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Imagine a mix of elements and structures such as artisanal craft, Arte Povera, classical styles, mass-produced designs, industrialism, lyrical imagery, minimalism and poetic forms. There is an absurdity to such a long and varied list, particularly when it’s coupled with our digital age. It’s this absurdity that is being explored in Unreal City at Firstdraft gallery.

Exhibiting painting and sculpture by contemporary Australian artists, Unreal City includes works by Tarik Ahlip, Bonita Bub, Mitch Cairns, Lewis Fidock, Thomas Jeppe, Anna Kristensen, Sanne Mestrom and Joshua Petherick. While the exhibition humorously juxtaposes various confounding elements, the show ultimately highlights the tradition of art making, and the associations we make between past and present.

The title of the exhibition takes its cue from Mario Merz’s artwork, Unreal City, Nineteen Hundred Eighty-Nine (Città irreale, Millenovecentottantanove). “Mario Merz was a key figure in the Arte Povera movement, and in his work, and much Arte Povera work in general, there is tension between nature and culture, which I have drawn from,” explains curator Sarah Rees. “I found this idea useful when thinking about the structures, both physical and philosophical, that have constructed art history.”

Anna Kristensen, Brick Wall, 2014, silkscreen, ink and acrylic on canvas, 231 x 196 cm. Anna Kristensen is included in the exhibition courtesy The Commercial, Sydney.

While Unreal City seeks to both invoke and rethink art making and its structures, the show is also deeply connected to how we apprehend artworks digitally, as well as the blurred lines between image and reality. “I feel a bit like I have image fatigue,” says Rees. “We process so many images on a daily basis, mostly through the interface of a screen. I wanted to make an exhibition that focuses on materiality and space.”

Yet this focus on materiality doesn’t necessarily heighten an awareness of physicality over the cerebral.

Rather, as the curator points out, “It gives viewers the opportunity to think about aspects of the physical world more intentionally. I guess this is similar to the conceptual intent behind Minimalism, but has different implications in the virtual contemporary.”

Finally the exhibition also seeks to draw on the historical and social traces of the artist. As Rees explains, “I was thinking about the idea of the Renaissance artist being at once a sculptor, a painter, an architect, a poet, and so on. I’ve drawn on this idea and worked with contemporary artists who are all of these things.”

Unreal City
Firstdraft
10 January – 28 January

Tiarney Miekus