For years I have viewed the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) as a place to visit for its quirky objects, lumpy renderings of prehistoric marsupials and skilfully taxidermied road kill arranged in pseudo realistic habitats. Its majestic interiors draped in muted hues and antiquated carpet echo an era long before the ipod left its blueprint. Kicking off from university as a young arts writer, it was not a place I visited for contemporary art.
Attacking this problem head-on, in 2004 the TMAG joined forces with Contemporary Art Services Tasmania (CAST) to curate a series of exhibitions exploring the breadth of Tasmanian contemporary art. ‘Group Material’ 2004 centred on artists who use mundane and familiar objects while ‘Acidophilus’ 2005 invited participants to create work directly responding to selected objects from the TMAG’s permanent collection. Each exhibition has built on the success of its predecessor and this year’s offering was no exception.
‘Register: Tasmanian Artists 2006’ presents the work of ten artists loosely linked by their focus on process and the considered development of an idea over time. Co-curated by Craig Judd, Senior Curator of Art at the TMAG and Michael Edwards, Director of CAST, ‘Register’ stretches over two galleries to encompass a range of sculpture, painting, photography, installation and video.
While the previous projects with CAST have included artists repeatedly seen on the Tasmanian exhibition circuit, this collaboration between Judd and Edwards creates a generous space for new artists to step up to the podium. Immediately garnering attention is a suite of nine black and white photographs by Burnie-based artist Lisa Garland. Capturing in portrait form the enduring personalities found in her hometown, Garland’s large-scale images reflect the sincere reverence one can have for those who possess a shared history. Gazing into the relaxed and unassuming portraits, one gains an intimate sense of whom people like the endearingly impish Hume Brothers 2005 might be.
Matt Calvert also calls upon icons of personal significance to produce his disarmingly seductive sculptures. After scouring highways and wrecker yards for the reflective plastic and discarded debris from car accidents, Calvert assembles the broken shards and mangled metal into the simple shapes of flowers. The pale frosted petals twinkle and glint in the light, their aesthetic beauty thinly veiling their haunting reference to roadside floral memorials.
Warm flecks of fuzzy mismatched material make up the woven patchwork of Petra Meer’s commanding work, The Last Seconds 2006. Inspired by a poem written by her grandfather Robert Selke, Meer has pieced together shredded second hand jumpers, dressing gowns and blankets to plot out an abstract view of time passing and the inevitability of change and regeneration. Reminiscent of dotted lines on a map, Meer’s meticulous red stitches file across the fabric like markers of memory and experience, holding everything together in a secure and inviting whole.
Swapping the brush for a cookie cutter and 300 kilos of sugar, Mish Meijers offers viewers a sweet alternative to violence in the age of technology. In Byte 2006 hand coloured sugar cubes of varying sizes are spread across a 2.5m plinth to depict a boy being executed. Sprays of blood and flesh are daintily portrayed in pastel pink and red sugar, harking back to the bakery rather than the war zone. Also recalling the pixellated design of early computer games, each carefully prepared block represents a measured unit of easily digestible propaganda.
Like Meijers’ Byte, Catherine Woo’s Blister 2006 and Heat Cloud 2006 are deeply connected to the making process and the repetitive use of particular materials. Fire resistant mica, gritty rust and smooth clay are layered upon canvas to form sensuously gelatinous images evoking the effects of climate and environmental change. Shimmering with an almost palpable heat, Woo’s dappled surfaces are hemmed with a creeping darkness that suggests all is not as good as it looks.
Complimenting each other in size are Denise Ava Robinson’s tiny sculptures made from correlus algae and Michael Muruste’s impressive wall-size ink on paper work, Sousse 2006. Fred Fisher’s sinewy red and white Coil 2006 provides the central link between the two galleries while a collection of works by David Martin and Amanda Davies draws the exhibition to a tight close.
As a whole, Register is an unbiased and conceptually articulate exhibition. Along with the efforts of the artists, I credit Craig Judd in particular for the success of this show. Since his arrival in 2005, Judd’s instigation of new acquisitions and assiduous re-discovery of the TMAG’s collection has resulted in several noteworthy exhibitions, including the first major survey of Australian modernist Vivienne Binns.
Lisa Garland, Mr & Mrs Dick, 2004. Silver gelatin print. Courtesy of the artists and TMAG, Hobart