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The National 4: Australian Art Now

This year the major biennial survey of contemporary Australian Art features a female-led curatorial team and a collaboration between four of Sydney’s leading cultural institutions: The Museum of Contemporary Art, Carriageworks, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Campbelltown Arts Centre. The exhibition brings together 48 projects that feature over 80 artists, across all disciplines.

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA):

The National  exhibition at the MCA is a collection of intimate responses by fourteen artists to family, life, current events, and home. Two of these are: Hoda Afshar’s confrontational selection of photographs, Aura; a timeline of three years, 2020-2023, consisting of the social and political turmoil that has dominated the media. Zooming in on fragments of images, Afshar has assembled an intensely personal reaction to individual’s experience over the last three years. As one steps inside, Cambodian Australian artist, Allison Chhorn’s, immersive video installation piece Skin Shade Night Day sweeps the audience into another world. Soil underfoot, the shade house, complete with videos and sound depicting the rotation of the seasons, is a homage to acts of service, such as growing vegetables, that link Chhorn to her Cambodian culture. A metaphor for a caring and nurturing household, Skin Shade Night Day is a slice of home comfortably nestled within the depths of Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

Carriageworks:

Curators Aarna Fitzgerald Hanley and Freja Carimichael (Quandamooka) lean into the unique architecture of Carriageworks, with pieces that work with the space. With towering walls, works such as Erika Scott’s The Circadian Cul-de-sac and Elizabeth Day’s The Flow of Form: There’s a Reason Beyond a Reason. Beyond That There’s a Reason, (1797 Parramatta Gaol), take advantage of height, enticing the audience to look above their eye level. The open space is filled with Jo Lloyd’s FM Air, a dance performance piece featuring Rachael Wisby, Thomas Woodman and Jo Lloyd moving in a bind, encased in a transparent fabric bag. The three dancers appear to move as one being, but also against one another concurrently, with each individual mapping their own choreography. With the audience transfixed, they begin to shed their fabric bag and separate. In a notably darker corner of Carriageworks lies Jason Phu’s frog band plays in frog pub to small frogs in the frog swamp at the beginning of time, a shrine of sorts to a child-like happiness in seeing frogs preform musical acts for one another. “This is how the frogs taught us about friendship. That even in dark times, when we come together with song or dance or story, suddenly the world is easier, and no one needs to be alone” (Jazz Money, 2023).

The Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW):

Nabilah Nordin’s Corinthian Clump fans out across the vestibule of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, with her unruly sculptures taking on the neoclassical architecture that surrounds it. Corinthian Clumps wins without a doubt, but instead of dominating the space, invites the architecture to complement its riotous shape. Advancing to the main entrance, works by Abdul Abdullah and Brenda L. Croft frame opposing walls. Croft’s series Naabami (thou shall/ will see): Barangaroo (army of me) commands attention, a powerful wall of First Nation faces declares “Don’t mess with me/us. I am/we are a force to be reckoned with. I am/we are not a place name for reclaimed, reshaped land; an obscenely exclusive playground for the wealthy to defile my/her name. Ignore me/us at your own peril.” (Brenda L. Croft, 2023). Turning around to Adullah’s work he instructs us to HAVE A THINK ABOUT IT, the audience moves forward full of thought. The National at AGNSW expands over three levels: as you descend, there are works by Thea Anamara Perkins, Gerry Wedd, Robert Fielding, and many others filling the walls, floor, and ceiling space. Curated by Beatrice Gralton the exhibition encapsulates Australian Art Now.

Campbelltown Arts Centre (C-A-C):

2023 is the inaugural year of Campbelltown Arts Centre being included in The National. Highlights from the C-A-C include the Aquilizan family’s collaboration on Another Country. Isabel and Alfredo, along with their five children (who operate under the name Fruitjuice Factori Studio Collective) have created a collection of mixed media works that explore cultural displacement, migration, and family. The family being separated for the first time by COVID 19, with the children in the Philippines and Isabel and Alfredo in Australia, this project is an intimate discussion of what home means to them. Another highlight is Australian Wiradjuri/ Celtic artist Brook Andrew’s video installation GABAN. Gaban, meaning “strange” in Wiradjuri language, is a reflection on the impacts that colonial power has on the arts. Andrew’s interdisciplinary practices have challenged what he calls the Colonial Wuba (hole): the hole left by the hoarding of culture has him questioning the fetishised collecting of objects. GABAN challenges the ways in which we view art.

EXHIBITION
The National 4: Australian Art Now 
MCA: 31 March – 9 July, 2023
Carriageworks: 30 March – 25 June, 2023
AGNSW: 24 March – 23 July, 2023
C-A-C: 30 March – 25 June, 2023

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