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Drawn to the milder climate, availability of jobs, urban centres and ease of living, the majority of Australia’s population has chosen to reside in coastal areas. Moving with the ebb and flow of the tide, coastal communities are inherently shaped by the movements of the sea. Port towns provide an open door for connecting cities, neighbouring islands and far away places through trade and cultural exchange, fostering change and facilitating economic growth. Symbolically, the sea represents vastness, the unpredictable and the ever-changing façade of the natural world.
A loaded subject to explore creatively, the sea and the communities associated with it provide the thematic springboard for Tidal, a non-acquisitive biennial art award funded by the Devonport City Council. Showcasing the work of twenty local and interstate artists, Tidal hauled in a prime selection of two dimensional media including video, painting, photography, drawing and digital imagery.
A strong Tasmanian contingent made up the majority of the standout works. Securing the first prize of $10,000 was Neil Haddon’s moody painting Survivor (Graft) 2005. A large work depicting the silhouette of an unknown figure posing with three dogs, Survivor blends high gloss enamel with an abraded matte surface to create an elusive image that strips back individuality to reveal the simple essence of physical presence. Although executed with unquestionable skill, without a clear visual reference to the curatorial theme or a descriptive statement to accompany the work, it is difficult to discern why Survivor was chosen over other equally deserving works.
Working with her trademark medium of Asian inspired papercuts, Megan Keating offered one of the most visually impressive works in Tidal. Comprising four panels drenched in lush hues of ebony and dusky blue, Night Operations and White Horses 2005/2006 combines the precise slats of traditional papercuts with the blacked out pop culture shapes of war ships and submarines. An expertly crafted comment on the seductively terrifying nature of military and political propaganda, Night Operations demonstrates how easily the medicine can go down.
Fascinated by the distinct individuals who live on Tasmania’s North West coast, photographer Lisa Garland pays homage to her coastal hometown through evocative black and white portraits. Often placing her weather-beaten subjects in front of their rickety shed or indoors amongst their possessions, Garland’s images manage to retain an endearingly candid quality despite their staged compositions. The relaxed atmosphere she creates with her subjects seeps into each image and produces a gently intimate portrayal of unique characters, like those seen in Peter and Roger 2005.
New media artist James Newitt was awarded the $3,000 Tasmanian Artist Award for his video work, Arberg Bay 2006. Self referential in style, Arberg Bay documents the search for a remote coastline on the state’s West coast. Sweeping landscapes, quiet waterside towns and lonely beaches fill the screen as Newitt passes in and out of the frame, searching for the beach he visited with friends several years ago. The deep silence of secluded landscape coupled with Newitt’s lone figure effectively implies the uncertainty and isolation associated with change and the ‘coming of age’ experience.
Utilising culturally significant organic marine materials, Townsville-based artist Julie Gough reignites untold fragments of Indigenous history. Cuttlefish bones, charcoal and crushed shells are mixed together with graphite and oxides to create the unfolding visual narrative of Disturbed Site: Promissory note – opposite Swan Island 6 August 1831, 2006. Similarly, Pura-Lia Meenamatta (Jim Everett) and Jonathan Kimberley’s collaborative work, drakurringer legana tagarilia: breathe my family water 2006, explores the importance of place through its inherent connection to personal and shared history. Lucidly combining text and painted imagery, the artists express a lyrical dialogue documenting a shared journey where water symbolises the vast expanse of time.
Other noteworthy works included: the striped Barbarella-esque forms of Vera Möller’s Lewinett; the intricate dissection of light, colour and pattern in Undersea by Helga Groves; Junko Go’s quirky abstract rendering of coastal life; and a solid collection of seascape photography by Joy Hirst, Valerie Sparks and Simon Cuthbert. Giving regional coastal communities the opportunity to connect with artwork deeply entwined with their own experience, Tidal plays an important role in raising the profile of contemporary artists, particularly through the increasing financial and public support provided by the City of Devonport.