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During July and August this year, Canberra was undoubtedly the place to see sculpture. Most would assume that this comment refers largely to the National Gallery of Australia’s ‘National Sculpture Prize and Exhibition’ with its record number of participants and most generous allocation of prominent National Gallery space to date. However the ‘Dimensions Variable’ Contemporary Sculpture Festival held at three Canberra institutions went, in some ways, beyond the Sculpture Prize’s boundaries, particularly in its exploration of contemporary sculptural possibilities through focussed yet receptive exhibition themes.
Hosted by Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre, and the Australian National University’s School of Art Gallery, Dimensions Variable was premised on demonstrating and investigating a multiplicity of sculptural practices. Each of the distinctly separate exhibitions worked within their articulated curatorial position, teasing out their particular inquiry and explorations. Though at times bound by the limitations of the individual exhibition spaces, the festival in its entirety worked towards its aim, as stated by curators Barbara McConchie and Lisa Byrne: ‘to broaden awareness of what sculpture has come to mean in the twenty-first century’.
Fundamental to Dimensions Variable were notions of place and space. Developed as a response to Canberra’s substantial sculptural heritage, it was explicitly sited within this historiography—architecturally prominent national institutions and monuments, governmental commissioning of sculpture and public art, and a legacy of sculpture forums and specific art events which have shaped the field of sculpture in the city. This placement, clearly articulated in the accompanying publication, is important not only because it relates to an exploration of a particular trajectory, and an investigation into the possibilities of sculptural practices, but also as it acknowledges and utilises the strengths of its location. Through the recognition of the city’s own sense of place and its scale and mobility, Dimensions Variable was recognised and viewed by its public as a series of related but distinct components: read individually and, just as importantly, collectively.
Comprised entirely of newly commissioned works, the Dimensions Variable 1.1 exhibition at Canberra Contemporary Art Space, presented the work of eight artists from Australia and New Zealand. Reworking objects, questioning functionality and states of ‘normality’, and working extensively with illusion, the exhibition saw varied interrogations of the exhibition’s objective of pushing sculpture beyond formal and functional concerns. Through this, and the works play with spatial notions, one witnessed a strong collection of works, individually diverse yet cohesive in exhibition. These extended from Rachel Bowrak’s reinterpretation of an everyday object, the fridge, Stella Brennan’s investigation of sculptural structures through the medium of video, to Justin Andrews’ two and three dimensional geometrical assemblages.
Dimensions Variable 1.11 at Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre took as its focus conceptual, non-functional ‘craft’ work. The exhibition explored contemporary slippages and blurring of presupposed boundaries between craft and sculpture practices. Seen together the works could be read as lacking correspondences, however one had to look beyond the media and to some extent the visual to see the conceptual associations.
Using yet another sculptural manifestation, the Dimensions Variable 1.111 exhibition at the Australian National University’s School of Art Gallery presented forays into installation practice. Here, four artists used everyday materials and things from our natural surroundings to form works, which rely predominantly on the space in which they are positioned. Ellis Hutch’s large luminescent curtain created from filigree glue work was among one of the most visually arresting works in this exhibition, although all artists confidently engaged with their space and the processes involved in the making of their installations.
Working within such a curatorial premise, it was also apposite that one of the components of Dimensions Variable moved away from the gallery space. Bronwen Sandland’s knitted Car Cosy was seen adorning a family car at various locations around Canberra. This public work provided a further dimension to the Festival’s exploration, and like the three exhibitions, questioned assumed notions of sculptural practice and explored further possibilities in this field.