“I wanted to ensure that the darkness
was balanced with lightness too.”
Curated by Talia Smith, Primavera 2023: Young Australian Artists explores themes of protest, perseverance, and reimagining through the works of six artists, all aged thirty-five years and under. From moving and quirky installations, video, paintings, sculpture, and text, Tiyan Baker, Christopher Bassi, Moorina Bonini, Nikki Lam, Sarah Poulgrain, and Truc Truong each offer dialogue to Smith’s focus of critiquing, challenging, and pushing outdated societal structures.
“It was interesting how I viewed each artist’s work through the three lenses of protest, perseverance and reimagining, but through conversations with each artist, it became apparent that each artist actually fits into multiple, if not all, of the categories,” says Smith. “What these artists do is present different ways of moving through the present and into a more accessible and inclusive future.”
Starting with ‘Protest’, Smith shares that Bonini’s text works, dapalama (between), 2023, set the tone of the show, offering a link between all the works as “she honours her elders and culture and asserts the importance of an Indigenous voice.” At the same time, Lam continues this with her reflection on Hong Kong’s politics through cinema and Asian Futurism in the unshakable destiny_2101, 2021.
Turning to ‘Perseverance’, Smith reveals that Bassi’s paintings, Monuments to the South/West Waters of a Great Ocean, 2023, “are beautiful odes to his country and culture, golden soaked images of larger than life shell monuments that nod to the history of the Arafura Sea of his Mother’s land in the Torres Strait.” Contrastingly, Truong’s installation, I Pray You Eat Cake, 2023, offers “a cacophony of colour and objects” contemplating the model migrant with dark humour and wit with a range of found objects ranging from toys, packaged food, electromechanical components to dried pig intestines and trotters, dried chicken feet, tassels, and rope.
Finally, for ‘Reimagining’, Poulgrain narrates a sense of community and kinship in Learning how to build a houseboat: walls, fixings and rope, 2023, bringing people together in her vast hand-constructed curved installation, as does Baker’s nod to the importance of Indigenous knowledge in contemporary culture for a greater connection to Country in Personal computer: ramin ntaangan, 2022–23.
Smith muses on the state of failing societal structures, amplified by the pandemic, and how she sees these artists – each coming from the younger, critical generation in Australian society. “I think there is a sense of urgency in the exhibition, which I like, and an assertion that although we as artists and people are tired, there are things happening to counteract the dominant voices,” the curator adds. “There is also a sense of joy and humour (if a little dark) because sometimes it can be hard to remember the good things, and so I wanted to ensure that the darkness was balanced with lightness too.”
Through conversations, collaborations, listening, and sharing, Primavera 2023 comes together to reveal a distinct moment in time. The artworks bounce in dialogue while also depicting a singular and honest vision unique to each artist, and thus, each audience’s own experience of the exhibition – and society and its structures.
Emma-Kate Wilson is an art and design writer and editor based on Gumbaynggirr Country (Bellingen, New South Wales).
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
8 September 2023 to 4 February 2024