HERENOW21: Dispersion

HERENOW21: Dispersion brings together the work of six regional artists from Denmark in Minang Country, to Derby in Nyikina Country, showcasing the uniqueness and diversity of craft practitioners throughout Western Australia. Rose Barton has curated a thoughtful and sincere exhibition that pays homage to the skills of its makers without slipping into the reductive or parochial.

The annual HERENOW series showcases some of the most exciting and innovative visual culture in Western Australia. Curated by an emerging curator, each year a new appointment ensures insight and fresh perspective on contemporary WA arts practice. As the only exhibition of its kind in the state, and one of few on a national scale, the series is incredibly valuable to Western Australia’s cultural landscape. Previously held for the past eight years at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, the exhibition series has moved to Edith Cowan University’s There Is gallery in Northbridge to coincide with Professor Ted Snell’s 2021 appointment as Honorary Professor in the School of Arts and Humanities at Edith Cowan University. As the exhibition coordinator and Chair of Regional Arts WA, Snell has offered valuable insight and knowledge and mentored Barton through the curatorial process.

Barton, a Pilbara-based artist and arts worker, has selected a range of textiles, ceramics, weaving, paper, sculpture, metal and timber work for the exhibition. The selection addresses the underrepresentation of regional artists in the state and attempting to combat the negative associations of the word “craft.” The works selected challenge any of the common diminutive associations of craft as unintellectual labour, purely decorative or functional, expressionless or reproducible. Whilst many of the works are made with modest materials – wood, paper, flour bags, wool, cotton – they are stitched, carved, woven and knitted with an intricacy, proficiency and level of care that demands attention, evidencing the artists’ dedication to their crafts and seeking interpretation over an extended period.

The tiny carved details of Katie Breckon’s works of incised paint on aluminium depict the artist’s memories of visits to the West Kimberley bush. The painted surface has been scratched away delicately, revealing an undulating landscape in charcoal and obsidian, rather than the vivid oranges and blues we have come to associate with that part of the landscape. Also sharing stories of place is the work Sleeping on Flour by Yindjibarndi Elder Banjyi “Pansy” Cheedy. An unassuming sculpture, the piece recreates the mattress made of flour bags that the artist would sleep on when on Country, often filled with spinifex, natural grass or old blankets.

Also inspired by personal experiences, Jacky Cheng’s Honour and Love, 2021, is a qi pao hand-made dress, inspired by the global news of climbing pandemic death tolls. The artist had witnessed her grandmother freshening up her funeral costume months before she passed away, unaware of the item of clothing’s significance. An intensely personal work, delicately stitched with the artist’s own hair, the work is harrowing and sombre in tone, and represents the artist’s honour and love to those before her.

It is interesting to note the exhibition’s many artworks with a tactile relationship to the human body – a mattress, a carpet, a vestment, a costume. For me Clare Peake’s A Sorcerer’s Dress, 2016-ongoing, is the highlight of the exhibition – a glittering, fantastical assemblage dripping with sequins, made from studio scraps and the artist’s “failures.” Over the years the work has been formed and reformed, transformed from a shamanic coat, into a burial shroud and now a carpet. Deftly woven and stitched in incredible detail, the rich magentas and enticing gold render the work beguiling, if slightly menacing with its four staring sequinned eyes, one in each corner. Adorned with charms, the piece is indulgent and amuletic, sparking curiosity and attempts to decipher its many symbols.

Different in tone is a meditative installation by Stuart McMillan which refutes associations of craft with the domestic sphere by expanding it into an immersive experience. Natural shaped and carved wood is suspended in front of a video of moving and bubbling water, creating a tranquil space that transports the beholder into nature. Barton carefully allows the individuality of each contribution to permeate the space; offering room to appreciate the intricacies of each work without overwhelming audiences or muting the nuances of each complex piece. The sincerity of the exhibition refutes any conception that craft is devoid of emotionality; the uniqueness and personal stories of each piece are truly compelling.

HERENOW21: Dispersion is part of the 2021 Indian Ocean Craft Triennial, and includes work by Katie Breckon, Banjyi “Pansy” Cheedy, Jacky Cheng, Ruth Halbert, Stuart McMillan, and Clare Peake, curated by Rose Barton.

5 – 20 November 2021
There Is!, Perth

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