From Walyalup with Love: Sculpture at Bathers 2022

A dedicated survey of contemporary Western Australian sculpture, the 2022 Sculpture at Bathers exhibition considers culture and history, time and place. The exhibition is part love letter to WA, part tonic for modern times.

Sculpture at Bathers is back for the fifth iteration of the biennial beachside exhibition from 19 February to 7 March 2022. A wholly Western Australian conglomeration of contemporary sculpture, the site-responsive exhibition tells stories that are steeped in this moment in time, in a singular corner of the world.  

Set amidst the historic West End precinct of Walyalup – or Fremantle – this year’s exhibition features seventy-four  artworks by Western Australian artists, installed at Bathers Beach as well as inside the gallery at Kidogo Arthouse, the forecourt of WA Shipwrecks Museum. Additionally, in a new initiative, five works are displayed at Fremantle Ports. The West End is a backdrop full of history: convict buildings and gold rush facades, streets characterised by late Victorian and Edwardian architecture. Industrial port sheds have become artists’ studios. A convict gaol and the whaling industry once operated at Bathers Beach, alongside a building known as The Dangerous Goods Store (housing kerosene in the late 1800s), which is now the Kidogo Arthouse. And, most meaningfully, Manjaree, the area around Bathers Beach, has been an important place for ceremonies and trade for Traditional Custodians, the Whadjuk people, for tens of thousands of years.  

Proximity to places of cultural memory enriches Sculpture at Bathers, shaping the ethos of the organisation and the depth of experiences on offer for both artists and spectators. The result is the largest dedicated survey of contemporary WA sculpture, telling the stories of the state and its people, in their own voices. “The artists live and work in the same places that you live and work,” says Mikaela Castledine, Perth Hills artist and participant in this year’s exhibition, and “they are affected by the same issues. Consequently their work can speak in particular, identifiable, recognisable ways. It is good to think globally and to look farther, but it is also important to look at the ground under your feet and anchor yourself in your place.” 

Driving the 2022 exhibition is an emphasis on new works in dialogue with  the environment of the site, “its ecology, history, and visual dynamism,” explains Artistic Director, Sandra Murray. From incandescent jerry cans to disembodied hands, delicate ceramic organisms to a swarming mass of insects, and spinning tops to bicycle wheels, the 2022 Sculpture at Bathers is an exhibition full of diversity and colour, featuring artists from all stages of their careers. Emerging talents such as Holly O’Meehan, Jenni Vacca, Sam Hopkins, Megan Baker and Valerie Schönjahn exhibit alongside a broad cohort of established and mid-career artists, including Theo Koning, Nalda Searles, Sharyn Egan, Alessandra Rossi, Mike Green, Susan Flavell and Tim Burns, to name only a few.  

Founded in 2013 by sculptor and arts advocate Tony Jones OAM, the exhibition has run roughly biennially since (skipping a year in 2019), becoming an institution celebrating the art of the state. Expansion and invigoration compel this year’s exhibition. New funding has allowed for artist fees to be paid to participating artists for the first time. And, a new light display illuminates the exhibition at night, allowing for twenty-four-hour viewing, adding a dynamic alternative way to see the works. The coloured light display provides an atmospheric experience, where the beach and bush become dramatic backdrops for artworks in the moody and stretching shadows of night. The spaciousness of an exhibition in nature and flexibility of day-and-night access offers an antidote to pandemic-related crowd anxiety, and an opportunity to reflect. “The familiar experiences of being outdoors and encountering works of art have taken on a new meaning in our changed Covid world,” says Murray: “They offer the comforts of nature and culture, community and solitude, engagement and reflection.” 

Over almost a decade of activity, Sculpture at Bathers has helped shape the practice and reception of sculpture in WA. Castledine credits the rich diversity of accessible public art in the state with “helping to educate the population about what art is, how it impacts you personally and how you can incorporate it into your life.” Ultimately, it is the singularity of the public art produced in one of the most geographically isolated cities in the world that makes Sculpture at Bathers so unique and so important. Says Castledine, “The distance between Perth and the rest of the Australian art scene is so huge, and the impact WA artists make in the eastern states produces such a tiny splash. Sculpture at Bathers . . . gives local artists a voice and a presence.” 

The distance between cities has indeed felt vast in recent times. Compelled by histories and stories relevant to its own corner of the world, Sculpture at Bathers feeds the need for art that speaks of one particular place, for the people and by the people of that place. It is both celebratory and comforting, a balm to modern times that has never felt so important; and –in spite of the distance – unifying.   


This essay will appear in Artist Profile 58, 2022. 

Sculpture at Bathers
19 February – 7 March 2022
Bathers Beach, Kidogo Arthouse, and Fremantle Ports, Western Australia 

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