Chinese Whispers and Other Stories. Various artists. Huw Davies Gallery PhotoAccess at the Manuka Arts Centre, Corner Manuka Circle and NSW Circle, Griffith. Until May 21.
This exhibition explores through the personal experiences of four artists' notions of what the curator Pia Johnson states as "cultural identity, migration and belonging in Australia today". The four artists are female, all with Chinese heritage and living in Australia. It is a beautiful exhibition with numerous individual highlights and as well as aesthetic highpoints, offering considerable opportunity for contemplation of its thematic impulse(s).
Janelle Low presents eight works from the Reconcile series (2016 – 2017). Four of these are views of the artist's body – faceless and incomplete. The incompleteness points to a sense of the artist's "disconnect" with herself and in this instance with her viewers. The intimation of the self as a series of parts rather than a single unified entity is a pointed symbol of the issue of the ethnic (Chinese) "other" coming to terms with that heritage in a new land (Australia).
This fractured reality continues in the series of four beautifully made still life images. Each image consist of two elements that speak of "a" (not "the") fusion of East and West. The combinations are incisive, captivating and telling with the pairing of almost surreal opposites – soy sauce and banksia flowers, tofu and gum, china and billy balls, condensed milk and oysters.
The visual simplicity is daring and compelling. Cat. 7 (Soy and Banksia) is an engaging and compelling image. The combination of smashed blue and white china with native flora in China and Billy Balls (Cat. 3) is both visually and thematically dramatically effective.
Pia Johnson draws on her Chinese and Italian heritage in her 22 archival inkjet prints from the series Family Resemblance after Wittgenstein. The images (all in circular format) are arranged in a sort of random pattern across the gallery wall. They present as an episodic narrative moving across the distinctively different ethnic backgrounds that comprise Johnson's combined heritage.
There is a clever combination of the intensely personal with the objective, the latter reinforced by the quiet allusion to the scientific in the artist's choice of the circular format that perhaps references the lens of the microscope.
As the viewer moves through the images one is confronted with overtly Italian images (espresso machines, ravioli, a doll in regional costume) and equally overt examples from Johnson's Chinese heritage (woman in a cheongsam, incense sticks, calligraphy).
The contrasts are clear but so is their coexistence. The image of the sea (Cat.15) is a succinct reminder and eloquent symbol of the migratory patterns that have made such important contributions to Australia's multicultural population. Like Low's work, Johnson's is characterised by a clarity and expressive power that is seductive and embracing.
Tammy Law's eight works (each a C-type print) picture suburban Australian landscapes superimposed with images of Myanmar. The artist captures the poignancy of memory in particularly evocative ways. The superimposition of the personal traces of one onto the present reality of the other evinces a conceptual eloquence that is mirrored in the aesthetic seduction of the images.
Siying Zhou's video Our first Lamington made in Australia is 75 minutes long. I didn't last that long but the parts I viewed were delightful and humorous without being derisive of the efforts of the Chinese couple attempting to make the utterly Australian lamington. As an exemplar of multicultural Australia, the concept of this work holds elements of truth and satire. Its length is unnecessary. The point is delivered fairly quickly.
Chinese Whispers and Other Stories is full of beautiful, evocative and conceptually enticing images. Some of these are outstanding and a tribute to the talents of the artists and to the selective intelligence of the curator. Another "must see" exhibition.