Review of the exhibition: Embodied Knowledge, Queensland Contemporary Art

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Knowledge Embodied: Contemporary Queensland Art presents contemporary art from across the state at the Queensland Art Gallery (QAGOMA) in a dynamic, multi-dimensional exhibition.

Focused on works created by 19 contemporary Queensland artists and collectives, the group of commissioned and recent projects is broad in its choices and delivery methods. Exploring questions centered on identity, heritage and history, it highlights the voices of First Nations and people of color, as well as female and LGBTIQA+ artists.

Co-curated by Ellie Buttrose, Curator, Contemporary Australian Art, and Katina Davidson, Curator, Indigenous Australian Art, Embodied Knowledge was truly a labor of love. Delayed due to COVID. Buttrose said, “Perhaps this was a good thing, as it gave artists more time to design their work, in many cases producing more thoughtful and ambitious works of art.”

In questioning the nature of state borders, curators actively sought out artists who had a strong connection to country and place, or those with Queensland ties whose practice was informed by living and to work here.

Buttrose continued, “While traveling the state, it was great to witness cross-generational dialogues between elders and emerging young voices, especially in the inventive use of different materials used in the crossover works.”

The result is an exhibition that reveals the common threads and interests of early-career and established artists across a diversity of media, encompassing large-scale sculptural pieces and installations, painting and photography, and fine art. digital and performance.

Archie Moore, Inert State (installation view in “Embodied Knowledge: Queensland Contemporary Art”, Queensland Art Gallery, 2022) 2022; Courtesy Archie Moore and The Commercial, Sydney, © Archie Moore, Photo: Chloë Callistemon, QAGOMA

Exhibited works

Registration tracking (2020/22) is a large-scale kinetic installation and mural by Robert Andrew. The work is set in motion by the small movement of a plotter printer which traces undisclosed writing on the back wall, connecting with rocks and branches.

Megan Cope’s installation of cast glass dugong bones, The tide waits for no one (2020–21) tackles complex social histories related to the trade and mineral exploration of Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island). The current work is an exciting progression from his previously exhibited ceramic clusters. Lit from below, it offers a dramatic and contemplative work to the viewer.

Many works of art seek to explore how bodies of knowledge can be used to express lesser-known stories and histories, while others represent subjective and figurative memories primarily through family portraits.

The largest Moilang (Rosie) Ware textile to date, Ngau Buai (2022), refers to his family’s migration from the South Sea Islands to the Torres Strait, which Buttrose described as “an incredible work of art with a unique story”.

A series of beautiful textural homages to traditional rainforest shields by Girramay artist Ethel Murray establishes a dialogue unique to Queensland, while having relevance in a wider global context.

Likewise, Obery Sambo, a master maker of masks and headdresses, brings to the exhibition his art and the performance art of his family, in the traditional dance of the Meuran Murray Island Dance Group. This work offers a unique perspective on Torres Strait culture, practice and history.

Private views and rear views (2021–22), an epic new painting by Jenny Watson, conveys subjective memories and glimpses of recent events, while The struggle of the spokespersons (2022), depicts Heather Marie (Wunjarra) Koowootha’s compelling portraits of First Nations leaders and social justice advocates.

Several projects focus on environmental issues and the harmful impact of consumerism as well as promoting stronger connections between humans and their natural environment.

Highlights include the colorful installation of reclining mannequins by Justene Williams, The Vertigos 2021, a humorous look at the obsession of the fashion and wellness industries.

Represented by a climbing wall, it indicates an ironic joke to “climb the ladder” of consumerism. Although filled with color and spirit, the artwork’s underlying message warns not to ignore the real life around us.

The reservoir of cruel miracles (2022), Erika Scott’s towering sculpture of 40 second-hand aquariums containing discarded found objects, evokes an atmosphere of suburban horror centered on human disdain for trash and debris. With its garish lighting and jumble of disintegrating objects, it is a disturbing work.

An important and timely new work of art is inert state (2022), Archie Moore’s major commission on the QAG Watermall. Buttrose described it as, “An emotionally engaging work of art that draws attention to the growing number of Indigenous deaths in custody since the 2008 national apology to the Stolen Generations.”

Highlighting the 339 recommendations made to Royal Commissions, most of which have not been implemented, this temporary memorial offers a poignant reminder of the urgency of institutional change, bolstering political debate over a voice in Parliament.

Collection Review

Many of these works speak to recent history, a timely reminder to rethink the current collection in the wake of recent flooding in many parts of the state. QAGOMA, which overlooks the Brisbane River, was quite badly hit by the floods and the management of its future collections must be a current concern.

Read: Exhibition Review: Susan Jacobs, Buxton Contemporary

There are many more important and interesting works of art in this exhibition, with new and commissioned works by James Barth, Janet Burchill & Jennifer McCamley, Léuli Eshrāghi, Caitlin Franzmann, Callum McGrath, Ryan Presley, Vanghoua Anthony Vue and Warraba Weatherall.

Embodied Knowledge reveals the current state of creativity in Queensland, with artists responding to diverse personal, political and social experiences of our time. The distinctive practices we witness in this evocative exhibition express the complexity of modern materials, the dynamism of our cultures, and the social and political critiques that are central to contemporary art today.

It certainly questions our perception of what contemporary art is and helps us think about how we could rethink the collections of tomorrow.

Embodied Knowledge is on view at the Queensland Art Gallery from August 13 to January 22, 2023, and is a FREE exhibition.

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