Derek O'Connor, Dionisia Salas, Shoeb Ahmad shows at CCAS Gorman Arts Centre
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Derek O'Connor, Dionisia Salas, Shoeb Ahmad shows at CCAS Gorman Arts Centre

At home he's a tourist by Derek O'Connor. Domino Gold by Dionisia Salas. broken-binary-brown by Shoeb Ahmad. Canberra Contemporary Art Space. Gorma Arts Centre. 55 Ainslie Avenue, Braddon. Tuesday to Saturday 11am to 5pm. Until February 10.

The three exhibitions at Canberra Contemporary Art Space opened in late 2017 and have reopened as the first exhibitions of 2018. Each is terrific and a powerful exemplar of the tremendous depth and range of contemporary practice so intelligently (and artfully) showcased at CCAS.

Derek O'Connor's  Paris '68, 2017 in At home he's a tourist at Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Gorman Arts Centre.

Derek O'Connor's Paris '68, 2017 in At home he's a tourist at Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Gorman Arts Centre.

Photo: supplied

Derek O'Connor's At home he's a tourist is a visual tour de force. The individual works are layered, complex and beautiful, revealing of the artist's astute understanding of his medium, its history and its role in both aesthetic and political senses. His starting point for (most of) the works is the covers of the popular series of Time-Life books whose topics covered history, contemporary culture, and momentous events of the 20th century. They constitute a sort of American world view and assert the particular values of a particular part of US society. For O'Connor they (or at least their contents) provide a narrative base against which he posits in his own highly individual visual language, a history of the art that is relevant for his own practice. The book covers become both archive and canvas, but a canvas replete with the opaque fictions of recent history.

In terms of esteemed painterly progenitors, O'Connor's embrace is wide. Richter, Rothko, Pollock, Warhol, Kline and Polke are a few who spring to the fore. These are among the artists admired by O'Connor. His use of them shows deep empathy and understanding of divergent (and sometimes convergent) artistic practices. It also shows how "influence" for him involves amalgamation and synthesis, not pale reflection. The art he admires is actively commented on and remains integral in the realisation of his own artistic vision. It is difficult and perhaps unnecessary to pick particular works on which to comment. It is sufficient to state that the complexity and depth of his understanding of his sources and his consummate control of his own aesthetic and conceptual battery results in poetic compilations full of force and aesthetic seduction.

Shoeb Ahmad's broken-binary-brown (installation) 2017, dual HD video with stereo sound, 60' duration at Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Gorman Arts Centre.

Shoeb Ahmad's broken-binary-brown (installation) 2017, dual HD video with stereo sound, 60' duration at Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Gorman Arts Centre.

Photo: Supplied
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O'Connor uses colour as a particularly effective tool. He understands its role as pictorial energy, as an expressive vehicle and as an aesthetic tool that creates sites for contemplation, arenas for active rather than passive thought. O'Connor's use of red, yellow and black is especially noteworthy in this exhibition. These colours are simultaneously celebratory, signature and interrogative. They are also employed with consummate aesthetic control and painterly bravura.The images over which he paints are never totally subsumed. After all, there are reasons why they were selected. If overt presence is not what the artist requires, then covert presence is defiantly and insistently insinuated. This exhibition is special. The marvellous overall éclat of its entirety is breathtaking, particularly when the significance of individual works is never lost but clearly delivered as both entity and component.

Shoeb Ahmad's broken-binary-brown is concerned with change. It is a moving and challenging installation delivering an immersive experience that is at once questioning, elusive and embracing. The CUBE space is darkened. On the floor an illuminated rectangular form comprising geometric forms (essentially rectangles and squares), delivers a changing palette of blues, greys, pinks, whites whose movements, while not totally imperceptible, are slow and deliberate. An insistent sense that the movement is leading somewhere is subtly present. The changes in the forms are slow, revelatory of evolving change, but change that is almost imperceptible but nevertheless there. The end of the journey, though, is not articulated but rather evoked, perhaps even left unstated. The subtlety of the insistence referred to above is really beautiful in its experiential embrace. Integrated with the floor piece, the accompanying sound piece is haunting, its notes infiltrating into the space and into the viewer's consciousness, creating an immersive atmosphere that is mysterious, meditative and seductive. broken-binary-brown is a profound piece, a contemporary Gesamtkunstwerk involving sight, sound and space and more significantly questioning our understanding of the quietly insistent power of change and its enduring effects.

Dionisia Salas's Domino gold is full of vitality and vibrating forms that pulsate in layered movements in and out of the viewer's space. There is a feeling of the energy of (some of) Frank Stella's wall-pieces although here the two-dimensional presentation imbues each work with a particularly effective aesthetic tension. An almost Baroque exuberance is played down by the relatively subdued character of the artist's palette. The overall assertive decorative quality however reinforces the Baroque reference. Salas clearly demonstrates her control in the manner in which she incorporates sinuous curving forms and groups of swirling graphic lines into her compositions. These underscore the lively joyousness of her works and the clever plays with spatial depth and patterned layering that characterise this vivacious exhibition.

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