Reviewer: Peter Haynes
In Sequence. By PhotoAccess members. Taken Spaces. By Madeline Bishop/Leela Schauble. Huw Davies Gallery. PhotoAccess at the Manuka Arts Centre. Until February 21.
PhotoAccess opens its 2016 exhibition program very appropriately with a members' exhibition reflecting on the theme "in sequence". As one would expect from an exhibition drawn from a wide-ranging membership there is great diversity in style, content and quality in the 35 works submitted by the 35 artists represented. The great majority of works are inkjet prints (25); followed by type C prints (five), resin coated black-and-white prints (four), and one digital screen. The variety of approaches to the set theme and to the photographic medium instil overall visual interest and the curatorial installation with its sympathetic placements and sensitive alignments underscores this.
There are a number of highly engaging works, the best of which embrace the sequential interrogatively and thus engage directly with the viewer. Sean Davey's Bird formation shows the aerial acrobatics of a group of six aircraft as they cavort across the sky. The nine component images while visualising the same group do not form a continuous sequence but rather more a series of captured moments that in their totality constitute a collected memory or visual diary of the event. The linear, black, silhouettes of the planes against the greys of the cloudy sky provide very effective visual contrasts. Another aerial image is David Chalker's Wispy 1-4. Over a set of four images a plane and its smoke trail are viewed in the late afternoon sky, here a sultry orange. The organic swirls of the smoke act as visual ploy to the plane and in relation to the exhibition installation, the placement of Anne Fulker's Holey ground with its serpentine roads viewed from above, beneath "Wispy 1-4" offers neat formal contrasts and correlations.
In Mountain moods Andrew Robert Morgan adopts a filmic approach to the exhibition's theme. He uses 20 images of a "mountain" taken from a window of his home at various times of the day. As the title states he is pursuing mood not identity and this is achieved in a particularly evocative manner. Tony Fleming reveals the fineness of his photographic eye in Adelies porpoising, his series of four images of penguins in the waters of the Antarctic. The surfaces are beautifully modulated and the combination of stillness and movement cleverly captured. Water appears in a number of other works. In Paul Jurak's Meniscus on canvas a gathering of drops of water on a sandy surface appear almost like pebbles in a clever picturing of nature's trompe l'oeil. Marie Lund's Dance of the turtles recalls Monet's Water Lilies in its impressionistic handling of the three images' surfaces. Both Jurak and Lund have successfully adopted a vertical hanging for their sequences.
A number of artists have opted for a documentary approach to the theme. Mark Blumer's Bridge has used a viewpoint that I associate with the Japanese woodblock (I am thinking here particularly of Hiroshige and Hokusai). Rather than capitalise on the graphic line Blumer's formal juxtapositions create an image of contrasts reinforced by the geometries of the bridge and the presence of human activity. Human activity in the guise of fishing is given eloquent expression in Michael Taylor's Fishing on the Mekong. His three images of the slow, balletic movement of the interaction of the fisherman with his net are full of the unexpected grace and understated beauty.
In sequence is a strong exhibition highlighted by an energetic variety of approaches to the theme as alluded to above. The generally high standard reveals the richness of Canberra's talent in the photographic medium.
Taken Spaces is a collaborative exhibition by Madeline Bishop and Leela Schauble, two artists currently pursuing postgraduate studies at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne. There are only four works but the Modernist dictum of "less is more" is given powerful expression in this intelligently resolved exhibition. Madeline Bishop's work is about loss, absence, the intimated presence of what is no longer there. In In theory I knew it was coming three square-formatted images constitute the mise-en-scène of the artist's drama. The drama while ostensibly without protagonists is indeed populated but people here are present in their absence. The viewer is asked to bring his or her own existential experience to this and the other work(s) by Bishop. Two of the images are the bleak facades of inner-city Canberra flats. The open windows face into an emptiness equally as bleak as the facades of which they are a part. The palette of dirty ochres and greys is both formal reflection and symbolic metaphor of the emotional pathos associated with real or perceived loss. The third image in In theory I knew it was coming is largely composed of empty sky contrasted with the blocky geometry of the flats emerging from the bottom centre of the image, its solid mass broken by the sharp linearities of the branches of trees silhouetted against the sky. Another image of forlorn loneliness is powerfully evoked providing further emotional thrust to the edgy efficacy of the three images in combination.
The exteriors of In theory I knew it was coming are exchanged for interiors in I thought I heard your voice. As in the previous work Bishop adopts a tripartite format to intimate an unstated narrative. Each of the images is characterised by exquisitely correct formal compositions in which the geometries of the spaces depicted are carefully attuned to their emotional emptiness. Again human presence is ostensibly absent but concurrently vehemently present. Both these works evidence a powerful aesthetic understanding and in the elision of, dare I say it, form and content, produce compelling and absorbing images. I still expect to see you unexpectedly is a single image of a path meandering through parkland. Again there is no human presence but the drama of the previous two works is dissipated for me by the generic familiarity of the place visualised.
Leela Schauble uses an HD video with sound as her medium in Landing. The Arctic landscape that is the setting for the work is bleak and foreboding but imbued with an extraordinary power that is at once seductive and enthralling. There is human presence here but it is minimal, tiny compared to the magnitude of the surrounding topography. The atmosphere is essentially still intermittently broken by the black figures of the people moving about the environment. Topographical stillness though is vociferously contrasted with the rectangle of black that first appears to the right-hand edge of the image but proceeds to disintegrate from its original solid form to dissimulate into multiple fragments across the surface and thence back to solidity; a striking visual metaphor for the incongruity of man's presence in the vast wilderness and untamed (and perhaps untameable) beauty of the Arctic. Taken Spaces is a powerful exhibition and along with In sequence should not be missed. PhotoAccess has set a high standard for the rest of its 2016 exhibition program. I look forward to see what is next.