‘Love in Bright Landscapes’ explores how artmaking contributes to a sense of place, and the myths, legends and stories that define a place.
Curated by Annika Kristensen, the exhibition compares Perth and Los Angeles, exploring ‘the characters, qualities and topographies of the two west coast cities’. ‘Love in Bright Landscapes’ features the work of 14 multi-generational artists living, working, or passing through Perth and LA: Carmen Argote, Jack Ball, Kevin Ballantine, Emma Buswell, George Egerton-Warburton, Teelah George, Cass Lynch, Laure Prouvost, Mei Swan Lim, Martine Syms, Ed Ruscha, Lisa Uhl, Brendan Van Hek, and Sterling Wells, and considers the work of these artists not as relics in the process of identity-making, but as active influences on it.
The exhibition is named after a 1986 album by Perth band The Triffids, ‘a group that contributed to the city’s narrative of wide open roads, treeless plains and relentless heat of a long, dry summer’. This is a commonalty Perth and LA share: alongside Indigenous and colonial histories, sprawling suburbia, car culture, blazing sunsets and seamy underbellies. Kristensen’s clever curatorial thread of kinship asks us to consider why, by looking at art from one place, we may find ourselves thinking of somewhere else.
Emblematic of this concept is the rich lapis and sapphire of George’s exquisite tapestry, Sky Piece, falling (Melbourne, Perth) (2020-21). Like a window to the sky or ocean, the textile is sublime, and audiences become aware of their own insignificance against the vastness of that which it represents. This notion complicates the visible traces of intense human labour involved in stitching the work; completed in sections in transit during the artist’s travels. Parts of the material thread have been bleached by the sun; the textile recalls a quilt and is suggestive of both intimacy and expanse. The placement by Kristensen is genius, drawing viewers into PICA’s downstairs galleries.
The exhibition’s cornerstone is Lynch and Lim’s Dampland (2021), an audio and mixed media installation that is visual and actual poetry. Part of the Noongar oral storytelling tradition, the work is a sonic journey into Perth’s subterranean histories and existence in geological time concerned with eons rather than years. Identity is thousands of years old and permanently in flux; artists shape and bear witness to it.
The exhibition is equally concerned with how cities repress, deny, lose or forget. The watercolour series by Wells (2020/2021) depicts lush scenes of urban detritus and unsightly places.
These drawings are bright, sumptuous, even garish when compared to Ballantine’s 1980s black and white photography in the adjacent gallery. Ballantine’s works are sparse, surreal, dream-like photographs documenting Fremantle the year the seaside city hosted the America’s Cup. They are images full of promise; a city on the cusp – of gentrification, hopeful individuals filling desolate urban spaces, squinting out to sea.
Many of the artworks engage with this tension between aggrandisement and vacuousness; in particular, Buswell’s 20-metre knitted scarf, Once Upon a Time in… (2021). Described as ‘part Simpsons, part Bayeux tapestry,’ it is stitched with caricatures of keystone Perth events alongside stories from the artist’s life from the 1980s-2000s. The work’s satire feels tongue in cheek and biting; some of the events it depicts are myth and hearsay. The exhibition could have slipped into shallow self-referential pretentiousness – but in Kristensen’s expert hands, it avoids doing so. The range of artworks don’t just form and reflect ideas of place; they also question, protest and evaluate Perth and LA’s shifting identities. The exhibition’s triumph is that we aren’t asked to value one story or city over another; just like the places they represent, it is richly palimpsestic.
Aimee Dodds is a Perth-based arts writer and emerging curator.
Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts
Until 10 October, 2021