Major Tender

I am on the phone with Brigid Noone who is talking me through the exhibition project ‘Major Tender’, just hours before it opens at the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia (CACSA) in Adelaide. She is talking at a pace that conveys her excitement. “The room is so atmospheric,” she bubbles as she begins to describe what has developed on site and over the past year with new friends and old: Salote Tawale, Jodie Whalen, Kate Power and Gemma Weston.

Noone is a painter, a curator and co-director of the Adelaide-based artist-run gallery and studio network Fontanelle. In an era in which an economy of scarcity increasingly creates a mood of competition, pitting artists and individuals against one another, she is most interested in forging relationships. As such, ‘Major Tender’ is an experiment: a physical manifestation of her doctorate research into modes of curation that seek to defy ‘traditional definitions’, as well as finding ways “to embrace the differences between collective and individual [artistic] practices.”

Having just completed a 48-hour in situ performative installation process with Sydney-based Salote Tawale, Noone can’t help but start by describing the intense but exhilarating process of creating new work including the commanding large-scale self-portraits that bookend the CACSA gallery space. The pair had only met briefly before embarking on this work, and in order to counter this began a series of ‘getting to know you’ weekly text messages in which they shared artistic inspiration, images and the ideas that then formed the ‘rules’ of their intuitive production binge.

By contrast, as Adelaide locals, Noone and Kate Power have a long professional and personal affiliation, and their work was made over some months. Each grappling with distinct personal issues for this work, they chose to express their sentiments personally yet one step removed. Appearing in a small room at the centre of the gallery – ‘the heart or guts’ – is Noone’s painted portrait that makes visual reference to Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait, The Two Fridas (1939). Standing in for Kahlo, and for the two artists, are two women they admire. In this work, in place of Kahlo’s exposed hearts, Power has inserted two new video works on petite circular screens: appearing in one sitter’s stomach are shimmering clouds and explosions, while in the other’s heart, a hand slowly squashes a soft ball.

A new project with Sydney-based performance artist Jodie Whalen, in fact has its origin in Whalen admitting she did not want to perform the declarations of love for others that have characterised her recent practice. Noone and Whalen discussed instead that perhaps it was time to direct her love towards the self. The resulting pink and gold, immersive installation features a series of screen based affirmations – some highly personal, others more general – that offered both of them a way to occupy the space without actually physically being present.

Gemma Weston’s installation is a kind of beautiful ‘esoteric bedroom’, featuring body pillows and a series of A4 drawings and Noone’s wall paintings that picked up on the forms in the Perth-based artist’s works. Weston also straddles ARI management and individual practice, as well as working in an institutional capacity as the curator of the The Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery; a role that has at times pushed her art practice almost into ‘secret’, but also informs this same work with her interest in the complex layers of support structures that influence the way viewers experience art.

I leave the conversation with Noone buzzing with the pictures her words have painted of the outcomes from this ambitious collaboration. She has been stretched and challenged by being at the centre of this project, but like all the artists, speaks freely about the thrills and struggles of negotiation and compromise, of relinquishing control and building trust created. ‘Major Tender’ is a testament to the role of CACSA in supporting the development of experimental contemporary Australian art and curatorial practice, even at a time when the organisation faced an uncertain future.

Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia
Until 16 December, 2016
South Australia