Primavera 2008

Exhibition by Young Australian Artists
Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney
19 September – 30 November 2008

It is the 1970s in the Bronx; people are swing dancing in Chicago clubs and in the streets; the pioneers of old school hip-hop DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Baambattaa and Grandmaster Flash have been abducted by aliens and are now on board a spaceship with Sun Ra and George Clinton en route to Planet Rock, secretly developing a new kind of music. All the while voiceovers from Ronald Reagan and Morgan Freeman narrate; scenes from ‘Star Wars’, ‘Independence Day’ and ‘I Dream of Genie’ intersect with our hip-hop DJs; and beats from The Chemical Brothers, Herbie Hancock and Public Enemy play in the background. Hip-hop turntablism (a mixture of old school hip-hop and intergalactic ‘scratch’ rhythms) is about to be unleashed via PETV on Earth.

Astro Black: A History of Hip-Hop (Episode 0-2) (2007-08) remixes samples of pop culture videos and audio bytes to create fictitious histories that interrogate the theory of Afro-Futurism and the history of hip-hop. Created by the collaborative culture-jamming duo, Dominique and Dan Angeloro AKA Soda_Jerk, this three channel video projection is witty, technically proficient and conceptually rigorous. This is Soda_Jerk at their time traveling best; mocking piracy, challenging notions of authorship and remixing cultural history, all done with panache and a quirky sense of humour. Astro Black: A History of Hip-Hop is one of the highlights of ‘Primavera 2008’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney.

Curated by Hannah Matthews, ‘Primavera’ has no overarching curatorial premise or conceptual theme. Matthews has chosen to employ an intuitive approach to selecting thirteen disparate artists, amongst them three collaborative duos, who have a dedicated approach to their practice and are at a time in their careers when they are moving into a phase of maturity, cohesion and greater depth. Whether this ‘no theme’ curatorial disclaimer is a strong point or not is undecided. It is, however, refreshing and allows the works to be appreciated in isolation. The artists, namely Marcus Canning, Danielle Freakley, Tarryn Gill & Pilar Mata Dupont, Ariel Hassan, Mark Hilton, Paul Knight, Moya McKenna, Ms & Mr, Gemma Smith and Soda_Jerk, have exhibited a wide range of mediums, including painting, sculpture, installation, performance, video, photography and drawing.

There are obvious visual and conceptual differences between these artists’ practices. Picture Danielle Freakley’s video and manifesto of the artist conversing in daily life using only appropriated famous quotes or Mark Hilton’s culturally iconographic light boxes depicting urban crimes alongside Ms & Mr’s installation of their impossible and fictitious relationship history; or Ariel Hassan’s painted, not poured, ‘matter’ triptych alongside Tarryn Gill and Pilar Mata Dupont’s Australiana tableau video; or Moya McKenna’s expressive still life paintings alongside Paul Knight’s intriguing photographs of same sex couples engaging in consensual sex in intimate and private settings. There are, however, subtle commonalities between the practices. Whether making art from a traditional studio-based perspective or from a research driven approach, each artist has an awareness of colour, scale, line, material form and the experiential or participatory nature of viewing art. The combination of these factors makes for an engaging exhibition.

Another highlight of the exhibition was the selection of the young Brisbane-based artist Gemma Smith. Smith’s series of small-scaled Untitled (2008) paintings, Adaptable (Multicoloured) (2008) sculpture and accompanying video of the Adaptable re-inventing itself in different formations, rethink modernist, non-objective painting. Smith questions ways of looking and perceiving colour, line, spatial depth and composition in both the two and three-dimensional planes. The small paintings are tightly composed, vibrantly coloured and full of clean, reductive lines, making for an energetic yet minimal sensibility and aesthetic.

Opposite Smith’s works was Marcus Canning’s Pink Wienie (2008) featuring a deflated and sickly hyper-pink plastic castle oozing viscous liquid over the gallery floor. Behind the pink mass, on the gallery wall, towered the black silhouette of its former self—the outline recalling the iconic castle of ‘Sleeping Beauty’, the symbol of Walt Disney’s film studio. Canning’s statement is poignant and clear—capitalism and overindulgent consumerism have collapsed in the doom and gloom of the current economic turmoil.

‘Primavera’, however, nearly always presents issues—who should be the curator, and who should be included or not? Should the artists, defined as ‘young’, be represented by dealer galleries and well known or fresh out of art school? Should there be a theme, or should it be conceived in terms of artists’ material approaches or strong practices? Now in its seventeenth year, the annual exhibition was established in 1992 by Dr Ted and Cynthia Jackson in memory of their daughter Belinda, an artist and jewellery designer. In the spirit of fostering emerging talents, ‘Primavera’ has brought wide exposure and attention to many young Australian artists, all under the age of thirty-five. Matthew’s exhibition and considered selection of dynamic and diverse artists, many from interstate, allowed the audience to experience and explore current trends, and fresh, contemporary approaches to making art.