Earlier this year Carriageworks' head curator of visual arts, Beatrice Gralton, finished packing the thousands of objects that made up American artist Nick Cave’s phenomenally successful large-scale work Until. The crates were waiting to be shipped to Glasgow, leaving the space completely bare.
The empty space inspired Gralton.
“I felt like I could breathe again. I felt this incredible sense of lightness and release, and I thought for this summer I’d like to recreate that feeling and wondered who could help me do that,” says Gralton. “The answer was Rebecca Baumann.”
A Perth-based artist who “paints and sculpts with light”, Baumann, along with three other significant contemporary Australian artists, has been commissioned to create new immersive and site-specific works that prick our consciences and question our ideas of history and identity as Australians in 2019.
Baumann will be joined by Sydney-based Kudjala/Gangalu artist Daniel Boyd; Melbourne-based Kamilaroi artist Reko Rennie; and Carriageworks’ 2019 artist-in-residence, Kate Mitchell.
Blair French, who’s just six weeks into his role as director at Carriageworks, says that while international artists have regularly enlivened and energised the space – German artist Katharina Grosse and Cave among them – he is committed to commissioning local artists to respond to the site and provoke audiences.
“It’s really important to us that a visitor has the opportunity to encounter work by contemporary artists that might spark thinking, provoke ideas or give them a visceral response,” he says. “As much as possible it’s my desire to see this commitment played out with works from artists of our region.”
From January 8 Carriageworks, in conjunction with Sydney Festival, will present these four new immersive and participatory works.
While January 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s landing at Botany Bay and the birth of modern-day Australia, it is a also a date that continues to provoke feelings of guilt and unresolved grief. Rennie’s artwork, a 25-metre-long billboard of shimmering black text illuminated by grey LED lamps, responds to this with a simple statement that will greet visitors as they enter Carriageworks: “REMEMBER ME”.
“In a national climate marked by tension and division as to how this history is acknowledged, Rennie makes a simple statement: ‘remember me’, a searing reminder of the frontier wars, the massacres and survival of the real sovereigns of this country – the Aboriginal people of Australia,” says Gralton. The installation will remain in place for a year.
Baumann’s installation Radiant Flux is a response to the light, space and architecture of the Carriageworks building, and involves more than 100 metres of dichroic film (which changes colours depending what angle it’s viewed from) she sourced from Japan. It was during a residency in New York that Baumann began experimenting with “sound and light moments” that seek to capture fleeting light moving through a window or across the floor. For Radiant Flux she’ll wrap skylights and heritage windows in the film, which will simultaneously transmit and reflect light depending on the time of day and the weather.
“It will never be the same twice,” says Gralton. “It’s immersive and experimental, an ‘honest experiment’ because we really don’t know how the space will behave.”
Boyd’s Video Works was partly inspired by two celestial bodies: the moon and Mars. It came about during a residency at the Natural History Museum in London in 2011 when he had the opportunity to hold a piece of the moon in one hand and Mars in the other, giving him the impression his body was a bridge between the two. The feeling inspired a body of work that explores histories, lineage, cosmologies and map-making, including his 2012 video installation A Darker Shade of Dark.
For Carriageworks he’ll present A Darker Shade of Dark, as well as History is Made at Night (2013) and Yamani (2018). They’ll cover Carriageworks’ interior and be backed by an audio track from regular collaborators Perth group Canyons. “It’s an abstracted journey through time immemorial and a gesture to the impermanence of life on this planet,” says French.
Mitchell’s All Auras Touch is a truly participatory work inspired, intriguingly, by the 1023 jobs listed in the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations. An artist fascinated by human energy fields, or auras, Mitchell’s aim is to photograph one aura for each of the 1023 occupations using electromagnetic-field imaging equipment. She has called on people to register their interest in taking part and will replace “placeholders” with portraits throughout the exhibition.
“Kate is asking us to question the idea and nature of the work, of the titles we’re required to identify with or aspire to and how we choose to present ourselves in this very public space,” Gralton says, reminding us we’re all energetic beings made up of the same matter.
A public program of talks and workshops will accompany the four free installations.
Rebecca Baumann’s Radiant Flux will show from January 8 to June 14, 2020; Daniel Boyd’s Video Works and Kate Mitchell’s All Auras Touch will show from January 8 to March 1, 2020; Reko Rennie’s Remember Me will show from January 8 to January, 2021.