17 May, 2009

Venice Biennale 2009 - Australia

Australia's official representation for the Venice Biennale 2009 will include artist Shaun Gladwell who will present his work MADDESTMAXIMVS at the Australian Pavilion in the Giardini.

MADDESTMAXIMVS is a compelling suite of five thematically interrelated videos with sculptural and photographic elements, influenced by outback Australian landscapes and the iconic Mad Max movies.

Gladwell's exciting works blend contemporary urban culture and personal history through video, painting, sculpture and performance. He was one of three Australian artists selected to participate in the Think with the Senses Feel with the Mind exhibition at the Venice Biennale 2007.

Shaun Gladwell on Bellebyrd


Sydney-based curator Felicity Fenner will curate a group exhibition of early career artists. The exhibition entitled Once Removed, will present artists - Vernon Ah Kee, Ken Yonetani, and Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro - through a series of installations unified by themes of displacement, Indigenous and environmental issues.

Click here to download the essay on Once Removed by the curator.


Once Removed is an exhibition of three installations that refer to aspects of place and the predicament of displacement. Interpreting facets of Australia’s environment and culture, as well as of the former convent in which the exhibition is situated, the works reveal differing approaches to place and displacement by young Australian artists of diverse ethnic backgrounds.

As an emigrant, immigrant or an Indigenous person, each of the artists here has experienced cultural displacement. Sean Cordeiro’s family is from Singapore; he and Claire Healy lead a globally itinerant life, currently working between Sydney and Berlin and their work draws on this experience of constant transit between cultures. Ken Yonetani immigrated to Australia from Japan just six years ago and his reflections on environmental devastation present cultural parallels between Australia and his native Japan, and, in the current context, Venice; while Vernon Ah Kee has experienced the worst aspects of displacement – racism and ostracism – as an Aboriginal Australian with Chinese ancestry living in the conspicuously Anglo- Celtic city of Brisbane. The insight provided by the artists’ experience of otherness underpins the pungent narratives of these diverse installations.

At the forefront of this awakening to Indigenous and non-Western art is the work of Vernon Ah Kee and Ken Yonetani. Though rising above the specifics of place in terms of its political narrative, their practice draws from and comments on their respective Aboriginal and Asian heritages.

Ah Kee’s installation for the Venice Biennale, Cant Chant (Wegrewhere) presents the beach as a contested site, reflecting the fact that beach culture alienates people of non-Anglo backgrounds (Asian, Middle Eastern and Indigenous populations, for example), something brought to the fore with the Cronulla riots on one of Sydney’s most popular surf beaches a couple years ago. Visual imagery framed within the three- channel video and accompanying installation of suspended surfboards also suggests iconic racist events from history, such as lynchings in North America and Australia, where blacks were ritually murdered by public hanging. Locally, the work’s title and theme refers to Thomas Keneally’s 1972 Booker Prize-nominated novel, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, in which the white author, controversially, told the story through the eyes of the Aboriginal protagonist of him taking violent revenge against racial persecution in the Australian outback.

carefully staged white sugar sculptures are rendered in a language that seeks to codify the damage caused by human disengagement from the natural world. The aesthetic framework for his practice is drawn from Asian culture, particularly cultural traditions that make a spectacle of ordering nature, such as the Japanese Zen garden. The particular type of garden cited in Sweet Barrier Reef is called Kare san sui, which dates back to the 15 th century.

The site-responsive installation by Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro in the Ludoteca’s church embraces the dreams, fears and desires of its ecclesial setting. Collectively, the content of their VHS monolith ruminates on the human condition, the meaning of life and mortality. However, unlike site- specific works that aim to reveal aspects of the place in which they’re located – often hailed in the biennale context as a form of cultural tourism – Healy & Cordeiro’s work offers a contemporary reflection on timeless human concerns rather than on the significance of place, referring to film as a vehicle for self- reflection and the stack of obsolete media as a metaphor for society’s contrived packaging of emotions and the ultimate transience of life. There are 195,774 videos in this stack, their combined viewing ti me equal to the average (global) human life span of 61.1 years.

Life Span, the neatly ordered stack of VHS tapes created for Once Removed, is positioned in response to the distinctive art and architecture of its setting. Disproportionately commandeering the small church of the Ludoteca, Life Span proposes the substitution of religious doctrines for movie-watching as a path to spiritual fulfilment. The juxtaposition between popular videos and their
church setting serves to heighten the significance both of the work and the church, the stack of obsolete media an apt metaphor not only for society’s contrived packaging of experience and emotion, but for the ephemeral nature of life itself.



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