Matthew Harding, Phyllotaxis 2002-2003, spun mirror-polished stainless steel (Detail)
Introduction | Exhibition | Judges | Further Reading | Visiting
The Artists  
Geoffrey BARTLETT  
Peter D COLE  
Matthew CURTIS  
Roselin EATON  
Matthew HARDING  
Linde IVIMEY | Wrk 1 | Wrk 2  
David JENSZ  
Andrew LESLIE  
Noel McKENNA  
Lisa ROET  
Julie RRAP  
Richard Tipping  
Arthur WICKS  

Curator's Perspective

The second National Sculpture Prize and Exhibition again offers an opportunity to survey some of the most recent works by artists working within the sculptural field today. As in the nature of an open prize with few restrictions on the eligibility of works or artists, the selection of works for the exhibition covers a broad range of sculptural practices, and the finalists include established artists whose work spans several decades, as well as emerging artists.

The most apparent characteristic of both the first and second exhibitions is the diversity of the selected works. This diversity reflects both the pluralism of current sculptural practice, and the end of the notion of a definitive epochal style. Within the exhibition works are not linked by external appearance, but by convergences of themes and approaches, and the ways in which they respond to the context of their time.

The majority of the works which have been selected for the exhibition (and entered for the Prize), are ‘object-based’. The ongoing activity and vitality apparent within this area of sculptural practice is significant in light of the discussion, originating in the experimentation that took place in the 1960s and 70s, of the boundaries and definition of sculpture and the subsequent ‘de-materialisation’ of the sculptural object into the expanded field of conceptual art, performance, installation and new media art. Ironically, today, it is not the sculptural object that has dematerialised, but the world around us, as virtual experiences play an increasingly greater role in our daily lives. In contrast, object-based sculpture offers an unmediated and physical encounter with the real, and for artists there has been a renewed interest in the physicality, perception and affects of the sculptural object and an investigation of the inherent and symbolic properties of materials and processes.

Re-defining the parameters and possibilities of their discipline has been an ongoing preoccupation for sculptors and is evident within several works in the exhibition that address the relationship between painting and sculpture, the performative aspect of sculpture, and the notion of sculpture as permanent and tangible. Other works are primarily concerned with the investigation of the particular sculptural issues of space, form, volume and mass. While many works within the exhibition have been made using conventional sculptural media and techniques, such as bronze casting, in some instances this has been to question the implied cultural authority of these practices. Apparent also, is the enthusiasm with which sculptors have embraced the artistic possibilities of a seemingly endless range of materials and processes.

A strong thread linking works in the exhibition is their productive consideration of the art of the past, and the sense of continuity, rather than rupture, with art history embodied within them. This dialogue both contextualises works, as well as provides a platform from which to address contemporary issues. Equally evident within the exhibition is the engagement of many works with other fields; with music, performance, architecture, painting, science, and the written word. For several of the finalists, sculpture is not their primary or sole form of expression, and many have come to sculpture from other disciplines. Noticeably, the self-referential concerns of much art practice of recent decades is largely absent as artists respond to issues external to art. Sculpture is utilised as the means of expression for a wide range of content, from introspective self-examination to explicit political commentary.

Within the exhibition several works directly address current social and political issues. Waiting Room by Terry Summers is a critical comment upon Australia’s policy of the detention of asylum seekers. Depicting a group of men, women and children standing mute behind a barbed wire fence, Summers’ use of cardboard to construct the figures is a further critique of the destruction of the environment to fuel the consumerist economy.

Since that fateful September 11, many artists around the world have responded to the destruction of the World Trade Towers in New York City. For Jan Golembiewski the incomprehensible nature of this event is mirrored in his use of carbon dioxide (commonly known as dry ice), to sculpt a crowned bust based on the Statue of Liberty in New York. Over a period of 12–15 hours this work slowly and spectacularly disappears, as the carbon dioxide turns to gas. The medium is integrated with the concept; Liberty’s ever changing form, defying definition in the way that the events of September 11 defy our understanding.

Richard Tipping’s work No Understanding is a continuation of his long investigation into and subversion of the language of signs. By making small changes to the text or design of existing signage, Tipping’s works deliver a powerful message, questioning our unquestioning acceptance of this official public language, and creating new and unexpected meanings. Originally conceived in New York City, No Understanding has also taken on darker connotations since 9/11.

Visual perception, spatiality and repetition are addressed in the works of Andrew Leslie, Glen Clarke and David Jensz. Andrew Leslie’s Mirror sets up a complex game of visual perception between the object and the viewer, dependent upon space, light and the viewer’s field of vision. The work thus becomes essentially situational and conditional. The title draws a parallel between the indeterminate reflected space created within a mirror and the ambiguous spatiality of Leslie’s work, as well as being an ironic reference to art’s pervasive desire for mimesis.

Glen Clarke’s Stemcell research site objects addresses ideas of spatial relationships and explores the notion of a ‘correct distance’ between objects. Clarke’s work consists of two carefully placed elements, a stack of poly-pipes made from wooden spring clothes pegs, and a wooden pallet constructed of 30 cm rulers, which in their form and construction are intended to approximate arteries and a DNA platform. Through the use of such familiar objects and forms, Clarke seeks to find a way of understanding and visualising the scientific concepts informing stemcell research.

Much of David Jensz’s work reflects his ongoing interest in the notion of ‘implicate order’ and self-replicating forms. In Slinky Jensz also explores the idea of sculpture as drawing in space, the spiral form creating dynamic visual rhythms and articulating a complex internal space. Provocatively, Jensz undermines the minimalist austerity of the composition and the impersonal quality of the industrial materials used to construct the basic form, by the application of a delicate floral lace to sheathe the rubber tubes, creating a sensuous and luxuriant dimension to the work.

The natural world and humanity’s place within it is addressed by the work of Matthew Harding and Lisa Roet. Matthew Harding’s Phyllotaxis draws on his deep fascination with biomorphic structures and natural geometries. The design of Phyllotaxis is based on the intricate geometry of the phyllotactic growth spiral found in many species of plants. Whereas modernism celebrated the promise of science to deliver a better future, Harding’s work represents a more ambiguous relationship to scientific knowledge, recognising the limits of our understanding, and revealing the mystery and beauty of the natural world.

For over a decade Lisa Roet has undertaken extensive research on primate behaviour as the basis of her ongoing visual arts project Pri-Mates. Roet’s work questions the boundaries of what it is to be human through an investigation of the similarities and differences that exist between humans and primates, and the point at which humankind is both alienated from and joined to the animal kingdom. In Political Ape Roet subverts the heroic tradition of the bronze bust for a series of highly individual portraits of chimpanzees, and adds a sound component of chimpanzee vocalisations. The title of the work can be seen to both mock the pretensions of our own politicians while drawing attention to the chimpanzees’ highly-organised social and political relationships.

Landscape, and the experience of place, informs the works of both Peter D Cole and Nigel Harrison. Living for many years in rural central Victoria, Peter D Cole’s sculpture refers back to this landscape through the use of abstracted and symbolic forms and colours. In Red, Yellow and Black Cole has refined this syntax to its bare essentials, creating a complex choreography of opening and closing forms, solid and void, and interior and exterior spaces in a work in which simplified geometry and intense colour recalls the modernist vocabulary of artists such as Joan Miro and Alexander Calder.

For Nigel Harrison it is the coastal environment, the meeting of the sea with the land, which is the starting point for the sweeping contours and smooth surfaces of his sculpture. Spirit level explores the qualities of mass and volume, creating dynamic relationships between the forms which fold and curve around each other. The counterpoised shapes generate a sense of uncertainty, and act as a metaphor for the ever-changing nature of the shoreline, the endless reconfiguration of waves, sand and rocks through the agency of weather.

Taking the shape of a spear-like vertebral column, Segmented Structure continues Matthew Curtis's investigation into the particular physical properties of glass and the possibility of creating large-scale structures through the joining of component pieces. Curtis carves and textures the surfaces in order to diffuse light, thereby creating the impression of an interior glow and an ambiguous impression of depth within the work.

Deliberately anti-monumental in its small scale, humble materials and prosaic subject, Noel McKenna’s Train in Landscape gently mocks sculptural pretensions. Best-known as a painter, Noel McKenna’s sculptures are essentially pictorial tableaux, negotiating the territory between sculpture and painting. Train in Landscape depicts a steam train passing through the countryside, a plume of smoke trailing behind and denoting motion. McKenna reveals the quiet beauty of this commonplace scene, while the work also invokes a melancholic sense of time passing, a quiet sadness in the desire to make such a moment last forever.

Arthur Wicks reflects on the fundamental question of human existence in the Boatman’s Unscheduled Crossing, which also relates directly to Wick’s performance work from the 1980s. The boatman lurches backwards and forwards along a 4.5 metre track at the whim of sensors activated by the movement of people in the gallery. Wicks offers an essentially existentialist view of the human condition, a theatre of the absurd where we can cry and laugh at the same time as we witness the pointless struggle of the boatman on his never ending journey.

This performative dimension of sculpture is also present within Julie Rrap’s Untitled (after Manet’s Olympia), in which she alters one of the most famous (and originally infamous) paintings of the late 19th century to expose the politics of the representation of the feminine body. Consisting of two elements — a digital image of Manet’s Olympia where the figure of Olympia has been erased, and a cast bronze floor piece of the imprint of the artist’s body in the pose of Olympia — Untitled (after Manet’s Olympia) invites the viewer to sit in the floor piece and assume the pose of Olympia (and the artist) for themselves. In this manner, Rrap enlists the viewer as an active participant and performer in this ‘re-presentation’ of art history.

Also engaged in a productive consideration of the art of the past, Geoffrey Bartlett combines, in The Bullet The Rose The Window, references to works of European art, architecture and design with the incorporation of a found object, an ancient and massive River Red Gum burl. This evocative marriage of elements, of the natural with the man-made, of the European with the distinctively Australian, reflects on both the hybrid nature of the construction of Australian cultural identity, as well as the sculptural challenge of creating a harmonious composition from such diverse materials and forms.

The long tradition of western figurative sculpture is directly referenced by the works of both Tim Wetherell and Anna Eggert. Tim Wetherell employs the forms of figurative art to signify an idealised worldview through which he examines dichotomies of reality and perception. Someone Else’s Children delivers a message of the inequalities that exist between rich and poor nations, and the harsh reality that a large proportion of the world’s children live in dire poverty.

Anna Eggert’s Tessa, Ebony and Kelsey explores the construction of contemporary feminine identity through the presentation of the clothed body. Eggert’s use of drapery to suggest the body, and the youth, grace and vitality of her figures recall the ideal forms of classical Greek sculpture. Her use of stainless steel mesh refers to the contradictory forces of strength and delicacy; qualities that Eggert considers embodied in the self-presentation of young women today.

Rejecting the idealising impulses of the classical tradition, Linde Ivimey’s work reflects her fascination with sacred and ritual objects, and the expressive power of primitive art and the art of the Middle Ages. Ivimey’s works are also deeply autobiographical, and are made with items obsessively collected from her immediate environment or which contain the imprint of her body: hair, clothes, chewed bones, yet which are hidden or only partially revealed in the finished work.

Expressing traditional Tiwi culture through the new medium of ceramic sculpture, Mark Virgil Puautjimi’s Purukuparli – The Tiwi Warrior depicts Purukuparli and Japarra, two of the key protagonists of the Tiwi creation story and the first Pukumani ceremony. Puautjimi’s work employs Tiwi artistic conventions for the depiction of the ancestral beings, his use of the relatively recently introduced ceramic medium asserts the vitality of contemporary Tiwi culture.

The collaborative work Jandamarra Crossing Project by Phillipino born artist Alwin Reamillo and Indigenous artist Roselin Eaton seeks to articulate and symbolise the continuing struggle of the Indigenous community towards self-determination and the preservation of their cultural identity. Jandamarra, also known as Pigeon, was a Bunuba man who led the aboriginal resistance against the colonisation of the Kimberley region in the 1890s. Taking the form of a single-seater helicopter constructed from found materials, the work is conceived as a ‘mustering of the creative spirit of resistance.’1

The works in the exhibition take us on unique artistic journeys, nevertheless, there are also intersections on many levels across these diverse practices and a way in which all have been formed by ideas and experiences particular to our time.

Elena Taylor
Curator, Australian Painting and Sculpture
National Gallery of Australia

1 Statement by Alwin Reamillo and Roselin Eaton, 2002

Introduction | Exhibition | Judges | Further Reading | Visiting
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All the works on these pages are reproduced with the permission of the artists.