Plenty

Women artists of Townsville
Perc Tucker Gallery, Townsville

Curated by Sylvia Ditchburn, Plenty features the work of eleven women artists of Townsville. The exhibition sets out to show a representative overview of the range of contemporary art styles, techniques and practices in the Townsville region, the aim, to celebrate the creative vision and significant contribution to art made by women of Townsville. Ditchburn states that "I wanted to illustrate the innovative strategies and the richness of work created here ... I welcomed the chance to provide much needed research [the documentation of women artists working in the region] as a foundation for ongoing documentation of artists working in the area" (exhibition press release). Ditchburn did not conduct investigative research in order to select the artists. This was deemed unnecessary as she already knew all of the artists practising in the Townsville area. As a result, Plenty illustrates a lack of vision and awareness towards new and innovative work and current art practice within the region. The exhibition and accompanying catalogue promotes the work of a selection of friends and colleagues and emphasises the hierarchical system present within small communities.

It is difficult to comprehend the critical agenda for Plenty. It is virtually impossible to engage in any form of dialogue with the works. Plenty is a disparate collection of women artists' work. Craft, fashion and jewellery are exhibited in the same context as fine art, painting, and sculpture. Professionals artists with a track record such as Anneke Silver and Margaret Massey Wilson, whose work is already extensively documented, are exhibited alongside artists whose works do not have the capacity to engage; ill informed, naive, and cliched. The so called diversity of the visual media and subjects represented has resulted in an incoherent exhibition in a curatorial sense. What is ultimately wrong with the exhibition is the curatorial approach: there is none. No curatorial requirements were "imposed" upon the artists in order for the exhibition to reflect personal vision and sensibility unhampered by a curatorial thesis. This lack of understanding of the role of the curator, and importance of curatorial vision has resulted in a exhibition that merely serves as an overview or survey of a personal preference of artwork being made by women in Townsville. It detracts from any strengths individual works may have. A lesser known artist whose work deserves more critical attention than this exhibition offers is Marion Gaemers. Gaemers has developed traditional basketry techniques using natural materials collected locally to develop her own sculptural language. Her sculptures reflect an essence of Townsville and its tropical environs. Colony, a sprawling construction invading the gallery space from above, comprises hundreds of thumb sized containers, that are equally as tactile as they are repulsive, with the threat of insect life that may lie within. The multi media work of Anne Lord also examines the fragile eco structure of North Queensland. In contrast to Gaemers, Lord employs new technology, computer generated images and video to investigate and comment upon environmental issues; the abuse of natural resources and degradation of the earth. These works lie uneasy next to the gaudy knitted garments of Jackie Elmore, clumsily displayed over wooden shop window mannequins. The environmental issues being examined by Lord and Gaemers diminish within the over ambitious and ill conceived rhetoric of Plenty. Another example of work being lost is that of Karla Pincott's body ornaments constructed from mechanical and electronic parts. This small collection of jewellery is displayed amongst Elmore's knit ware and the lifesize ceramic figurative sculpture of Jane Hawkins. The incongruous juxtaposition of work is prevalent throughout the exhibition.

To curate an exhibition on the basis of gender and belonging to a place, in the absence of examining the individual role of the artists and their work, in the hope that interconnected themes will emerge is naive. Curatorial practice offers the artists and audience parameters in which to reconsider and examine work. Plenty offers no such parameters and takes the sense of place, and gender, as a given rather than something to be critically examined. There is no structural response to the context and region in which these artists work, and to which they ultimately respond. Plenty lacks a serious engagement with positive aspects concerning regional art practice, and how an artist's practice might respond to the place of production. Art produced within, and in response to, a specific region, relevant to the given community, is of cultural value outside of that district. It can inform and engage a broader audience, giving a wider understanding of national identity. In order to inform and engage outside of the region, the importance of regional art practice must be examined and understood by the curator. Without addressing the relevance of Regionalism within the national context of contemporary art practice, cultural difference is not expressed and celebrated, but negative notions of "provincialism" are unfortunately endorsed. This is further ratified when research into the selection of artists is considered unnecessary. The same argument for curatorial vigour can be applied when exhibiting women's work. Contrary to Bronwyn Davies (Professor and Head of School, School of Education , James Cook University) beliefs that the "work in this exhibition shifts old ways of seeing and imaging women's art" (Plenty catalogue), Plenty actually endorses stereotypes; textile, ceramics, jewellery, basket making, painting, and drawing, all being the traditionally perceived media of women. The complete absence of curatorial vigour has allowed this exhibition to collapse into a non-critical provisional acceptance of context. The unfortunate consequence is that, rather than celebrating a female's vision and sense of place, it undermines them.