji Country and her father’s Kalkadoon Country; Andy Butler’s multi-channel moving-image installation, responding to the Henry Otley Beyer archive at the National Library of Australia; and a large-scale installation by Teelah George that combines her embroidery and bronze work with works fashioned from repurposed industrial refuse; and Wiradjuri artist Joel Sherwood Spring’s speculative lifestyle app, which plays on the commodification of Aboriginal culture.

Salote Tawale has also created a towering sculptural installation that looks like supersized beaded jewellery, while Nicholas Smith’s sculptural installation is made of large-scale hand-built ceramic vessels on an elaborately staged set. And finally, Alexandra Peters has created large prints and sculptural objects that contrast high art with mass industry.

For visitors and gallery-goers who are less familiar with ACCA, McSpedden encourages people to be brave when exploring the exhibition. “Sometimes people get intimidated by contemporary art because they think they need to know all the answers,” she says. “The best thing is to trust your own instincts and give yourself permission to experience whatever you’re feeling – confusion, enjoyment, discomfort – toward the artwork.”

Broadsheet is a proud media partner of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. Future Remains: The 2024 Macfarlane Commissions is on now until September 1. Entry is free.