all things are water

Water seeps into the dark hallways of The Lock-up, a heritage listed former police station and lock-up in Newcastle. The dampness is palpable. Elsewhere the nation is gripped by drought, fires rage and a climate catastrophe likened to Chernobyl has hit. The exhibition then, entitled 'all things are water', reflects a kind of nostalgia for the very thing we most desire. In fact as the latest update on the fires comes through, addressing the temperature, the wind, and the location of the most pressing fire, there is a concession that 'if it rained all this would change.' 

The saturating water is coming from an installation by Michaela Gleave, an ambitious work of mist and light which fills The Yard in the spirit of the elemental work of Olafur Eliasson. The Radius of infinity involves a mathematical equation projected using morse code, the light like a distant light house issuing a warning. Looking through the shimmering glow, Curator Naomi Riddle describes ‘the vapour transforming into stars’. However you also see gentle falling rain, with puddles forming on The Yard floor. If only it was raining. Part of its ephemeral beauty is the theoretical equation calculating the impact any one event can have on the universe. Could it calculate the Australian fiery inferno that has devastated more land and bush than the fires in the Amazon?

‘All things are water’ was curated by Naomi Riddle and Meryl Ryan, and features works by Tom Blake, Dale Collier, Ellen Dahl, Michaela Gleave, Hannah Jenkins, Todd McMillan, Talia Smith, and Angela Tiatia.

Dale Colliers’ arresting installation and video work, entitled Used to be a river, employs a strong narrative; and it is a heartbreaking one. With great effort Collier drags his boat along what was clearly once a flowing river bed. He passes a graffitied bridge and, for a moment, one can imagine it was once a local haunt. In the gallery we can see the boat, a relic of his video, filled with black coal placed over the patterns of water on sand. This is a lament to the Goulburn River, a work of environmental activism. Collier is an artist of Wiradjuri and Northern European heritage and through his practice addresses the damaging effect of colonisation and the current political inaction around climate change.

The ephemeral and political quality of water is explored in the digital poem by Hannah Jenkins, water is…. Using internet data, the poem is built on descriptions of water from a limited time frame, found on news sites. When read together it suggests a strange and disconnected relationship with water, sometimes profound and at other times amusing, with lines like ‘water is rising and rising water is one giant ice block.’

It is the rising waters that lies beneath the video work Lick by Angela Tiatia. In an intimate scene of the artist in the ocean, we see Tiatia leaning forward in a body of water, her body abstracted by the watery filming.  Trying to stay still, eventually she swims away floating on the tide. This is an image of the South Pacific – an idyllic swim in clear blue waters  – however bearing down on the video is the location, a place of fragility and stress. It was filmed on location in Tuvalu, where the rising tides are a confronting reality.

Todd McMillan’s paintings of clouds executed in watercolour with a resin coating have a jewel-like quality that is at once nostalgic and romantic. These works are presented side by side with his video works Elegy and Homage, one documenting the ominous melting ice-caps.

Each of the artists bring their own response to ‘all things are water’, many favouring the moving image which lends itself to the fluidity of the theme.

‘All things are water’ opened at The Lock-Up in December 2019, whilst at the same timeBrisbane’s GOMA launched their summer blockbuster exhibition ‘Water.’ This, to me, is The Lock-Up’s strength – running on a tight budget with a small team and a dedicated volunteer crew, they still manage to think big and showcase the latest in contemporary art practice. As the drought closes in on a nation gripped by inaction around climate change, it is indeed water that seems the most crucial resource.

all things are water
8 December 2019 – 26 January 2020
The Lock Up, Newcastle

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