WA Art Review

Last Updated: 30 Mar 2015
Localista Team

Ted Snell is the director of the University of Western Australia’s Cultural Precinct, and currently the WA art reviewer for The Australian.

Artists to Watch


Ambition is fundamental in building a career. Pilar Mata Dupont works ambitiously, always testing her boundaries, never accepting the easy solution, forever challenging herself, consistently prepared to tackle projects that have at their core formidable logistical problems. Since her early collaborative works with fellow WA artist Tarryn Gill, she has developed projects that are impressive in scale and expansive in aspiration.

Identified early as artists to watch, she and Tarryn gained recognition from critics, and their work was included in national surveys such as Optimism at the Gallery of Modern Art in Queensland and, in 2010, the Sydney Biennale. This national and international acknowledgment led to a survey exhibition at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art in 2011, just a decade after leaving art school. It also resulted in international opportunities, and since then Pilar has travelled continuously, taking up residencies in the UK, South Korea and Finland, and invitations to show her work in exhibitions in Korea, Japan, Finland, Austria, Chile, Germany, UK, USA, and Denmark.

Since 2011, she has worked alone; however, the collaboration with Gill was crucial in building confidence and developing skills. "I think many artists feel like they can take more risks working collaboratively because there's always someone to cheer you on and help you be brave to try things you might talk yourself out of normally," she explains. "There's more room for fun in that sense." Nevertheless, while working solo, the scale of her projects requires similar approaches to working collaboratively, with cinematographers, performers, choreographers, and composers.

This has been important as she has been honing her skills as a filmmaker/director and photographer working at high production levels. "The frame of a lens is a powerful tool and, keeping in mind that an audience familiar with the lexicon of cinema and television will be seeing my work, I would like to perfect my cinematic knowledge and photographic skills to use or subvert them well… to draw audiences into engaging with difficult and emotional subject matter in a way which feels non-threatening."

Pilar's work tells profound stories that interrogate how mythology, sport, war, and group participation form identity. As a child in the late 70s, her family immigrated from Argentina to Australia after spending three years in Brunei on the way. "I have always felt a little out of place," she explains, although she believes "the distance obtained by moving around helps me maintain perspective on each of my 'homes'". That physical space is echoed in the nostalgia, memory and empathy that infuses all her work.

With exhibitions in Copenhagen and Brighton this year, plus projects in Tehran and Amsterdam, Pilar Mata Dupont continues to push the boundaries of what's possible. Local audiences can see the change in her work in An Internal Difficulty at PICA, and in July, her ANZAC-themed video will screen on the 24SEVEN video platform at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery. Her ambition is to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale, and with ample evidence of her success in her goals, it's a good bet she may do just that.

Kumano (1998) by Mariko Mori. Colour photograph,  glass, 3.05x6.1x2.16m, five panels, each 3.05m.MARIKO MORI: REBIRTH

Mariko Mori earned her international reputation with ambitious, large-scale, digitally generated photographs that harmonise nature, Eastern and Western culture, spiritualism, and technology. In these massive works, she often uses her body as a central element. Influenced by her Japanese heritage, these extraordinary works inhabit a space between East and West, and in a time that oscillates from the Neolithic to the future. In Kumano, her video work from 1998, her interest in nature and traditional belief systems coalesces in her meditation on this well-known site of pilgrimage, which she re-energises through her presence as a mysterious fairy, a shaman and a floating angel.

Her work, she explains, is "designed to unite the celestial and the terrestrial", drawing inspiration from history, nature and technology. "I would like to reintroduce ancient culture to contemporary life in order to reconnect with nature." This approach is encapsulated in her Transcircle 1.1 installation, which looks like a twenty-first century Stonehenge with each of the nine glowing steles linked in real time to the nine planets in our solar system. "Each pillar has a different moving, coloured light in the circle to emit the light of a stellar rebirth," she says.

For her exhibition Rebirth at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, presented as part of the 2015 Perth International Arts Festival, Mori incorporates ethereal installations, glowing LED sculptures, photographs, drawings and videos designed to take the audience on a journey through the concepts of origin, rupture and, of course, rebirth.

Art Gallery of Western Australia, until June 29.


While it may be true that an ever-decreasing percentage of the current Australian population has any direct familial links back to the men who fought at Gallipoli, this tragic series of mishaps, miscalculations and mendacities continues to shape our self-image and colour our view of history. In the centenary year of that military disaster in which so many brave men were killed, injured and maimed, the Fremantle Arts Centre presents an exhibition by Western Australian-based artist Lev Vykopal that documents the landscape of that horrendous battleground.

Vykopal examines the legend of Gallipoli and the public's longstanding connection with this harsh military defeat, and Australia's preoccupation with the myth – the site acknowledged as the birthplace of a particular Australian identity. In the wake of Sidney Nolan, Arthur Streeton and other Australian artists of war, Vykopal lays bare the landscape as an ancient place of war, recounts more recent history and reinvestigates the narratives of conflict and peace.

Generated from his 2013 residency on the Gallipoli Peninsula, Vykopal has created drawings in situ, incorporating the natural pigments of the landscape to document the tortuous eroded gullies of Anzac Cove, where Private Simpson led his donkey; the volcanic wilderness of Suvla, which swallowed the whole battalion without a trace; and the silent trenches at the Nek. The beauty of the landscape — 'Gallipoli' is derived from the Greek 'kalli-pollis', meaning 'beautiful city' — is paired with the resilience of the inhabitants, evoked in the portraits of descendants of war veterans from the Gallipoli region, as well as their Australian counterparts.

Fremantle Arts Centre, April 11-May 26.

Art Insider


Glenn at the exhibition The Bush Babies, an initiative of Community Arts Network WA. The portraits of Noongar Elders are (from left) Tom Hayden by Mike Beckwith (two portraits); Lizzie Riley by Karen Keeley; Janet Hayden by Joan Crosby; and Kathleen Jackson by Erica McQueen.

As part of the team developing the curatorial framework for presenting Aboriginal stories and culture within the New Museum for Western Australia, Glenn Iseger-Pilkington will have a significant impact on how future generations of Western Australians understand this place.

"I believe that we have a truly unique story here in Western Australia," he explains. "One that is full of contradictions: sometimes challenging and confronting, with incredible hardships, triumphs and successes. And more than anything it is a story of endurance and survival."

Born in Perth then brought up in Derby and Kununurra, Glenn was taken by his grandfather, a Nyoongar man, to visit rock art sites. He identified those the boy couldn't visit because he was too young, which sparked Glenn's curiosity about art and Aboriginal cultures.

At university, Glenn studied art and had success as a young artist but the chance to work as Coordinator of Regional and Indigenous Development at Artsource was his opportunity to bring all his interests into alignment. "It gave me a great experience in working with artists from around the state, while also developing my creative ideas as an artist… I began to understand the value and importance of advocacy and critical discourses surrounding Aboriginal Australian art, culture and identity, and the idea that perhaps this was an area
I could participate in."

Wattie Karawarra's depiction of Wandjina, Namarali , painted in 1972, at the exhibition Katta Djinoong at the Western Australian Museum (Wattie Karawarra, Wunambul peoples, 1910-1983).

His success led to an appointment as Associate Curator of Indigenous Objects and Photography at the Art Gallery of Western Australia where he curated
the Western Australian Indigenous Art Award in 2010 and 2011, and was one of three Aboriginal curators directing the Desert River Sea: Kimberley Art Then & Now project. With that solid background in local and national issues, Iseger-Pilkington was perfectly placed to take on the next big challenge presented by the proposal to build a new home for the Western Australian Museum. "I hope that through the work we do over the coming years we enable our diverse community to play a significant role in helping us come to understand this story in a way that is not only comprehensive, but also offers a place for challenging discussions, a place where we can come to better understand each other and a place where we can celebrate our people, our environment, our industries," he explains.

As Curator of Content Development with the New Museum Project, Iseger-Pilkington is working with a creative team to develop key strategies, messages and approaches to sharing stories about Western Australia, from the ancient stories of diverse Aboriginal communities through to the present day, and thinking about the possible futures of this place and its inhabitants. "We have a wonderful team of people from diverse backgrounds working on the project, and this has made for stimulating and challenging dialogues," he explains. "I am excited about the project and the ways I can contribute to one of the most exciting museum projects happening in the county. It's an opportunity that probably only appears once in a professional career as a curator.

The New Museum aims to connect the community with the rich and dynamic stories of diverse Aboriginal peoples and provide valuable opportunities for audiences to immerse and educate themselves in the world's oldest living culture. "I also hope we can create a place that our public has ownershipin, especially our Aboriginal communities, as this will be a measure of how successful we are as a New Museum for Western Australia."



Hide (2011) by Andrew & David Wood. Video still.

Living on the west coast is a catalyst for new ideas and new approaches. Aboriginal people have been creating images and responding to the conditions of life here for 40,000 years or more. The Dampier Archipelago Rock-Art Precinct comprises the largest concentration of petroglyphs in the world, and possibly the largest number of megaliths known in Australia. It also constitutes the greatest continuous cultural site in Australia, and it is one of many.

The galleries of images engraved or painted are a treasure house of world culture that affirms a vibrant and ongoing engagement with this land. Those same artists have seen visitors arrive on their shores for centuries, welcomed them and shared their knowledge. The Macassans, the Spanish, the Dutch, the French
and the British have impacted on their world, something reflected in the visual record of their encounters on rock, bark and more recently on paper and canvas.

Later they came to stay. It is frequently the case that the western coastlines of continents attract outsiders later because the great waves of migration and human movement sweep first upon the eastern seaboards, and only subsequently find a foothold on western shores. This lateness in itself offers a kind of freedom, a space to act in response to what is happening elsewhere, while not being constrained by it. In the documentary Hype, which chronicled the rise of the grunge scene in Seattle (also on a continental western edge), the lack of mainstream infrastructure is described as one of the liberating features that made it possible for young musicians to imagine recording their own music, writing their own magazines, and independently distributing their work. It was the only way to get something happening, and the young musicians and entrepreneurs had the 'make do' mentality often associated with the outback, with the new frontier, and the self-reliant, innovative spirit of early explorers and settlers in the Old West.

Wet Mess (2014) by Andrew & David Wood. Video still.

Artists in Western Australia do it too, in full knowledge that if they don't, no one else will. Without the great weight of established corporate monoliths on the doorstep they are free to 'have a go', to see what can be achieved, to break new ground or stir it up. It happens in music, theatre, literature and most definitely in the visual arts. As a result, the visual culture of Western Australia documents a local response to international and national issues that, by its very presence, not only contributes to the larger history of Australian visual culture, but also offers a distinctive perspective to that larger narrative. For Aboriginal artists, it is often a process of strengthening culture through reflection and re-imagination; for non-Aboriginal artists it can be a mechanism for establishing a sense of belonging; both groups are now connected internationally through digital networks.

This connectedness provides both camaraderie and also a sense of liberation and independence. Out west has a deserved reputation as a hedonistic environment, but it is also harsh, unique and biodiverse. The extraordinary landscape and ecology demands a response, and artists find ways to inflect received knowledge with their experiences of living here.

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