Radical Ecologies

The Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) presents ‘Radical Ecologies’, a multi-media exhibition, curated by Andrew Varano, exploring the reciprocal dynamic between the human body and natural environment.

Featuring 18 Western Australian artists at the forefront of experimental artmaking, the exhibition showcases a diverse range of forms from design, performance, film, installation, sound and bio-art. Artists include Matt Aitken & Noel Nannup, Nathan Beard, Mike Bianco, Tim Burns, Andrew Christie, Pony Express, The ‘Cene, Cat Jones,
Rose Megirian, Peter & Molly,
 Rebecca Orchard, Perdita Philips,
Mei Saraswati, Stelarc, and Katie West.

Varano selected these artists for their ability to address ecological dystopia and its outcomes by “exploring the subjective or cultural shifts that are needed to prioritise the environmental emergency. So the artists are not only reconsidering ways of relating to other species and the land, but are also rethinking how the body and culture operates in this context as well”. From live art encounters and immersive soundscapes, to decorative ceramics and drawings – some specifically commissioned for the exhibition – these artists create intimate encounters with our ecology through therapeutic experiences, providing countercultural spaces for empathy and observation.

Investigating the interspecies relationship between honeybees and humans, Mike Bianco’s work Bee Bed (prototype) swarms the topic of environmental degradation. Bianco creates a bed-like structure which contains a working beehive. The installation encourages the audience to lie down and become enveloped by the sounds and smells of the apian colony.  The unique encounter allows the participant to share a moment of focus, intimacy and understanding in a hope to encourage a more cooperative and communal way forward.

Focusing on consumption, Perdita Philips’ Tender Leavings contains the fragments of 850 romance novels. Buried for one year in a desert sand dune these books remained vulnerable to mould and termites. Pieces of text were reassembled as the tiny artists poetically reframed the linear narratives of the novels – fictional love was literally consumed. Easily mistaken for a landscape painting, upon closer observation the narratives become legible, paralleling the macro and microscopic ways humans see and investigate the natural world.

Rewired/Remixed, a multi-faceted robotic arm, examines alternate anatomies of biology, technology and virtuality. In a five-day performance piece, artist Stelarc relinquishes the control of his body and his perceptual field by allowing an international audience to control his actions via a special web-interface. Almost like an online game, the artist is transformed into a human avatar, transferred from the realm of the biological to the cyber zone. Stelarc’s performance inevitably questions the limits of the body as a material and as a barrier between the self, others and the natural world, what Varano describes as a push to “start us thinking about collectivity”.

Other works in the exhibition include close encounters with leeches and molluscs, an olfactory landscape of fresh earth and human tears secretly dispersed within the gallery, ecosexual confessions through the walls of a self-contained replica sauna, the acoustic and musical properties of water from the Swan River, and recordings of personal conversations highlighting local Indigenous culture. These works, alongside their more traditional counterparts – handmade decorative ceramics, cast silver vessels containing live plants, handmade string instruments and woodblock prints – reframe interspecies relationships through cultural and sexual identity, history and colonialism, current affairs, care and cruelty, allowing hierarchies to dissolve as new landscapes emerge.

“There are many sensory rich moments in the exhibition, but rather than see this as a moment for pure hedonism, it is hoped that these will provide a slow and intimate space for open-minded reflection,” said Varano. “We always hoped the works would communicate and operate on each other”, forming what Varano suggests as “their own type of ‘ecology’ in the exhibition space.” ‘Radical Ecologies’ is an engaging exhibition that heightens the senses.

Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA)
Until 4 September, 2016
Western Australia