A Point of Encounter for Asia-Pacific: Sydney Contemporary 2017 art fair – highlights round-up

Sydney Contemporary dispelled fears of a weak market with healthy sales and strong artist presentations.

The third edition of Sydney Contemporary gathered artists, collectors and gallerists from across the Asia-Pacific region.

"Installation" group exhibition. Installation view at Sydney Contemporary 2017. Image courtesy Sydney Contemporary 2017.

“Installation” group exhibition. Installation view at Sydney Contemporary 2017. Image courtesy Sydney Contemporary 2017.

While the cancellation of the biannual Melbourne Art Fair in 2015 appeared to some as a sign of the instability of the Australian commercial art market, for Sydney Contemporary it was good news. The fair opened on Thursday 7 September 2017 with a host of returning local and international galleries from across the Asia-Pacific region and closed with a list of healthy sales, the third edition confirming the fair as Australia’s most important commercial art event. Despite the commercial nature of such events, gallery stands and an exhibition curated by Museum of Contemporary Art’s Rachel Kent were generous and artist presentations were strong. Art Radar picks a few favourites.

Uji Handoko Eko Saputro works on Speculative Entertainment No. 1, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Photo: Jacqui Manning. Image courtesy the artist and Sydney Contemporary.

Uji Handoko Eko Saputro works on ‘Speculative Entertainment No. 1’, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Photo: Jacqui Manning. Image courtesy the artist and Sydney Contemporary.

The stands

In Indonesian artist Uji Handoko Eko Saputro’s Speculative Entertainment No. 1 (Sydney Edition) (2017) art fair visitors were invited to buy sections of one of Hahan’s large paintings for twice the price of their art fair ticket. Once purchased, visitors could then auction off their segment for whatever they could get, an exercise in speculating on their investment through which Hahan himself took a 10 percent commission. The performative work exposes the structure of art fair calculation and investment in a comic gesture that both engages and critiques the art fair environment.

teamLab, ‘Continuous Life and Death at the Now of Eternity’, 2017, digital work, 9 channels, Length: endless. Edition of 10 + 2. Image courtesy the artist and Martin Browne Contemproary.

teamLab, ‘Continuous Life and Death at the Now of Eternity’, 2017, digital work, 9 channels, Length: endless, Edition of 10 + 2. Image courtesy the artists and Martin Browne Contemporary.

At local gallery Martin Browne Contemporary, visitors could see Japanese collective teamLab showing their ambitious multi-screen digital work entitled Continuous Life and Death at the Now of Eternity (2017). Slotting into the trend of emerging digital animators interested in probing and revealing political and social (information) infrastructures (such as US artist Ian Cheng), the work is a real-time animation that responds to the seasons outside the exhibition halls through a series of algorithms that produce a field of seasonal flowers floating over a gold leaf background.

Can Xin, ‘Art Speaks in Tongues’ (1996-present) performance. Photo: Jacqui Manning. Image courtesy the artist, Vermillion Gallery and Sydney Contemporary.

Can Xin, ‘Art Speaks in Tongues’, 1996-present, performance. Photo: Jacqui Manning. Image courtesy the artist, Vermillion Gallery and Sydney Contemporary.

At Vermillion, a Sydney gallery that focuses on Chinese contemporary art, viewers could see a performance by Can Xin. Art Speaks in Tongues (1996-present) is a typical performance for an artist who began using his tongue to lick objects as a means of artistic expression in 1996. Can licked various elements of the art fair setting, just as the artist has, according to the fair website,

licked London, Rome, Beijing, hairbrushes, bricks, passing pedestrians, mobile phones, dead ducks, portraits of Sartre and Nietzsche and pretty much everything sold in the supermarket.

Hiromi Tango, ‘Red Room’, installation. Installation view at Kid Contemporary at Sydney Contemporary. Photo: Jacqui Manning. Image courtesy the artist and Sydney Contemporary.

Hiromi Tango, ‘Red Room’, installation. Installation view at Kid Contemporary at Sydney Contemporary. Photo: Jacqui Manning. Image courtesy the artist and Sydney Contemporary.

Another stand out booth was Kid Contemporary’s presentation of an immersive installation by Japanese artist Hiromi Tango. Entiteld “Red Room”, the work is intended for children, and is part of a collaboration with an art-therapy programme called Arterie@RPA at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. Tango herself was present, springing from a trampoline or hanging out lying across the floor while two dancers moved around her. During the installation at Sydney Contemporary, healthcare professionals from RPA interacted with the children, and their observations will be used to develop research into art therapy. The artist herself, as reported by the Australian, does not use the term “art therapy”, stating:

I like to call it art magic. There’s a certain pressure with the word ‘therapy’ that you have to get better. There’s a stigma or ­embarrassment attached to it.

Shoufay Derz, ‘1024 Full Stops’, 2015, Copper, 1024 holes, quills, liver of sulphur, 240 x 240 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Artereal Gallery, Sydney.

Shoufay Derz, ‘1024 Full Stops’, 2015, copper, 1024 holes, quills, liver of sulphur, 240 x 240 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Artereal Gallery, Sydney.

Installations

Perhaps the most beguiling event was an exhibition entitled “Installations” organised by renowned Museum of Contemporary Art curators Rachel Kent and Megan Robson. 15 contemporary Australian and international artists were tasked with responding to the unique architecture of Carriageworks. Shoufay Derz’s 1024 Full Stops consists of copper sheets that have been pierced at intervals with 1024 full stops. White feather quills are placed in each hole but many miss their marks, lying fallen. The work explores the fragility of the voice and poetry against the industrial quality of the copper.

Hayden Fowler, 'Together Again', 2017. Installation at Sydney Contemporary. Photo: Jacqui Manning. Image courtesy the artist and Sydney Contemporary.

Hayden Fowler, ‘Together Again’, 2017. Installation at Sydney Contemporary. Photo: Jacqui Manning. Image courtesy the artist and Sydney Contemporary.

In Hayden Fowler’s work Australia (2017), an intricate, circular table holds up the piled bones of Australia’s past. This colonial-styled relic appears too as sun-bleached bone, suggesting the fated dependency of a malignancy on its host. However, the insistent ringing of cicadas portends a timeless resistance and a claiming back, an idea that the spirit of the continent will one day thrive again.

The Austrailian artist also happened to be installed (himself) in another part of the fair at Performance Contemporary for his Together Again (2017): a “live-in” performance in which the artist occupied a cage space with a dingo throughout a part of the duration of the fair. The work is reminiscent of the famous Joseph Beuys work in which the artist shared the gallery space with a coyote, only in Together Again the artist is not actually “present”. Fowler was wearing virtual reality goggles and viewers visting the fair were able to watch on a screen as he navigated landscapes and interacted with his dingo called “Juno”, who also had sensors attached to him. Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, the artist explained:

Australians are living in this bubble where we’re basically in a virtual reality. We live in box apartments and watch Netflix and we’re on our phones on Tinder or Grindr or whatever. It’s like we’re living in this prison, but with VR goggles on so we can believe the hype about this glossy, happy life we’re supposed to be living. But I’m also thinking much more positively in my work as well, with the physical interaction between me and the dingo. We’re together and I’m in an equal relationship and a collaboration with this animal that is Australia’s apex predator, yet it’s become so marginalised that it’s facing extinction.

LARA MERRETT, ‘Time After Time (Compendium of Gestures)’, 2017, Acrylic on canvas, Dimensions variable, Installation view, Superposition of Three Types, Artspace, Sydney, 2017. Photo: Jessica Maurer. Image courtesy the artist and Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane.

LARA MERRETT, ‘Time After Time (Compendium of Gestures)’, 2017, acrylic on canvas, dimensions variable. Installation view, Superposition of Three Types, Artspace, Sydney, 2017. Photo: Jessica Maurer. Image courtesy the artist and Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane.

Laura Merrett responded to the curators invitation to make a sit-specific work by spraying, brushing and pouring paint onto large stips of hanging canvas. Other highlights include work by Japanese artist Maio Motoko, which typically employ a range of traditional and idiosyncratic materials from metallic foils and kozo paper to vintage textiles, found documents and persimmon juice. Motoko’s Moment By Moment Heartbeat By Heartbeat (2007), uses a set of particular materials as references to relationships, memories or traditions, creating a hybrid memento-monument that has both personal and historical resonances.

BETTY KUNTIWA PUMANI, ‘Antara,’ 2017, Synthetic polymer paint on linen, 200 x 500 cm overall; 2 panels each 200 x 250 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Mimili Maku Arts and Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne.

Betty Kuntiwa Pumani, ‘Antara,’ 2017, synthetic polymer paint on linen, 200 x 500 cm overall; 2 panels each 200 x 250 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Mimili Maku Arts and Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne.

A five-metre long diptych painting by Betty Kuntiwa Pumani also stood out. Antara (2017) is the largest and most significant painting the artist has completed to date. Using a reduced palette, Pumani depicts the land of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) region in the northwest of South Australia. The site is home for Pumani and the Pitjantjatjara people and famously holds many Tjukurrpa songlines that cross this area of country. The contrasting areas of white and its subtle tonal shifts are a quiet and patient counterpoint to the pulsating reds in a work that evidences pain as well as resistance to colonialism.

Rebecca Close

1853

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