‘Preset Memory’, at M16 Artspace in Canberra, is a group exhibition based on the premise that a choice of photographic image is conditioned by experience, and is unconscious: a ‘preset memory’. The exhibition brings together the recent photography of five mid-career Canberra artists: Lee Grant, Mark Van Veen, Ellis Hutch, Blaide Lallemand, and Brenton McGeachie.
The artists all share experiences, having connections through study, past exhibitions, and practice in the A.C.T. All have an evolved approach to their work, and while the images are diverse, when placed side by side, some commonalities emerge which are due to their background and their immediate environments.
Getting to know both the camera and her surroundings, and coming from a non-photographic background, Lallemand describes taking a walk with her new camera as, ‘with fresh intent’. The resulting images possess a definite mintiness in the green of garden hedges diffused through the suburban sky, as if viewed through a fogged glass. A diffusion, but also a concentration of experience, as the atmospheric quality of the light is the only thing necessary to make the scenes recognisable to suburban locals.
Van Veen presents an ostensibly characterless perspective on the city and the urban landscape, nevertheless capturing striking compositions and moments. On closer inspection a unique identity of place is revealed in the everyday, such as the length of shadows, and the juxtaposition of urban architecture.
Known locally for examination of Canberra’s Belconnen region in her ‘Belco Pride’ project, Grant travels further afield inspired by travel writer George Farwell’s coffee table book ‘Around Australia on Highway One’. The documentation of her travels along the highway has a similarly honest focus on seemingly mundane scenes, which nevertheless are singular to the region. Particularly arresting are her candid portraits of locals gazing openly at the viewer.
McGeachie’s intense examination of abandoned insect shells echoes a starkness often found in the Capital. Staged and clinical, a white winter light seems to seep through transparent membranes and void anatomical segments.
Stark and wintry also is Hutch’s site study of a vacant building in Berlin. Canberrans will recognise the chilly quality of light, which makes its way through fractured windows and tapping venetian blinds to illuminate the decaying story of the building through cracks, peeling paint, and the small deaths of its only remaining inhabitants.
As every photograph is a unique expression of the individual, so too the collected works in this exhibition subtly voice a sense of Canberra as a shared background, playground and workplace for these artists. The diversity of work in this exhibition and the resulting juxtapositions are somehow familiar, yet enlightening.
Melissa Nickols is the 2016 Arts Writer in Residence at M16 Artspace in Griffith, Canberra.
8 to 25 September, 2016
Australian Capital Territory
Blaide Lallemand, Home, photographic print, 85 x 56cm
Mark Van Veen, Pedestrian Direction, 2015, digital photograph, 73 x 49cm
Courtesy the artists and M16 Artspace, Australian Capital Territory