2015 proved to be an exciting and interesting year for the visual arts in the ACT and region. As usual there was a plethora of exhibitions and as usual variations in standards, content, media, etcetera made viewing these a challenging experience each time. My top five are not presented in any particular order and I apologise for the many omissions of excellent work from this necessarily limited selection. My choices are as idiosyncratic as the art that I have looked at during 2015.
PhotoAccess has provided a number of well-conceived and resolved exhibitions. As exhibitions here include more than one artist I am taking the liberty of counting the concurrently displayed exhibitions as a single exhibition. I particularly enjoyed Adelaide-based James Tylor's Un-resettling, a poignant look at traditional Indigenous culture as practised in what are now national parks and recreational bushland. Tylor's visual language is seductive and embracing and like many exhibitions at PhotoAccess examines the history and means of the medium as well as its thematic content.
Shown in tandem with Un-resettling were The Control Room and The Waves, both by Chris Bennie. The former is a video and audio installation. While its message is uncomfortable the artist's consummate control of medium and content produced a powerfully articulate piece. The Waves was a visually eloquent and witty theatrical display of seven large inkjet prints. Bennie's use of drama in both these works was particularly effective and demonstrated his understanding of how to use the limitations of the gallery spaces to the work's advantage.
Also at PhotoAccess was proximate, a group exhibition of three artists curated by Sean Davey. The theme of the undisclosed narrative was dealt with in three very different ways. Robert Agostino's Slander visualises unstated personal dramas that are part of human relationships. He uses "imperfections" as a temporal metaphor uniting the visual, the haptic and the personal in his 50 images. Thomas Boivin's Portrait d'une jeune femme externalises the introspective through his embracing images of women in private contemplation. The captured moments of Spiro Miralis' Underpass see the photographer as author of unstated narratives and quietly evoke the power of what is left unsaid.
A number of other exhibitions at PhotoAccess greatly appealed to me – Tony Fleming's Antarctica and Sean Davey's Port Moresby/Second Contact for example – but space precludes further inclusions.
Rosalie Gascoigne is, of course, a major figure in Australian art. The Daylight Room reinforced that status in this beautiful exhibition of only 10 works curated by Glenn Barkley and held at the Goulburn Regional Art Gallery. The works focused on the artist's responses to Lake George. The choice of works produced an articulate and modulated ensemble that showcased Gascoigne's imaginative vision and the visually poetic language that so beautifully evokes that vision.
At Form Studio and Gallery in Queanbeyan Gabrielle Soulsby's Works on Paper and Leonie Gill's Sculpture exemplified each artist's clear understanding of the aesthetic possibilities of ambiguity. Soulsby's "drawings" are based on the human figure. Using a deliberately limited formal repertoire (a palette of essentially black-and-white for example) allows the artist to invest each element with its utmost expressive potential. Soulsby also plays with the real and the abstract and in doing this highlights the metaphysical aspects of our lives.
Leonie Gill's sculptures are powerful presences in the gallery and provide perfect visual and conceptual foils to Soulsby's drawings. Gill combines a number of materials – variously wax, cement, copper, aluminium and wood – in simple and strong forms. Her understanding of surface is astute and through her control of this she asserts possibilities for change, movement and immanent disintegration. For Gill meaning is not a single entity but rather her work is about possibilities for multiple meanings and accompanying questions. Like Soulsby, Gill uses ambiguity as a positive aesthetically and conceptually.
Also at Form was Overland, an exhibition showcasing the works of two artists from the Central West of NSW – Ros Auld and Tim Winters. Auld's ceramic pieces demonstrate her control of her medium. She demonstrates highly refined sculptural and pictorial sensibilities particularly in the vessel forms that constitute the great majority of her works in the exhibition. Auld's work is concerned with place and memories of place. While places may have specific topographical significance for the artist she prefers to offer visual and plastic cues that elicit viewer response through memory rather than actualities of place. Auld's body of work in Overland was impressive and beautifully showcased her considerable talents.
2015 continued to point to the energy that characterises the visual arts in Canberra and the region. The range and depth of that range speak of the substantial pool of talent that populates our cultural landscape. I congratulate the artists of our region and the galleries that support them. I look forward to more challenges in 2016.