Review of the exhibition: The Churchie Emerging Art Prize 2022

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The Brisbane Institute of Modern Art (IMA) hosts the Churchie Emerging Art Prize 2022, an open category snapshot showcasing early career contemporary artists from across Australia, held annually since 1987.

The mantle of a National Emerging Art Award is an ambitious category, especially when narrowed down to a dozen accepted finalists across all forms of visual art. Twelve finalists were selected to compete for the non-vesting prize of $15,000, from a field of over 400 entrants.

‘The Churchie’ features an array of emerging, cross-disciplinary talent from every state and territory except the NT, showcasing a diversity and rigor of practice in the next generation of Australian artists.

Interestingly, unlike most art awards, “churchie” entrants are judged on their practice as a whole rather than a singular work of art. This holistic approach positions each finalist in the contemporary milieu, assessing how they navigate their cultural experiences and personal perspectives through artistic creation.

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“The churchie” also offers an invaluable opportunity for an early-career curator. This year’s exhibition is carefully presented around “themes of sustainable practice, notions of place, systems of authority, and cultural preservation and identity” by curator and art historian Sri- up-and-coming Lankan-Australian Elena Dias-Jayasinha.

“As the finalists grapple with the complexities of contemporary life, a sense of hope permeates many of the works featured in this year’s exhibition, and after a few difficult years, a little hope may be just that. we all need,” said Dias-Jayasinha.

Sustainable practice is front and center as I enter the gallery, greeted by the low hum and buzz of Lillian Whitaker. Mutualisms (2022). Three delicate wax structures created in collaboration with European bees sit on speaker bases that emit the accompanying soundscape. They convey a message of ecocentric symbiosis and a rejection of human domination over nature. I can’t resist the temptation to lean in too close, enjoying their rich honeyed scent.

Norton Fredericks lightly scalloped textile triptych Identity landscape (2022) cleverly closes the sustainability loop. Organic, fertile and earthy botanical landscapes of personally significant places are mapped in eucalyptus paths scribbled on three felted panels. Eco-printed indigenous materials are fully compostable, designed to be returned to the soil and regenerate the land.

As I enter the next gallery space, my gaze is drawn to the shimmering geometric stripes that adorn Kevin Diallo’s gallery. Ode to Zouglou (2021). Shimmering patterns inspired by West African mud cloths are layered over the soft wash of dancing human forms. Printed from screenshots of YouTube Zouglou dance clips, the figures are blurry and ambiguous. I step back from a distance and the details merge. The criss-cross configuration of the four canvas panels echoes the scintillating patterns; an alluring texture combination. They reveal a cultural reconnection to Diallo’s Ivorian roots, revived on the internet during the pandemic, a symptom of his digital diaspora.

Themes of cultural preservation and identity are addressed by many other finalists, notably in Linda Sok’s installation Salt Water Deluge (Tucoerah River) (2021). Strips of salt-encrusted Cambodian silk suspended from half-moon rattan frames evoke matrilineal craftsmanship, passed down and preserved despite the Khmer Rouge regime’s attempts to erase it.

Installation view, ‘The Churchie Emerger Art Prize 2022’, Institute of Modern Art. On view: Agus Wijaya, ‘Procession’, 2020; ‘Jejadian’, 2022, ‘Taksakala’, 2021. Photographer: Joe Ruckli.

Continuing the theme of cultural identity, Agus Wijaya creates a lexicon of number characters to express the feelings of isolation and prejudice encountered growing up with Chinese heritage in a small Indonesian village. It serves up a cerebral fusion zap of sinister purple and hyper teal, challenging my visual perception. The saturated tones of pigment prints remind me of the enchanting time of day just before dusk, when our photoreceptors merge and colors can take on an otherworldly glow.

The red and green glitchy duality of Procession (2020) and Taksakala (2021) look like an anaglyph image. If you have no idea what an anaglyph is (neither do I!), fear not. Wijaya has produced an engaging and in-depth instructional video on the process, complete with avatar narration. Some may balk at the conceptual status of digitally generated art versus more “traditional” fine art. This generous insight into Wijaya’s working practice only adds to my appreciation of the refined complexity of his digitized language.

In earth tones, a handcrafted contrast to the Wijaya assemblage opposite, Jan Gunjaka Griffiths The story under the beauty (2022) maintains her grandmother’s story and her connection to the country. The ground installation of water lilies painted with natural pigment on paper is dotted with porcelain flowers. He recalls an account of his grandmother “creeping into the billabong to hide” from two unwanted strangers. Standing above this freshwater pond, it is easy to imagine sliding between the leaves, in the soft, hidden water of the billabong. Intricately sculpted ceramic flowers float on a riot of patterns and repetitions, ready to obscure and protect.

Jan Gunjaka Griffiths, ‘History Beneath the Beauty’, 2022, natural pigment on paper, underglaze porcelain, glaze, 171 x 228 x 3cm. Installation view: ‘The Churchie Emerger Art Prize 2022’, Institute of Modern Art. Photographer: Joe Ruckli.

Authority systems are challenged in Emma Buswell’s playful and ironic pandemic knitwear series After Arachne (2020). The lingering cultural anxiety of 2020 is chronicling one sweater at a time. Each garment features an overabundance of pop cultural references, from the January bushfires to the US election. Using craftsmanship passed down from her mother and grandmother, Buswell’s title references the Greek myth of Arachne, a weaver turned into a spider by the wrathful goddess Athena. The finely detailed knitwear presents the work of women’s craftsmanship as an antidote to the upheaval and violence of recent major historical events.

With such a small sample of artists across a diversity of mediums spanning painting, sculptural installation, textiles, video, drawing, etc., “the church” cannot display the full breadth of talent emerging in Australia. Still, the exhibition holds delicious surprises and innovative new talent, with great anticipation for who will take home this year’s top prize.

Visit the exhibition in person or online and have your say on the $3,000 public prize.

The twelve finalists for the 2022 Churchie Emerging Art Prize are: Darcey Bella Arnold (VIC), Emma Buswell (WA), Jo Chew (TAS), Kevin Diallo (NSW), Norton Fredericks (QLD), Jan Gunjaka Griffiths (WA) , Jacquie Meng (ACT), Daniel Sherington (QLD), Linda Sok (NSW), Lillian Whitaker (QLD), Agus Wijaya (NSW) and Emmaline Zanelli (SA).

Churchie Prize for Emerging Art 2022 is on display at the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane until October 1. Sebastian Goldspink is this year’s guest judge.

Opening weekend talks will take place on Saturday, September 3 at 11:00 a.m. – Artist talks led by curator Elena Dias-Jayasinha. To register And 1:00 p.m. with Sebastian Goldspink: Anatomy of a Biennial. To register

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