Recently, Artistic Directors Liz Nowell and Steve Eland announced that the Australian Experimental Art Foundation (AEAF) and Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia will amalgamate in July 2017. Against this backdrop of aspirational reciprocity we look at AEAF’s ‘Unworldly Encounters’, an intrepid cultural exchange where four Australian and Chinese artists plunged into the heart of one another’s spectacular natural environments and cultures. Shi Jinsong, Cang Xin, Sam Leach and Tony Lloyd journeyed to Arnhem Land, the Kimberley, Beijing and Tibet. On their return each artist reflected on Indigenous traditions and the sublime settings that inspired and challenged them. Leach commented that the trip “created a deep and lasting bond between the participants and has been a wellspring for new work.”
They all seem to underscore an important but sometimes forgotten concept; we share the earth.
Lloyd’s cinematic and tonal paintings often celebrate the handsome and omnipotent force of a landscape and show our existence as but a part of, not the most important element of the alchemy of Mother Nature. His work The Ocean Floor (2016) addresses the passage of time with a poetic installation of hundreds of seashells draped from the gallery ceiling in the shape of a mountain. The form and material choices allude to the idea that at one time our summits were the sea floor; transformed over millions of years as the sedimentary rock formed from marine fossils was lifted up by the collision of tectonic plates.
Leach’s large-scale paintings and sculptural installations combine formalist figuration and modernist abstraction. The artist’s focus on the duality of subjectivity and objectivity extends itself across a few areas; the intersection of art and science, what is metaphorical and the empirical, and a biological curiosity as well as empathetic relationship to animals and the natural world. For Sky Burial (2016) he has recreated a granite block similar to the tool used for breaking the bones of a corpse in the Tibetan tradition. Leach explained “our writer, Ashley Crawford, nearly died on these mountains: firstly from complications arising from the altitude and later by being nearly crushed in a rock fall during his emergency medical evacuation. During his few periods of lucidity in that episode, he specifically requested to be given a sky burial.”
Mongolian artist, Xin, performs ritualistic acts often involving natural matter, to emphasise that all life is connected by a cyclical soul that moves from one form to the next. He uses his body to enact the transmigration. Both Xin and Jinsong will debut new work after they complete a residency in the Flinders Ranges in the lead up to the exhibition. Xin’s approach sits within the Chinese avant-garde history of endurance performance practice, he has sat in snow, licked a cockroach and swapped clothes with strangers. Jingsong previously focused on challenging our perception of the items we use everyday, personifying them as dangerous and even predatory. Using metal spikes, blades and machine-like parts he assembles the sinister cousins of benign consumer goods, by subverting items we use day to day he suggests that adult life necessitates heavy artillery and that partaking in pop-culture is submissive and mind-numbing.
The collective were all chosen because of a pre-existing connection to land, science and a curious and questioning approach to their practice, as Lloyd said “We witnessed how cultures deal with death and we saw life flourish in extreme environments. We could not speak each other’s languages, nevertheless we communicated and understood through our shared experience.”
Australian Experimental Art Foundation
9 September to 15 October, 2016
Shi Jinsong, HeiHe (detail), 2012, charcoal, dimensions variable
Cang Xin, Ice Fire Day, 2003, photo, 120 x 120cm
Courtesy the artists and Australian Experimental Art Foundation, South Australia