Sculpture by the Sea is prompting a cosmic reflection and a $60,000 prize


The centrepiece artwork for this year’s Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe brings a theme of astronomy to the Western Australian seaside suburb—with all the existential questions that come from contemplating the Earth’s place in the cosmic scheme of things.

Takeshi Tanabe’s Between Sky and Earth (Exchanging Messages) is as philosophically ambitious as it is visually spectacular. The Japanese artist has created an artwork that sends a thin laser-like stream of light an extraordinary three kilometres into the night sky. The concept is, according to Tanabe, a “monument to mankind’s desire to convey a message from the Earth to the universe” that invites “an opportunity to question the nature of our existence on the Earth”.

There is also an exciting performative aspect to the piece. Three times every evening across the course of the sculpture festival, all the lights at the south end of Cottesloe Beach will be turned off, as will the sculpture. Viewers will then be able to watch Tanabe’s light “travel”, or gradually rise, vertically into the darkening sky when it is turned back on.

“I was drawn to the idea of seeing the speed of light shoot into the night sky as the sun sets below the iconic Cottesloe Beach horizon and the twilight sky darkens each night during the exhibition,” says Sculpture by the Sea director David Handley. “We are expecting the work to be one of the most talked about sculptures in the exhibition this year.”

Tanabe’s work makes use of one of the key ways Cottesloe’s Sculpture by the Sea event distinguishes itself from its Bondi counterpart: the sun sets over the ocean in Western Australia, allowing the light piece to take on alluring moods and hues as the sun melts down on the horizon.

With 71 artists in total, it’s an expansive display of sculpture, which is bolstered by the $60,000 Sculpture by the Sea Acquisitive Award. This year’s winner is James Rogers from Walcha in New South Wales, who has won for his sculpture Sandbar, a large-scale abstract work defined by its curving structure.

In further celebration 2023 also marks the first Sculpture by the Sea since 2019 to be unaffected by Covid restrictions, and features artists from both Australia (including 28 Western Australians) and overseas. The styles and thematic concerns run the gamut from minimalism and abstraction (such as American Peter Lundberg) to figurative sculpture (the animal creations of New Zealander Hannah Kidd) or works that incorporate language (the enduring Richard Tipping).

Handley notes the “wide variety of social issues that the artists approach”, and says he is particularly intrigued by Australians Stephen King and James Rogers, as well as Nyoongar artists Sharyn Egan and Janine McAullay Bott, both of whom incorporate weaving into their sculptural works.

Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe
3—20 March

Feature Words by Barnaby Smith