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Prime is an annual Queensland Art Gallery event for National Youth Week, and this year it was a small scale exhibition that presented quality work by eight artists under the age of thirty-five.
Prime succeeded in its aim to feature a variety of media, through the representation of sculpture, installation, photography, video and painting, by Peter Alwast, Chris Handran, Natalya Hughes, Alasdair Macintyre, Sandra Selig, Grant Stevens, Daniel Templeman and Jemima Wyman. However, with all eight artists based in Brisbane (although Hughes is studying in Sydney) Prime failed in its claim to explore new art from Queensland. The exhibition could have been a perfect vehicle to present an array of work from across the State as well as the capital, to present audiences with new artists not shown in Brisbane and with work that is not so easily accessed.
Despite the geographically limited selection, Prime’s inclusion of a diverse mix of media underscored the fact that no one medium currently dominates art practice. Three approaches to painting were presented by Wyman, Hughes and Alwast. Wyman’s Scapeology works appear stylistically different from her previous paintings of grids formed from paint runs; however these new works are linked to the earlier in their exploration of the performative nature of paint, in this instance through enamel’s viscosity. The Scapeology works depict topographies suggestive of the instability of the earth’s surface, and were influenced by the artist’s recent residency in Los Angeles, notorious for its risk of earthquakes. Wyman’s application of the full spectrum of colours is controlled across a multitude of closely demarcated areas. A tension exists between the precise colour application and the ripples created from the heavily poured enamel which suggest fluidity and give a dynamism to the work.
Natalya Hughes’s detailed paintings and her flat thinly painted surfaces presented an alternative to Wyman’s luscious, thick surfaces. Hughes draws her subject matter from Japanese ukiyo-e prints, which she digitally manipulates to remove figures, leaving behind the clothes as traces of presence. The works explore fabric as a signification of culture and social hierarchy, and are imbued with undertones of gender issues. Peter Alwast’s Fast and Slow Painting Projects (2004) sit in between Hughes’s precise surfaces and Wyman’s sense of freedom of application.
Chris Handran’s Untitled snapshots series (2002-2005) oscillates between painting and photography, with the blurring and haze suggestive of a wet on wet oil painting technique. Handran’s series consists of hundreds of photographs taken with a camera with its shutter mechanism removed and therefore reliant on the artist to control exposure via the lens protector. Handran’s works emphasise specific moments in time and are a poignant reminder of the presence and use of analogue technology in an increasingly digital society.
Alasdair Macintyre, Daniel Templeman and Sandra Selig presented divergent approaches to space and objects. Macintyre’s sculptures are dioramas of gallery settings with often incongruous elements from pop culture, such as aliens in the Queensland Art Gallery bookshop. While satirical, they offer a humorous perspective of the art world with art stars in attendance, for example 9:59am (The disparate hour), 2005 which features Andy Warhol, Jeffrey Smart and Tracey Moffatt.
With the current invisibility of sculpture in Brisbane, aside from the public art arena, Templeman’s work Strand, 2005, was a refreshing inclusion. It towered above viewers, exploring the illusion of movement and balance in a static form. Selig’s mid-air is an understated installation of two intersecting columns of Styrofoam balls beaded on monofilament. As we perceive it, the work seems to fluctuate between solid form and objects floating in space. However, it was not displayed to its best advantage and would have been passed unnoticed by many visitors.
Grant Steven’s Then I let you 2005 was the only video work exhibited. The work draws from popular culture and explores the disjunction between spoken and written text and the ‘never neutral’ meanings of language.
Prime 2005 offered a good representation of media and contemporary art practice. One could not help thinking, however, that what is needed is a larger survey of current practice from across Queensland, that uncovers works and artists not already widely known.