String Theory and Embedded: Craig Walsh

String Theory

String Theory at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney is a memorable and often deeply poignant exhibition curated by Glen Barkley. The show brings together aesthetically and conceptually diverse works by Indigenous artist from across Australia – all thematically tied by a ubiquitous, deceivingly simple and fundamental element – string.

Frances Djulibing Yukuwa (Feather string yam vine), 2013 Banyan tree bark, cockatoo feathers, beeswax

Frances Djulibing
Yukuwa (Feather string yam vine), 2013
Banyan tree bark, cockatoo feathers, beeswax

The works are conceptually timely. Some works carry heavy political undertones. Some celebrate collaborative construction, where traditional weaving methods, alive and well, are shared with each new generation. Many works involve a hybridised aesthetic where traditional materials or ways of working are synthesised with diverse ideas and new mediums. The art is critical within the contemporary scene, flourishing and valued within and without the ‘white cube’.

Dale Harding bright eyed little dormitory girls, 2013 hession sacks, mohair wool

Dale Harding
bright eyed little dormitory girls, 2013
hession sacks, mohair wool

Yarrenyty Arltere Artists Little Dingi (still), 2012 DVD

Yarrenyty Arltere Artists
Little Dingi (still), 2012
viewable online at:
(some textile characters from animation below)


From video to sculpture to interdisciplinary crossovers, the eclectic range of works are woven thick with stories. There are stories to be remembered and retold; to be revered or reviled, evoking rapture or remorse – or perhaps a complex confusion of everything. Hidden histories, tragedy, hope, resilience, and beauty are the interwoven fibres that thread throughout the exhibition,with a strong sense of community at its heart.

Laurie Nilson Just another Black C, 2011 Powder coated barbwire

Laurie Nilson
Just another Black C, 2011
Powder coated barbwire

Vivki West plamtennor/gathering, 2013 Bull kelp, kangaroo skin, wallaby skins, tea tree, string

Vivki West
plamtennor/gathering, 2013
Bull kelp, kangaroo skin, wallaby skins, tea tree, string

String Theory is an intimate, immersive collection of shared and diverse stories, both political and personal, culturally important within a contemporary social climate of conflicting interests, ongoing battles for justice and inspiring communities bustling with creative energy.


Tjanpi Desert Weavers
Minya Punu Kungkarangkalpa, installation detail, 2013


Embedded: Craig Walsh

Gazing across on the first floor of the MCA, one is lured by faint lights and the rumblings of distant voices into a cavernous, darkened gallery space sheltering video works, photographs, and 21 immense industrial bins of iron ore. Upon entering Embedded – a show produced by the artist Craig Walsh in collaboration with the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, the MCA and Rio Tinto, one is submerged into a spiritual space…a sacred space, as a chill runs through the room – pervading silence broken gently by the melodic voices of Murujuga Aboriginal elders spilling from speakers beside glowing screens. Navigating pathways between mountainous piles of illuminated orange iron ore in metal containers and wrapped by walls painted half blue, half yellow, with a fluorescent strip between – the colours of Rio Tinto mining uniforms, one senses a heavy solemnity…a resonating mournfulness.

Craig Walsh Embedded: Craig Walsh, installation view image by Alex Davies from MCA website

Craig Walsh
Embedded: Craig Walsh, installation view, MCA
Image by Alex Davies from MCA website

Along one side of the room is a multi-screened installation of digital video works titled In Country. Onto sacred sites, textured by bush and rock formations within the Burrup Peninsula in north west Western Australia, sunburnt projections of Murujuga elders are cast. Their weathered faces are ’embedded’ in the landscape – the earth so deeply connected to spirituality, art and culture within Indigenous communities. Screens sequenced to illuminate one after another with an image of a member of the local indigenous community breathe life into the rugged rocks, the faces narrating Murujuga historical and ongoing presence and significance in an almost otherworldly performance.

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The space is utterly absorbing; one feels the emotional weight of lingering tension between contested interests, personal and political. As the artist Craig Walsh explains, “I see the Pilbara as a place which uniquely presents a concentration of extremes… The contrast between the ‘land’ as commodity and ‘Land’ as spiritual and cultural guidance are co-existing in the installation, and the audience will be physically positioned somewhere between the two”. *

Craig Walsh, Embedded, installation view, 20

Craig Walsh,
Embedded: Craig Walsh, installation view, MCA, 2013

The Burrup Peninsula is home to the world’s largest collection of ancient Indigenous rock artworks, some estimated to be up to 30,000 years old *. Embedded within the environment, the works are of incredibly deep cultural, historical and spiritual importance. Located along the West Pilbara Coast – considered the “engine room of the nation” *, it is also home to a number of national and multinational corporations that carry out various industrial activities in the area. This includes the multi-billion dollar company Rio-Tinto, it’s presence in the Pilbara involving “a network of 14 iron ore mines, three port facilities, a 1,400 kilometre rail network; and related infrastructure”. * According to the ‘Stand Up for the Burrup’ website run by the Friends of Australian Rock Art (FARA) activist group, the Western Australia state government “continues to invest in industrial infrastructure on the Burrup”, with plans to “turn the Burrup into the main industrial hub for the Asia Pacific region”. * Nearly 20% of the rock art in the area has been destroyed or disturbed by industrial activity, FARA Chair Judith Hugo states. *

Craig Walsh In Country (detail), 2012 Embedded: Craig Walsh, installation view, MCA, 2013

Craig Walsh
In Country (detail), 2012
Embedded: Craig Walsh, installation view, MCA, 2013

Embedded constructs an interesting dialogue between the complex tensions and interactions within the Pilbara concerning it’s unique environment of rich natural and cultural resources and how they are valued. Major corporations’ right to plunge into a natural ecosystem for the self-engorgement of profit, and the significance of the land and it’s art to local Indigenous culture and spirituality – and broader Australian society – are thrown up into question. With poetic and multi-sensory beauty, Walsh transports the realities of coexisting and colliding worlds into the contemplative, timeless space of the gallery.

Here is a link to the project’s website with more information: Murujuga in the Pilbara

String Theory runs until the 27th of October and Embedded: Craig Walsh until the 24th of November. Both exhibitions were deeply touching, poetic, and politically and culturally important – a visit comes highly recommended!

* References (in order of appearance in text):

MCA Media Release – Embedded: Craig Walsh

Australian Geographic – Burrup Peninsula rock art among world’s oldest

Karratha Visitor Centre – Mining and Industry

Rio Tinto – Iron Ore

Friends of Australian Rock Art –Stand Up for the Burrup

Australian Geographic – New threats to world’s largest rock art collection  

Primavera 2013

The Museum of Contemporary Art is currently exhibiting some fantastic shows which I recently had the pleasure of immersing myself in. Hair frizzed and clothes dampened from an unexpected drizzle of rain, a friend and I clambered onto the first floor of the art museum and entered a spacious white-walled gallery holding an exhibition that brims with wondrous sights, sounds, and structures – Primavera 2013.


Now in its 22nd year, Primavera is an annual exhibition of young, emerging Australian artists aged 35 and under, showing until the 17th of November. From across the continent, this clever, daring group of 8 creatives have put together an excitingly eclectic show including video, photography, sculptural installations, drawing, and works which quite playfully splash across any pre-conceived categories. As the gallery states in the show’s media release, the themes of this year’s Primavera include “a moving investigation of romantic and family relationships, the creation of portals into fictional realms, a look at the role of language in the shaping of (and the breaking down of) the self and the ways sound shapes our physical and emotional worlds”. *


Juz Kitson
Changing Skin, 2013 (installation view)
Southern Ice Porcelain, Jingdezhan porcelain (pig fat porcelain), terracotta clay, paraffin wax, horse hair and goat hair, deer and cow hide, flocking, resin, natural found material, silk thread, tulle, polyurethane. Oxidised, PVD fired (physical vapour deposition), and lustre fired

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Juz Kitson‘s extensive ceramic creations grow and delicately dangle from the corner of the gallery and adjacent walls; polished, ornate forms gleaming in a soft, angled light. Edging towards this looming shrine that radiates a rather spiritual stillness, Kitson’s beastly creatures are sombre and nightmarish yet simultaneously gentle and blossoming with life. A hauntingly beautiful portal to a surreal realm indeed, Changing Skin involves complex interplays of the abject and the alluring…the brittle and the furred…lingering deathly fragments and flowering, hybrid creatures which metamorphose into sexually transgressive structures. Kitzon, for this piece, has collected and worked with the skeletal remains of Australian roadkill alongside her own floral, anatomically-suggestive ceramic forms – dripped in wax or liquid porcelain, sometimes downed with hair or bejewelled, in deeply disturbing and frightfully gruesome yet sumptuously ornate and tender amalgamations. Powdery porcelain, fragile strings of beads, soft woollen furs and pastel pink shades perhaps connote notions of traditional femininity, while the lusciously succulent, repulsively hairy and fleshy forms; delicately detailed floral pieces, and dangling, lustrous organic bulbs reference sexual organs in a poetic, sculptural symphony of life, death and bodily transgression.


Juz Kitson
Changing Skin, 2013 (installation view)
Southern Ice Porcelain, Jingdezhan porcelain (pig fat porcelain), terracotta clay, paraffin wax, horse hair and goat hair, deer and cow hide, flocking, resin, natural found material, silk thread, tulle, polyurethane. Oxidised, PVD fired (physical vapour deposition), and lustre fired

Many of the works in this exhibition tested the limits of the gallery space and utilised the white walls in inventive new ways, responding to the MCA space specifically – dangling from corners as in Kitson’s installations, blossoming from walls, housed in specifically build shelters or scaling the walls and carpeting across the cold concrete floor of the gallery as Jess Johnson‘s installation so boldly does. In a shocking explosion of illusionistic, geometric designs, johnson has transformed a gallery corner into a strange, ‘Alice in Wonderland’-esque domestic interior lit by the radiant yellow glow of an overhanging beehive-like chandelier. Stepping onto the patterned carpet which sprawls from the corner across the floor, one is hypnotised by the black and white design painted directly onto the gallery walls on which large, intricate framed drawings hang. Highly detailed and deeply strange, again – like mystical doorways to an unearthly realm, phrases such as ‘Of course, things go bad’ disrupt the delicate beauty of the image and deeply disturb…teasingly lingering in the dizzyingly disoriented mind momentarily lost within this transcendent interior.


Jess Johnson
Of course, things go bad, (installation view) 2013
Pen, copic markers, collage, metallic paint on paper

Jess Johnson, Of course, things go bad 2013, pen, copic markers, collage, metallic paint on paper

Jess Johnson
Of course, things go bad, (installation view) 2013
Pen, copic markers, collage, metallic paint on paper

A very different and intense work by the artist Kusum Normoyle is placed around the gallery, screens and headphones mounted on the walls. Normoyle’s experimentally edited film documentation of a performance in which she screams through an amplifier in public, urban spaces echoes through the mind days after its viewing. The disturbingly distorted female voice of near-unbrearably shrill shrieks and raspy tones alongside sustained metallic sounds shatter and rattle violently through the industrial and urban environments in which the isolated artist expressively contorts and twists in a seemingly transcendent state. The film is completely compelling in its horrific depictions of a dull, concreted atmosphere, ominous black objects that spike and shake with electrified sounds, a thrashing bodily performance and deep-reaching shards of noise. As Deratz writes, Normoyle’s performance “creates a kind a fracture in the world, a fault-line where feminine expressiveness shapes matter into potentially new formations”. Like an intensely anxious creature, mood, or thought…the sounds sinisterly brew and rapidly explode through the cracks of familiar grey landscapes.

Kusum Normoyle Accord with Air Tjentiste, (still) 2012 Single-channel digital video, colour, sound

Kusum Normoyle
Accord with Air Tjentiste, (installation view) 2012
Single-channel digital video, colour, sound

Jacqueline Ball‘s immense photographs – each referencing the dimensions of a doorway, panel the gallery wall in an overwhelming display of intricate fleshy caverns and ambiguous rocky formations. Only after reading the label on the wall does one realise that these sublime scenes were meticulously constructed by the artist in her studio…

Jacqueline Ball Fluctuate #8 , (installation view) 2013 Photographic print on 305gsm Hahnemühle archival photo rag

Jacqueline Ball
Fluctuate #8, (installation view) 2013
Photographic print on 305gsm Hahnemühle archival photo rag

Jackson Eaton‘s photographs, interestingly displayed in rows of frames on tables in the centre of the space are equally beautiful, though in a very different way. The series presents an intimate insight into Eaton’s previous romantic relationship with a young South Korean woman, which we read ended in heartbreak – Eaton, perhaps in an almost therapeutic, slightly surreal response goes on to almost identically restage the fragmented memories documented in the photographs from his previous relationship with his father and his father’s Korean partner, who he married in the years following a divorce with Eaton’s mother. The posed couples are photographed in a sometimes quite vernacular style which renders the tender dialogue of two eerily echoed yet divergent lives and the stories of love and loss between Eaton and his father deeply touching.

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Jackson Eaton from the series Better Half 2007 - 2012 Type C prints

Jackson Eaton
From the series Better Half, 2007 – 2012
Type C prints

Another set of really interesting, hilarious and absolutely absurd works in the exhibition are Heath Franco‘s short films, housed in a specifically made shelter – perfectly summed up by Frost as an enjoyable “madhouse”. * Franco’s more-than-slightly mental clips feature elaborate, gaudily costumed characters performed by the artist, playful special effects, and phrases repeated to the brink of lunacy – at which point words become devoid of meaning (and meaning becomes devoid of words) – which destabilise familiarity and render Australian suburban domesticity and mainstream television intensely strange and sinister. Standing for a long period of time before these fluorescently glowing split screens within the small, constructed space and becoming completely absorbed, one finds themselves laughing wildly at the exaggerated enactments…until, that is, the acts – drawn out and seemingly endlessly repeated consequently seep into a realm of nightmarish distortion, where comfortable connotations of domestic familiarity unravel a hidden, hostile hysteria.


Heath Franco
DREAM HOME, (still) 2012
2 channel digital video, colour, sound


Overall, Primavera 2013 was delightfully surprising, confronting and quite mind broadening with a real edge to it. This is definitely one to spend time in – it will undoubtedly entertain.

For more information on Primavera 2013, check out the MCA website at:

* References:                                                                                                                          Primavera 2013 – MCA media release                                                                              MCA Insight: Primavera 2013 – By Tristan Deratz                                                          Primavera 2013 – review – By Andrew Frost

Jeff Wall exhibition at MCA

1st May – 28th July 2013

jeff wall exhibition

Just under a week ago on the 28th of July the lively Jeff Wall retrospective at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Arts (MCA) came to a close. Only a few weeks earlier, upon entering the expansive, clean and orderly exhibition space I was confronted by the strikingly vivid colours and immense scale of the luminous photographs lining the white walls before me; images I had only previously gazed upon in books. Despite the easy reproduction of photographs within various contexts, as I found out first hand one cannot appreciate the overwhelming size, bright hues and immense detail of Wall’s work as they appear in the flesh.

A renowned, highly influential Canadian photographer, Jeff Wall produces cinematic images that expand photography’s terms, redefining the medium within an increasingly interdisciplinary and boundary-crossing contemporary art scene. As Fried discusses, Wall’s practice involves “triangulating between photography, painting, and cinema”, reconstructing photography as a medium which appropriates and connects conventions of other artistic practices, marrying the narrativity and movement of painting and cinema with the stillness of photography (Fried, 2008, pg. 10). A number of Wall’s photographs make reference to or re-stage history paintings within a modern environment.Fried discusses a new photographic regime that art critic Chevrier describes as the ‘tableau form’, characterised by large scale images and “an intention that the photographs in question would be framed and hung on a wall, to be looked at like paintings…rather than merely examined up close…as had hitherto been the case” (Fried, 2008, pg. 14).


Jeff Wall
‘The Destroyed Room’, 1978
transparency in light box
159 x 234 cm
Collection of the artist
– Makes reference to Eugène Delacroix’s painting ‘Death of Sardanapalus’, 1827


Eugène Delacroix
‘Death of Sardanapalus’, 1827
oil on canvas
392 x 496 cm
Musée de Louvre
image source:

Wall’s photographs often emanate a painterly impression through diffuse treatment of light, intricately constructed compositions referencing the ‘rule of thirds’, their large scale (not previously possible for photography), and acute attention to detail – qualities of the tableau presentation. There is movement however between this form and the photographic – the work reveals its “artificial identity” as a photograph through its physical glossy flatness and realism (Fried, 2008, pg. 37). In this way Wall recodes the terms of photography, painterly conventions complicating the definition of photography, further challenged by the images’ presentation against an illuminating lightbox – appropriating an advertising format.


Jeff Wall
‘A sudden gust of wind (after Hokusai)’, 1993
transparency in light box
250 x 397 cm
Tate, London
– Makes reference to Hokusai’s ‘Ejiri in Suruga Province (a sudden gust of wind)’, 1830-1833


‘Ejiri in Suruga Province (a sudden gust of wind)’, 1830-1833
Colour woodblock
dimensions unknown
The British Museum, London
image source:

A staged, cinematic quality also radiates many of the images, evident in the highly orchestrated positioning of characters and settings and an almost filmic atmosphere. There is however an avoidance of theatricality and dramatic emotional expression or ‘overacting’ which distances the work from cinema, reaffirming its photographic status and complicating the interplay between stasis and narrativity. The sense of narrative inherent within painting and cinema, the alluring glow and vividness of light-boxed advertisements and the flat, frozen-in-time quality of a photographic image converge in both unsettling and compelling arrangements, creating new opportunities for photography within an integrated cultural arena.

A friend and I, slowly meandering through and occasionally sitting to absorb the great detail of these powerful images, both left reflecting on the stories, ideas and beauty of the photographs, feeling energetically inspired.


Fried, M., 2008; Why Photography Matters As Art Never Before, Yale University Press, Singapore, pgs. 10, 14 & 37