The Maitland Regional Art Gallery
We are staying in Muswellbrook for a couple of weeks and heard about a colleague’s exhibition on show at Maitland. So we decided to make a day trip down to Maitland and then onto Newcastle to look at the work on show in those galleries. The Maitland Regional Art Gallery (MRAG) has had a new architectural addition, which has increased the gallery space and its capacity to show a few exhibitions with a café open for breakfast and lunch. The gallery was humming with family groups – the café was full and kids were involved with activities in the gallery spaces.
There were a few shows: The Doug National Moran Portrait Prize, a photographic portrait exhibition of local identities, Faces of Maitland, an artists book/collage show by Victorian artists Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison, a multimedia and mixed media exhibition on death and grief by Queensland artist, Karike Ashworth, a series of images as a visual parody of the Dadaist Hugo Ball by Novacastrian, Andrew Finney and a sound sculpture by New South Wales artists, James Hazel and Victoria Pham. This is an amazing variety of experience in local and national Australian contemporary art.
What follows is a small report on what we found that day… I wonder what the locals have in store for them in the future as the changing exhibitions bring such a rich collection of ideas and creative practice.
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Andrew Finnie’s The enlightened journey of Mr Hugo Ball
Finnie is an accomplished artist and illustrator. In this little show in a corridor of the MRAG there are a series of richly illustrated works parodying the Dada pioneer Hugo Ball. In a posthumous attempt to ‘enlighten’ Ball about the history of art, Finnie places Ball as a visual intervention within artworks across time. Ball is presented as a character in a picture book where he is a traveller and participant in the history of art. There is also a little handmade book that could be purchased from the gallery, which discusses the concepts behind the body of work and Finnie’s background in art.
Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison’s A Whisker of Light
Along with the recent work of artists book shown in the vitrines, there was a few wall installations of Haby’s collages and Jennison’s pencil drawn birds. The books are based on the layering of image fragments into a visual form of poetry and shown under glass much like museum specimens. These books when time is taken to ‘read’ can stir the imagination beyond the space of words. The wall works, All breathing, all right, are a breathtaking 446 collages constructed on to antique postcards by Haby from 2006 to 2015. Overwhelming to take in on one visit these transformed postcards are regimented into columns that disrupt a formal ‘reading’ by left to right or of the entire work at once. Instead one discovers them individually, up close and at random bringing a kind of child play or ‘I spy’ to the engagement of this work. Across the room in a free flowing formation is a flock of birds and one butterfly in flight, All flying, all right, drawn by the sensitive hand of Louise Jennison. Serendipitously, in the gallery space at certain times of the day, a streak of sunlight falls across the wall and seems to guide the birds as a reference to the exhibition title. In this gallery space these works form a kind of habit for the reimagining of the fragile relationship between humans and animals.
All breathing, all right
All breathing, all right
All flying, all right
Pencil on paper
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Karike Ashworth’s Lamentation
On walking into Lamentation and immediately, I was struck by its austere psychological space. I had the uncanny feeling that I had walked into a Margaret Atwood novel. As I moved about the work, there seemed to be an underlying haunting or unfilled absence.
More than just looking the exhibition required an intellectual connection as it was deeply invested with meaning and visual metaphor. The pillows suspended in the space had evocative phrases sewn into the covering – perhaps suggesting that they spoke for the sleeper. Perhaps they are manifestations of a more-than-human presence in the bed coverings that, in the absence of the body, expresses the story of the illness? The other installations echo this uncanny voice.
In the catalogue essay, Dr Courtney Pederson1 explains the artist’s intent and process along with theoretical references.
Lamentation as an exhibition takes us through the journey of loss. It draws on the details of personal experience in order to reveal the broader picture . . . beyond the woman artist. Ashworth’s work reminds us that bereavement is just one stage of an ongoing relationship we experience with our loved ones, one that continues beyond death.
- Dr Courtney Pedersen: Senior Lecturer and Academic Program Director, Creative Industries Faculty, School of Creative Practice, Visual Arts at the Queensland University of Technology.