Looking Glass resurfaces what colonisation attempts to disguise. Featuring Aboriginal artists Judy Watson and Yhonnie Scarce, the exhibition uses the colossal forces of earth, water, fire and air, to illuminate the devastation of Country both historical and present. Ranging from installation and video to works on canvas, the exhibition centres the frontier wars, climate disaster and other truths in clear view.
These themes resonate in recent years marked by brutal fires and a global pandemic. But while the apocalyptic events are unsettling, both artists approach the insidious impact of colonisation with a subtle beauty, unveiling important messages without abrasive methods.
For the first showing of this nationally touring exhibition, held in late 2020 at TarraWarra Museum of Art, Scarce’s intricate handblown glass sculptures hung from the ceiling in the installation Death Zephyr, 2017. It evoked a sublime otherworldliness. Yet the individual glass pieces also symbolise the crystallisation of desert sand caused by British nuclear tests in Maralinga, South Australia, during 1956–63: material evidence of the horrendous treatment of Aboriginal people.
Similarly, Watson’s works on canvas, such as spot fires, our country is burning now, 2020, layer different environmental forms to announce that nature requires us to listen and respect Country. “It’s a very powerful form of advocacy,” says exhibition curator Hetti Perkins. “Judy uses ochres, pigments and organic materials, water. Yhonnie’s works are earth/sand, air and fire. The alchemy occurs not only in the creation of new forms out of these materials but also in the creating of beautiful objects that have a sting in the tail!”
In the work of both artists, Perkins describes “an unnerving feeling” of “hidden depths”. In Looking Glass, these pieces and themes intersect, symbiotically exposing crucial narratives in ways that are both gentle and beguiling.
Looking Glass first exhibited at TarraWarra Museum of Art in late 2020, it is touring nationally throughout 2022 and 2023 with NETS Victoria.
This article was originally published in the January/February 2021 print edition of Art Guide Australia.
John Nixon: A Poet of Prints
Known as a great avant-garde painter, the late John Nixon also created hundreds of prints—which, as those who knew Nixon can attest, exemplify his minimalism, experimentalism, and his interlacing of life and art. John Nixon—Four Decades, Five Hundred Prints is currently on display at Geelong Gallery.
The art books we loved in 2023
Whether scouting the perfect gift or searching for a summer read, our editors have picked their top art books of 2023—spanning everything from a history of ceramics, women and spiritualism, and First Nations practices.
Art Guide Editors
Tacita Dean’s strange fortune
Since the early 1990s, British artist Tacita Dean has gifted us myriad artworks on the intimacy, unexpectedness, and materiality of film and image making. With a new survey at the Museum of Contemporary Art, we look at Dean’s tracing of history and chance.
Making waves at the Fremantle Biennale
The fourth Fremantle Biennale looks toward the ocean and beyond, making use of the city’s varied environments and shared histories. The program features over 70 events and 80 artists, including an immersive installation by Taloi Havini.
When being an artist is a working title
What happens, asks artist Caitlin Shearer, when the starving artist trope becomes all too real, alienating artists from their practice, health and happiness?
Caitlin Aloisio Shearer
The vast legacy of the Pintupi people
A new exhibition at Drill Hall Gallery, Pintupi Way, offers a window into thousands of years of culture and survival for the Pintupi people of the Western Desert.