A Lightness of Spirit is the Measure of Happiness
ACCA's latest show is the first project from Yalingwa, a Victorian government initiative supporting new Indigenous art. Ten new commissions show a variety of media including painting, textiles, sculpture, photography and film. While much of what we see of Indigenous art in this country relates to colonial identity, the ongoing impact of invasion and the centuries of pain since, the success of this exhibition is its focus on the sustaining powers of community and culture.
Mixed-media artist Peter Waples-Crowe's Ngarigo Queen: Cloak of Queer Visibility is a traditional possum-pelt cloak. Inside, it’s painted with rainbow colours (instead of the usual ochre). Several other pieces use found objects: Jonathan Jones’s wall of ceramic budgie figurines is accompanied by an insistent audio loop of school kids chanting. Vicki Couzens’s Djawannacuppatea takes place inside a giant wooden teapot, where you’ll find her family's kitchen table, fake Aboriginalia coasters, framed photos and a jigsaw puzzle.
The paintings of Kaylene Whiskey and Benita Clements draw on traditional art styles but incorporate more modern references such as Cher, UFOs and, God forbid, VB. They're simple, but can't be misread as naive.
My Monster: The Human Animal Hybrid
Two hundred years ago, Mary Shelley published the novel Frankenstein. This exhibition draws on that anniversary to discuss hybrid creatures, monstrous creations and playing God.
The headlines on promotional material all focus on the macabre taxidermy, such as the bounding deer with a human face (Kate Clark’s Gallant), Sam Jinks’s Medusa and Heri Dono’s Flying in Cocoons, all of which are suitably creepy and startling. Shocking headlines aside, the show is diverse, and not all uncanny hyperrealism.
Jane Alexander, Ronnie van Hout and Bharti Kher use photography, masks and digital manipulation to create hybrids that don’t attempt realism, just off-key wit. Elsewhere there are plenty of other grotesque discomforts: a set of obstetric forceps from 1750, and a taxidermic dead rabbit.
Maja Smrekar and Manuel Vason’s K-9 Topography: Hybrid Family is a photo series adapted from a performance where a woman breastfeeds a puppy. A work by Mithu Sen depicts a visceral yet beautiful rendering of the birth of a creature and a womb invaded by a monstrous, human-like hand. It’s not for the queasy.
No One Is Watching You – Ronnie van Hout
This show looks back at more than 30 years of Ronnie van Hout’s practice. It covers sculpture, video, digital prints and more, and is a cross-section of van Hout’s interests: pop culture, UFOs, music and his own childhood.
Van Hout’s sculptures use his own distinctive features for absurdist ends, giving his works a continuity of identity. Here, the artist takes the form of several different children in pyjamas: lying prostrate across two chairs as if possessed; with one broken arm and the other down his pants; sitting on a toilet smoking a cigarette. Upstairs, he is a series of nude, hyper-masculine figures wielding guns, clubs and guitars. He plays both roles in a lo-fi video restaging of The Empire Strikes Back’s iconic “I am your father” scene.
These works aren’t loaded with any hidden meaning. They’re absurdist gestures, usually made with abandon and a deliberate amateurishness. The cumulative effect is like being inside a subconscious, a mess of images and ideas, from the sublime to the embarrassing.
Japonisme: Japan and the Birth of Modern Art
When Japan opened for business with the West in the mid-19th century, “oriental” design became de rigueur in Europe. This show traces the lineage of early 19th-century works – including ceramics, furniture, and prints by artists Utagawa Sadahide and Katsushika Hokusai – into the 20th century.
Regardless of the historical context, the NGV has pulled some gems from its collection that might not otherwise get any airtime. From Japanese woodblock prints it's an easy leap to the work of French painter and illustrator Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and the visual correlation between imported ceramics and a flamboyant Tiffany vase is clear. There’s a Parisian evening coat by Callot Soeurs, a beautiful photograph by Alfred Stieglitz (Snapshot from my Window, 1907), and Australian prints from Helen Ogilvie (Chooks in the Straw, 1932), Murray Griffin (Magpies, 1935) and Violet Teague (And So, Little Rabbits, 1905).
Dead Weights – Naomi Eller and Mild Fantasy – Irene Hanenbergh
Irene Hanenbergh and Naomi Eller have never worked together before, but their work fits together perfectly. Still, the bright white walls of Brunswick’s Neon Parc are sparsely populated this month.
Hanenbergh offers a series of small, dense paintings. Many are landscapes, but some are more oblique than that. All are textured, vibrant little worlds, and all are around 20 centimetres high. Strewn around these paintings are Naomi Eller’s ceramic sculptures – on the floor, on tables and hanging from the walls. Each is weathered and worn, strung up with frayed ropes, suggesting hidden histories: they might have once been tools or decoration.
Together, they are haunting. New forms emerge in the gaps between these gritty artefacts poised in a sterile environment. It’s all coastal, elemental and rich, as if dredged from the sea and displayed for posterity in a white shoebox.