Hatched

Healthway National Graduate Show
Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, Perth

Scrutiny of body weight and food, dismemberment and dissection were twists on narratives of the body which were in evidence in several works in the Hatched: Healthway National Graduate Show for 1998. Hatched was a survey of almost fifty artists who graduated from tertiary art schools throughout Australia in 1997. Each was represented by one work and the show offered an excellent opportunity to view a distillation of the range of current emergent practices-including installations, new media arts, sculpture, video, painting, printmaking and photography.

The large-scale billboard by Nat Paton (Queensland College of Art), Untitled from the "Hot Stuff Series" was a photographic image of an Elvis-lookalike (actually Paten herself), in the infamous white spangled costume, holding a set of bathroom scales which were imprinted with an image of the American flag. This dramatic and humorous work confronted issues pertaining to the western cultural fear of fat. Amanda Paige Alderson (The Western Australian School of Art, Design and Media) also engaged the theme of body weight. Her installation, Fitting the Mould, In the Pursuit of Beauty, Perfection and the Happily Ever After included parodies of covers of women's magazines, for instance an issue of Dolly with the cover story headline "Have you got the legs for THE MINI? Follow our measurements". These were exhibited alongside clothing racks of assorted very small female garments, some of the sex-shop variety, together with two 'change rooms', one of which had a perspex door and a set of scales inside it. With so many elements crammed together Alderson 's message was diminished by the physical confusion of the installation. Angela Rowson (Sydney College of the Arts), in her witty still life painting of plates of food, titled Easy Thai Style Seafood Soup, offered a note on the consumption of art. Rowson suggested  that to "devour with one's eyes sets in play the notion of desire itself, where the question of consumption operates beyond the realm of sustenance and necessity".

Working at the opposite end of the food spectrum, Patricia Jane Bursil (College of Fine Arts, UNSW) created some provocative work about genetic manipulation and chemical engineering in food production. In a Pod was a delicately beautiful grid-like arrangement of rows of real pea pods on a lightbox. The pods were held open with dressmaking pins which had the appearance of cactus spikes. The translucent membranes of the pods were softly illuminated from the light box. Some vegetables and fruits were completely spiked with nails or pins and placed inside pickling jars. The lighting through the glass added an eerie dimension to the organic forms which looked like something out of an X-Files lab: strange but curiously intriguing.

A film about the torture of isolation and silence, by Julie Pitts (Academy of the Arts, OUT), showed continuously in PICA's small theatrette. This work was one of the highlights of the exhibition. Pills's film Maudie is a profound psychological investigation into isolation and manipulation. She has developed a visual narrative on the construction of a female body. Unlike the children's story in which the doll comes to life after completion, in Pitts's film the process of construction of the female body (doll) is completed with a living head. Interspersed with scenes of the workshop where the tortuous attachments take place, and a kitchen scene with two (possibly parent) figures, there are zoom close-ups of the staring eyes of a woman. There is no dialogue, only the noises of power tools and aggressive banging accompanying the shadowy black and white images. The film 'narrates in silence' a story of abuse and, as a result of the artist's fine sense of crescendo and interruption, does so without sensationalism. Also addressing disempowerment through images of control over the body, Simon Maberley's Manipulated was a small glass sculpture of a puppet-like male-figure strung horizontally between two large glass hands. Points of movement on the body were connected to pins.

The spectacle of the dissected human body was the subject of a series of five highly resolved oil paintings by Nicole Phillips (Curtin University of Technology). Of the series of five paintings, Untitled, in which the intestine was exposed, had particular resonance with other works in the exhibition. Phillips's recent work reflects an investigation into the concept of the medical sublime; the loss of subjectivity and the terror that is experienced by humans when exposed to images of dissection. She also explores the extent to which the imagery of the inner body can evoke a sense of awe inspiring beauty.

A lighter moment in the exhibition was presented by Lili-Ann Berg's (Faculty of Art & Design, University of Newcastle) painting Happy Birthday Mr President. Like Nat Paten's work, it incorporated an image of the American flag, but whereas Paten's flag served as an icon for excess, in Berg's it became an icon of power. Her one metre square oil painting portrayed a nude female torso, lying on some drapery, in the lower half of the picture. In the upper half the vertical red and white stripes of the flag met and contrasted with the fleshy curves of the body. This created a dramatic tension between the lower half and upper half of the painting which underlined Berg's real subject: sex and power. The title of course referred to that public/private moment between Marilyn and JFK, however, in producing this painting during 1997, the artist also commented upon contemporary sexual politics in Washington.

Another fun piece in the show was Antipodes by Sarah Mason (Tasmanian School of Art) which was an installation of a room-setting of colonial furniture made from straw. The work reflected, with humour and imagination, the significance of colonial historic sites and the artist's memories of fairy tales.

Overall the selections (made by the participating art schools) included many interesting pieces. There is a strong intellectualism prevalent in the range of concerns being addressed in Australia's art schools. It was good to see PICA totally blasted out with one huge exhibition again: its cavernous spaces were fully exploited in this exhibition, particularly by some of the large scale installations.

An integral part of Hatched was the successful forum over a weekend in June on art/culture/media/education. The symposium discussions offered artists, educators, and the general public the opportunity to discuss issues and ideas surrounding the arts and arts education. Speakers included McKenzie Wark; Vivienne Binns; Debra Porch; Rodney Glick; Paul Moncrieff; Sarah Follent; Kevin Murray and Robert Cook.