The Dark Side

Across Edith Cowan University's Gallery 25, and There-is, in Northbridge, thirteen artists work through the role of artmaking in dealing with experiences of mental illness, at both an individual and societal scale. Central to this exhibition, and its accompanying series of public programs, is curator Ted Snell's conviction that the arts provide a field in which our 'dark sides' may be both understood and made useful.

Snell cites Rainer Maria Rilke on the utility of difficult feeling in artmaking: ‘don’t take my devils away, because my angels might flee too.’ One central claim of this exhibition, after Rilke, is that experiences of mental illness can be catalysts for work that is of value aesthetically, socially, and intellectually.

Much of the work in the show emphasises the pleasure of looking at the art which emerges from the show’s titular ‘dark side,’ even while retaining a commitment to thematic and conceptual seriousness. Tarryn Gill’s Trickster (pink feline), 2018, for example, is lustrous and saccharine in pink satin, at least at first blush. A longer stay with the work may reveal more ominous, or even grotesque, affects – but the richness of this work is precisely this ambivalence. The beautiful can emerge from the difficult, the show claims – just not in such a way that can (or would want to) obliterate that difficulty itself. 

Instead, many artists in the program use artmaking as a way of rendering difficulty intelligible, rather than simply obsolete. Sharyn Egan’s Our Babies, for example, makes ordered columns, rows, and repeatable sculptural units from the traumatic experiences of members of the Stolen Generation, including the artist. 

The function of art as a vehicle for social good, here, is also explored. A series of public programs, including a symposium at Edith Cowan University on Friday 11 June, aims to engage members of the public in discussions about mental health, using art as the framework for this conversation. Snell refers to art, in this show, as a ‘space’ into which viewers can enter, and in which we can feel safe and supported to discuss the issues which affect us. Collaborative works in the show, too, attest to the community-building work that artmaking (and all the activities which surround it: going to lectures and workshops, viewing, writing, reading) can do for the good of our mental wellbeing.

Artists in the program include Tarryn Gill, Carla Adams, Nicola Kaye & Stephen Terry & Lyndall Adams & Marcella Polain, Paul Uhlmann, Roderick Sprigg, Mary Moore, Sharyn Egan, Anna Nazzari, Stormie Mills, D’Arcy Coad and Tyrown Waigana, with curator Ted Snell. 

Resources and programs include a free downloadable publication, a vlogcast series, interstate student collaborations between Edith Cowan University and the National Art School, and a series of public programs which emerge from these collaborations, which will be posted online. The partnership between Edith Cowen and NAS, called Frame of Mind, is supported by the Minderoo Foundation. 

The Dark Side
27 May – 17 June 2021
Gallery 25 and There-is, Perth

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