This year, the relaunched Melbourne Art Fair (MAF) will be held across two venues in Southbank. The first MAF venue, Vault Hall, is a temporary exhibition space, a marquee standing six metres at its peak that will flank the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. And the second venue, just a short walk away is Martyn Myer Arena, a newly converted heritage space at the Victorian College of the Arts.
Though MAF is a commercial stage for artists and galleries, it will also be a platform for the debut of TIME, a site-specific video sector curated by Hannah Mathews, which includes the works of Michaela Gleave, Jess Johnson, Sriwhana Spong and Angela Tiatia. Also under the auspices of MAF, are spaces such as Project Rooms which champion experimental work. In the lead up to the event we spoke to four participating artists covering diverse themes, and a debuting gallery backing an international perspective.
Consuelo Cavaniglia, born in Italy, is a Sydney-based artist whose sculptural works question viewer perception using mirrored surfaces, coloured acrylic screens and architectural interventions. The works create a “mild visual illusion,” says Cavaniglia, though the elements involved in the manufacture of works – screw, seams and joins – are left visible to the viewer. “I don’t want the audience to be invested in finding out how something is made, I’m more interested in them asking what the work is doing,” says the artist.
Though sculptural forms, given their linear elements and geometric shapes they act as three-dimensional drawings. Made from metal and grey mirror backed with black gloss acrylic, the metal frame of the form rests on a mirror-topped stand. “I start with a rectangular prism and then start cutting sections out, replacing or deleting sides,” she says. Walking around the work, the viewer experiences a convergence between void and volume.
Cavaniglia has an ongoing dialogue with architectural space, particularly in the dynamics between design, structure, intention and use. She is drawn to the interplay between the structure and the façade of architectural spaces – the visible surface and the unseen underside. Like a well-considered façade, her works have a compelling presence. “I work with materials that are seductive, and either through surface sheen or colour lure you in.”
Pierre Mukeba is a promising, largely self-taught emerging artist based in Adelaide. Late last year he bagged the Churchie National Emerging Art Prize for a suite of paintings, of which James 2:10 depicted an interracial same-sex couple. Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo – a Belgian colony for close to 100 years, Mukeba’s latest works draw on culturally dictated standards of beauty. “Growing up in Africa,” he says, “there were few examples of dark-skinned beautiful women presented to us, most were Caucasian models and actresses.” Working with brush pen on cotton, his large-scale minimalist works feature vibrant fabric appliqué. His figurative drawings of African subjects speak of African experiences: in creating the larger than life-size works, he is peopling the room with not only black bodies but also their lived experiences.
Mukeba’s Trauma, 2017, dealt with the human cost of political instability – the resource-rich Congo has been deeply scarred by recent wars – the Second Congo War that ended in 2003 and involved nine African countries, claimed over five million lives. Granted asylum here in 2006, for Mukeba, working on this series was a way to discuss the past with his family members. “As traumatic as the events were,” which included fearing for their safety during a crackdown in Zimbabwe, “we could sometimes even find humour.” At MAF, Mukeba presents not humour, but beauty – decolonised.
Michelle Hanlin is presenting a new series of paintings at MAF that have extended from her 2017 series, The Necklace Stared Back. Rendered in satin-smooth vinyl paint, Hanlin portrays classical forms tied to religious ceremonies; statues, prayer beads, candles and chalices, flattened into a near-abstracted form. In their economy of line and colour, her works appear emblemic with a cartoon quality; there is something of Salvador Dali’s 1946 Disney short, Destino, about them. The surreal drama of Destino takes place in a desert with ancient ruins, and here Hanlin’s use of line refers to the forms in bas-relief.
The use of bold colours focuses the image and gives it visual power; Hanlin has long had a fascination for heraldic crests, which similarly use punchy colour. The silky paint she favours lends itself to the graphic aspect of her work – without a textural cue the only dimension comes from the images themselves. “The images don’t necessarily have to convey a narrative either,” instead Hanlin seeks to express ideas about the frontality of images and the way a viewer interprets them. “I aim to explore the act of creativity itself,” she says, “in a kind of static drama through my images.” The images are assembled from a host of sources – advertising, statues, vintage cartoons, graphic design, but develop a dialogue between them, reflecting the multiplicity of moments that make up daily life.
The ever-changing scene of food culture and the hosting ritual is the basis of Elizabeth Willing’s practice that encompasses performance, video, wallpaper, collage, design objects and prints. And at MAF, the Brisbane-based artist will be serving up a multisensory offering. Strawberry Thief is wallpaper that features Australian native ingredients popularised by celebrity chefs: plucked from the landscape
they have been the subjects of large-scale farming. Collages of nostalgic fruitcakes from second-hand books will further the feast for the eyes. And should the art fair prove stressful, the audience will have a chance to try a valerian cocktail, Anxiolytic during a performance. The valerian tincture and specially designed drinking glasses will be on display afterwards. Willing is also presenting timber sculptures that are “enormous and absurd” moulds for biscuit dough.
There is a current trend for example, “where top chefs focus on local, foraged, ethically sourced ingredients; essentially peasant foods,” she says.
There is an incredible amount of anxiety tied to contemporary food habits says Willing, “there is far too much conflicting information to make an informed or comfortable decision about what is good to eat.” Having said that, Willing is often surprised at how enthusiastically audiences engage in her participatory works. “I spend enormous amounts of time placing myself in the viewer’s shoes, and yet participants always create new pathways.”
Established in August last year, Fine Arts, Sydney is making its art fair debut at MAF. Co-founder Ryan Moore says that it’s “a nice coincidence that the Melbourne Art Fair was in fact the first art fair [he] ever attended, and that all these years later it will be another first for the new gallery”. The gallery occupies the second floor of a heritage terrace in Sydney’s Kings Cross and has exhibited six solo shows to date, all of them international artists. Among these, the work of Norwegian-German artist Yngve Holen was shown in Australia for the first time, whereas Berlin-based, New Zealander Simon Denny, a 2015 Venice Biennale alumnus has an exhibition CV that encompasses dozens of exhibitions across Europe, the US and the Pacific. Moore says:
“It so happens that the gallery’s program to date has been largely made up of artists not based in Australia, but that isn’t for any agenda. I tend to think that all art is international, and is about ideas and conversations that take place over time between places and people.” The gallery is the result of a partnership between Ryan Moore, Andrew Thomas and Michael Lett of the eponymous Auckland-based gallery.
Says Moore, “I think it is important for the gallery to be able bring together new and recent works that speak with di erent voices to current ideas in art making, in the context of contemporary collecting.”