Art | Challenging times in the Lock-Up | John Barnes

 Performance: Jacobus Capone, Dark Learning (Act 17). Detail. Capone's work is part of the Gesture and Presence exhibition.
Performance: Jacobus Capone, Dark Learning (Act 17). Detail. Capone's work is part of the Gesture and Presence exhibition.

Since its restructuring only two years ago, the Lock-Up has firmly established itself as the centre of contemporary art practise in Newcastle. It continues to offer exhibitions that are often divorced from traditionally accepted art-making methods and challenge preconceived, restrictive notions of what art should or should not be.

SPIRITUAL: Alick Tipoti, Marimawa 2014, at Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery.

SPIRITUAL: Alick Tipoti, Marimawa 2014, at Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery.

The current exhibition, Gesture and Presence comes from two young artists Jacobus Capone from WA and Madison Bycroft from SA, who have come to national and international attention through their video works, sculptures, installations and performance pieces, including To Love, where Jacobus took six months to walk across Australia carrying water from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific and Madison’s Five Ways to Peel a Potato.

In this exhibition Madison combines all manner of sculptures, banners and drapes with videos of her performances with an octopus and assorted animate and inanimate objects to form an absurdist, animist theatre setting where the viewer is also participant. In the exercise yard she has created a dada drawing in space made from discarded domestic items while in one of the cells the video, Becoming Still possesses an hypnotic tranquillity.

In the main gallery, through a line of seven monitors Jacobus presents Dark Learning, a video series of performance pieces set against an arctic background of extreme beauty. In this poetic, romantic work the focus shifts from the artist himself to his position as Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer Over the Sea of Fog and then to the landscape itself, unoccupied except by the viewer.

Gesture and Presence embodies the spirit of experimentation and diversity, with all its uncertainty and unevenness that is central to the gallery’s purpose. This is a challenging, immersive event which take us on a trip through shifting visual and emotional terrain and it is rewarding to take the time needed to experience it in its entirety.

Until December 4.

Experimental fragments

Next door, in the old police station complex, Timeless Textiles gallery offers us more contemporary experimental work in Fragments from English fibre artist Susan Hotchkis. Densely embroidered and manipulated layers of vividly coloured materials are assembled to form irregularly shaped pieces that occupy a space between observation and abstraction. Until December 13.

Call of country

Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery is the last destination for a major touring exhibition from contemporary Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Straight Island artists, Saltwater Country, which has been shown in Washington, DC the Netherlands and major Australian centres over the past two years. This is a very strong exhibition from 16 artists whose individual stories and cultural viewpoints are expressed in sculptures and installation, video, performance, photomedia, drawings and paintings.

This diverse range of works from such a highly regarded group including Judy Watson, Vernon Ah Kee, Michael Cook, Fiona Foley, Daniel Boyd and Ken Thaiday Snr, (grandfather of rugby league legend Sam Thaiday) is united by the artists’ common attachment to their country of the Queensland coastline; the source of life and inspiration but also the site of initial contact with the forces of colonisation.

Also on exhibit is the first of the gallery’s Living Culture projects, which focuses on the working watercraft that have plied their trade on the lake over the centuries. This exhibition spans both cultures and time as a traditional bark canoe (recently made by the local Aboriginal community as part of its program of cultural revival) is centred among a broad range of archival material from the gallery’s collection and two sensitive installation pieces commissioned from local artists Maggie Hensel-Brown and Luke Beezley in response to stories from the Lake’s past.

Until January 29, 2017.

Lyrical link

In an energetic show at Art Systems Wickham Turning Over combines the lyrical abstract paintings of Ahn Wells with Alison Smith’s digital constructions of a planetary city and Caelli Jo Brooker’s large fabric ball. There is an unplanned collusion between the works where each is linked to the other by a common sensibility in addition to the interweaving of materials and line. Until November 27.

POWERFUL: Detail of Michael Cook's, Civilised #13 (2012).

POWERFUL: Detail of Michael Cook's, Civilised #13 (2012).