Carbon Neutral is one of the exhibitions that comprise Aquifer, an ACT-wide program coinciding with the ANU Climate Update 2022. It is a powerful exhibition with works whose visual impact equals the urgency of the challenges of climate change for our contemporary world. The curator, Alexander Boynes, states: "Carbon Neutral ultimately aims to pose one question: how does an artist produce work to inspire hope and optimism to face the biggest challenge in our lifetimes, without leaving a carbon footprint?" Whether the artists' works demonstrate answers specific to the curatorial question is moot. Whatever, Carbon Neutral includes especially strong pieces, visually, aesthetically and thematically.
In Front Space, Andrew Styan's Life Support System is an intriguing visual metaphor whose interactive presentation exposes the hegemony of the world's financial/economic systems and their invidious control over the natural environment. This impact is presented as control/controller/controlled, a relationship where the contribution of economic exigencies to the natural world is overtly dissolving.
Yarned River by the River Yarners is a knitted, crocheted, woven and decorated object, currently 13,600 centimetres long. It weaves its way across and up two of the gallery walls in a liltingly serpentine dance. The use of "yarned" refers not only to the methods and tools of making but also to the telling of stories. The story began in 2015 when a group of women in the Central West of New South Wales reacted to a threat from industry to the Macquarie River. The initial reaction remains, and the Yarned River is a continuing project with relevance to the way our environment continues to be impacted by human intervention. Despite its scale, Yarned River offers a warm intimacy that speaks of the importance of the ongoing relationship between communities and the environment.
Jon Campbell's No Planet B comprises 12 images whose message underscores the seemingly endless series of devastating natural disasters that have beset Australia (and elsewhere) in recent years. The works present in a luminous Pop Art idiom with echoes of the popular culture posters of the 1960s and later. While the strong messages are clearly iterated, these works sit uncomfortably with the others in the exhibition.
In Middle Space Louise Waters' untitled work is a compellingly beautiful piece in which the pre-European bush landscape is artfully contrasted with the insistent human intervention and concomitant damage that characterises the recent past. The artist's use of charcoal and conte drawing contrasted with a looped video, cleverly elides media with historical and contemporary themes.
Also in Middle Space (and Back Space) Marzena Wasikowska's Earth's Self-Correcting Systems is exemplified by selections from the Glacier Series and the Alaska Series. These works showcase the artist's imaginative talent and ability to coalesce the aesthetic and the thematic into compelling images. While the works allude to the 18th-Century notion of "the Sublime", we see a very contemporary "Sublime" visualising the dramatic impact of climate change on coastal environments. The bringing together of seductive pictorialisations with the hard truths of climate change is powerfully achieved in these beautiful creations.
G.W. Bot's Grass and Cypress Glyphs - The Tree of Life in Back Space is monumental in both scale and aesthetic resolution. The work occupies an entire wall and magnetically draws the viewer in to investigate and discover the relationships within and on the nuanced surfaces of both steel and tapa established by the artist. Despite the scale there is a spiritual poignancy invested into this marvellous work.
Also in Back Space, a selection of photographic images by Anne Zahalka speaks of the artist's consummate control of technique and understanding of the need for felicitous intersections of form and content to very clearly convey her intended message. Her use of colours, sometimes bleached and sometimes saturated, adds an element of unreality to her otherwise bitingly real compositions. Zahalka is an eloquent inclusion to this immensely satisfying exhibition.
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