Unanticipated and, at times, serendipitous events can emerge to challenge hearth and home where the true scope of intrusion is only realised in hindsight. That we do not currently exist in the best of all worlds, possibly understates reality. Globally, we are living through an unnerving shift, accentuated by an unwieldy backdrop of creaking climate angst and an abrasive swerve of politics that should decree vigilance on our watch. We cannot ignore the furious trajectory of history’s impulse, which is lived out as a communal meta-narrative replete with the subjectivity of cultural perceptions. In a contemporary context, a pandemic, no less, rattles our cage. It is, however, precisely this domain at this point of our history that tenders such heightened circumstances for dialogical exchange. More than ever, we need to talk. Thus, in a grand confluence of intention and fortuity, three contemporary artists, Harrison See, Aasiya Evans and Desmond Mah, have initiated and generated an inspired body of works that talk about the nature of home, the intricacies of cultural exchange through collaboration and the place of the artist in overarching cultural conversations.
‘A Place We Call Home’, an eminently cogent exhibition hosted at Stala Contemporary in 2021, yoked a shared focus on the cultural iconographies of these three artists currently working in the vanguard of emergent arts practice in Perth, Western Australia. From culturally diverse backgrounds, Evans, Mah and See drew harmony from disparity in a vast sweep of artistically rich and culturally specific iconography. Each artist calls into sharp relief a manifold and mercurial view of working within the broad scope of resolute pattern, articulated plans and unrehearsed incident. There is an investigative pertinence to these works that encompasses their diversity and their expression. They reference cultural dynamics that are transmitted across generations framing the communicative aspects of linguistic and visual expression.
From distinct but overlapping backgrounds, Mah and See began their foray into a painterly collaboration, replete with shared as well as differentiated cultural dispositions. Moving between the abstract and the ambivalent, the spaces of collaboration are ultimately charged with the vitality of the participating artists. Rules and methodology can become fluid with familiarity, and strictly taking turns becomes optional. Spontaneity coauthors rigid plan and protean conversations spark the rich mettle of cultural exchange. Mah and See instigated a quite literal collaboration insofar as each artist responds to the work of the other in an ongoing dialogue of responsive mark making. The creation of a powerful narrative running as a thread through the physical manifestation as well as the social, personal and cultural outcomes is testimony to the authentic manifestation of this collaboration. Working on unstretched canvas, the artists’ worked alternately in unison and in isolation. They applied a veritable wellspring of ‘wet’ media to their substrate, drawing on their respective cultural iconographies for inspiration. The inclusion of soy sauce added a sensory dimension casting a hazy, aromatic shroud that was dispersed in the gallery. What emerged from these forays into sharing the canvas was a realisation that not all cross-cultural and social communication can necessarily be unambiguously understood nor indeed, literally translatable. Video documentation, (Intermission), of the process was projected onto Perth’s Yagan Square Tower in 2020 – effectively propelling a ‘traditional’ artwork on canvas into the cutting edge of contemporary artmaking, lobbing it into the realm of the culturally charged public space as well as the flighty paradigm of a pandemic.
All good plans can come up for revision. The ferocious pursuit of a fundamental transformation of the earth challenges the intrepid spirit of humanity. Smugly ambivalent, the COVID virus has definitively disrupted what was and what is yet to come – and it seems to be here to stay. See and Mah call up the voices of history and reconfigure their iteration by successfully interfacing historicism with contemporary signification. Evans elegantly triangulates the working cooperative and consolidates the cultural discourse that these works evoke. An elegiac visual poetry suffuses an otherworldly backdrop of aesthetic symmetry and pattern hiding its’ own ghosts. Evans explores an ideological platform, wrests its’ symbolic signification from its origins and reconfigures it to extract its contemporary relevance and clout. A complex system of patterning and the exquisite repeat of motifs generate the silhouette of a renewed or promised landscape. Realms of possibility gently percolate in these works. Look closer and the shatteringly beautiful motifs betray their inexorable links to conflict. Examined more deeply, the patterned surfaces offer up tremulous cracks in their parched veneer. These are works that invite us to consider what we cannot always see. Their stoic utterance memorialises the wreckage of conflict and the elusive arc of enigmatic critique. These works, aloof and measured, are fundamentally anchored by the rhythm of their articulation. That a series of works so quietly self-contained can communicate with genuine verve is confirmation that the rigours of an arts practice and the voice of the artist are not only relevant, but they are also integral to our culture.
Essentially, these three artists create an engaging triumvirate framework within which a prodigiously coherent body of works bring all the markers of monumentality and a honed historicism. They generate a synchronous sense of noiseless magnitude and rumbling dynamism. Each discrete body of work created by these artists drew on the germane connections that manifested with each other as well as in isolation. Projects such as this help to uphold the vitality and longevity of arts practice. It is the espousal and testing of new ideas that creates opportunities to nurture alternative, critical and adventurous collaborations across cultures and across disciplines: as well as the spaces we will call home.
Sue Starcken, 2021
Artist, Curator, Writer