This week the 2015 winners of the Redlands prize were announced. Mikala Dwyer’s latest “empty sculpture” creation, an eerie but beautiful drifting plastic orb called Untitled (2014) won first place among the established artists. Coen Young’s Study for a mirror 1 and Study for a mirror 2 (2015) was awarded the emerging-artist prize.
The talent at the finalist exhibition is vast. We sat in conversation with finalists Sophie Cape and Juz Kitson – an established and emerging artist pairing – who share a unique artistic affinity despite the stark difference in the work each produces.
Sophie Cape: I love how dark and visceral [your work for the Redlands show] is. Your work always is, that’s what I love about it. You probe the combination of beauty and horror, achieving a really sexy culmination.
Juz Kitson: It is. I’ve had this piece in mind for some time, just no opportunity to exhibit it. When you approached me to show alongside you for the Redlands, I thought it could be perfect to make a site-specific, suspended installation – the first of a new direction of works.
I think as different as our aesthetic is; we share a deep, underlying connection. We both challenge notions of permanence and impermanence, organic and inorganic and of course life and death. It can have a surface beauty, though hidden is a sinister darkness, a horror. We both spend a significant time out in the Australian landscape and exposed to the beauty of our surroundings; the flip side of the coin is the brutality of nature.
SC: So was this work a natural progression or was there something in particular that inspired it?
JK: It’s definitely been a natural evolution. It’s really the first time I’ve worked three dimensionally; most of my installations to date have been wall based. It spans over two metres in length and obtrusively hangs from the gallery ceiling. I wanted it to breath, to pulse, to exude life. I think there is a real primitive nature to this piece and I like the idea that the audience might be uncertain if the work will bite them or mate with them.
SC: I find it interesting when you’re creating something you are not used to how vulnerable and uncertain you feel. When I was an athlete, I learnt a very valuable lesson through very intense training. When you feel uncomfortable, it is a good sign – it means you are changing, breaking old habits and techniques, and moving forward to something new and stronger.
It’s really exciting finding other artists you have a simpatico with. They are exploring similar ideas to you, are interested in the same things, but the execution is completely different to yours.
I know you've just come back from making in China, and returned to your bush studio. Do you find the bush to be an important part of your practice? It is very much so for me. I love the space and the silence and the ever- present beautiful brutality of survival and decay. I have to confess, I do have bone envy over your recent collection of skulls, especially the buffalo and the crocodile!
JK: I set up a studio in Jingdezhen, China, four years ago; it made perfect sense to me and was inevitable I’d find myself living in an Ancient Porcelain City. I spend the time there creating the foundation of my works – using materials, techniques and equipment inaccessible to me here in Australia. Though, because I only spend half the year in China, I balance the cathartic nature of my practice there with the solitude and serenity in a bush studio in rural NSW.
We both have a reclusive nature to our practices. It could be seen as a morbid curiosity we have to collect bones, vertebrae, skulls and husks but I think it’s a healthy obsession and one that is a necessity of the type of work we make.
SC: So what have you got on after the Redlands exhibition?
JK: I’m Off back to China in a few weeks to start a commission for ArtBank along with a series of new collections for a ceramic show later this year with The Curators Department working alongside Glenn Barkley.
You just finished an incredibly powerful solo show at Olsen and Irwin. What’s your plan for the rest of 2015?
SC: I have a portrait show in September with my mother who is also an artist, at the Mosman Regional Art Gallery. It’s about dementia, from which my father has been suffering for many years now. It is going to be very intense to make but I'm really looking forward to seeing what comes out.
The Redlands Konika Minolta finalist exhibition will be on display at the National Art School until 23 May 2015.