Spring in Sydney is the season of blooming Jacaranda trees and Primavera, the Museum of Contemporary Art’s annual showcase for the work of Australian artists aged 35 years or younger. But, while the city is indeed scattered with lavender flowers, the 2020 iteration of Primavera has been postponed, yet another causality of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of new works by hot young things Anywhere but here: MCA Primavera Acquisitions presents a tightly curated selection of works by 13 Primavera alumni, chosen for their ability to comment on our current moment.
For co-curators Stephanie Berlangieri and Lucy Latella, the idea at the heart of Anywhere but here is that Covid-19 has thrown into sharp relief a number of pre-existing social issues associated with global capitalism, including an unsettling sense of disenfranchisement and a pervasive instability, in both private life and the public sphere. They use the phrase ‘coronavision’ (lifted from both the virtual 2020 Eurovision event and optometrists) to describe this phenomenon of seeing old problems anew through the lens of our current crisis.
Created between 1993 and 2013, all of the artworks in Anywhere but here were made pre-pandemic. But Berlangieri and Latella have selected pieces by Suzannah Barta, Dion Beasley, Shaun Gladwell, Matthew Griffin, Felicia Kan, Paul Knight, Moya McKenna, Jess MacNeil, TV Moore, Nell, Keg de Souza, Hiromi Tango, and Emma White that lend themselves to reinterpretation in our current context.
For example, in Jess MacNeil’s video Opera House Steps, March, 2006, all of the people have been erased leaving only shadows and sunlight on the steps outside the iconic Sydney structure. And in TV Moore’s video The Dead Zone, 2003, a man runs through vacant city streets pursued by someone, or something, no one else can see. Both of these works seem like an uncanny premonition of our cities in lockdown: strangely empty, both beautiful and anxious.
As an alternative to the 24/7 cycle of bad news, Berlangieri and Latella offer contemporary art as a way to re-think complex social issues. As the say in their ‘Coronavision’ essay, “We often turn to artists to reframe these challenges in unexpected ways, mobilising us towards collective action.” Anywhere but here asks us to reflect, to consider the coronavirus induced hiatus of business as usual as a chance to make change.