Curated by Lisa Slade
Reviewed 3 March 2015
The 2016 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, titled Magic Object after the strange collections found in Wunderkammern (or “Cabinet of Curiosity), is a spectacular celebration of art, imagination and fascination.
Set over five unique venues across Adelaide and featuring 25 incredible Australian artists, this Biennial is surely going to go down in history as the most colourful and fascinating yet. In contrast to 2014’s brooding and emotive Dark Heart, Magic Object is vibrant and explosive. Sure, like any good Cabinet of Curiosity there are some spooky, almost occult objects on display, but in general we can see it as a collection of intriguing, other-worldly objects, artworks that would puzzle anthropologists of the far-future and become priceless prizes to collectors. Like the narwhal tusk that became prized as a unicorn’s horn, many of the artists featuring in Magic Object turn everyday materials into mythical objects.
It would be impossible to give all of the incredible artists featured their just recognition in such a small space as this review, but I will say that everyone is deserving of their space in the spotlight. As noted in an artists talk during Vernissage Weekend, Lisa Slade is a master of curating without curating. She gives artists freedom to create and express without too much restriction, allowing for great freedom and variety. At the same time though, one can definitely sense the underlying thread tying all the selected objects together. It’s a city-wide exhibition full of incredible variety, and yet it all seems coherent, a true, 21st century Wunderkammer.
Heather B. Swann’s Banksia Men at the Art Gallery are eerie and strange creatures, ready to come to life in front of your eyes. The strange and almost violent music playing in their room increases their power until you’re almost afraid to walk among them. Similarly, Juz Kitsons alien beasts, currently living in the Samstag Museum, are freaks of nature and totally alien. With many ponderous sacks, soft fur and twirling horns emerging from their bulbous bodies, they seem almost feminine and cuddly.
More bizarre beings are brought to life by the stunning, seemingly impossible glasswork. His cityscapes, birds, flames and pickles are all delicately made from one of natures most fascinating materials and show his interest in hybridity and mutation. They are also marvellously Australian, harking back to Mambo illustrations.
Nell brings things to life in a much more diverse range of materials, from crocodile skin to pottery. Her installation at the Art Gallery, The Wake, is a modern take on the ancient Japanese funeral artform of Haniwa. While they are pretty creepy in their own way, always watching, they are also loveable little characters, like things you might find in an anime.
Loongkoonan, 105 year old Nyikina woman, has also delivered some incredible paintings for the exhibition. Telling the story of “footwalking” travels across the country, these spectacularly ornate paintings seem to contain the entire world within them.
Gareth Sansom’s magnificent, rainbow paintings dominate the dark gallery space they are in, similarly containing many worlds and stories within them. These are intense and dense works that require dedication.
One of the most spectacular features of the whole Biennial is Kate Rohde’s impressive, resin-cast, psychedelic wall treatments in the entrance of the Art Gallery. Rohde’s almost overwhelming barrage of colour is a fantastic welcome to the Magic Object exhibition. Described as “Wild, daring and theatrical” Rohde’s works almost entirely in synthetic materials, taking up the challenge of creating natural shapes and objects with things wholly unnatural, thus questioning how we assign power and importance to the objects we possess.
Of course, this has only been a small sampling of the vast array of magical objects on display in this Biennial. To get a better picture it’s necessary to experience the wonder for yourself. Be sure to check out the Adelaide Biennial website below for more details on exhibition openings, events and locations.
Reviewed by James Rudd
Venue: Art Gallery of South Australia, Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art at UniSA, JamFactory, Carrick Hill and the Santos Museum of Economic Botany
Season: 27 February – 15 March 2015
Tickets: Free Entry
Image: Tom Moore, Magnified Planktonic Self, 2015, hot-joined, blown and solid glass, silver leaf, wood, 55 x 30 x 28cm. Courtesy the artist and THIS IS NO FANTASY + Dianne Tanzer Gallery, Melbourne. photo: Grant Hancock