Art | New visions of contemporary existence | John Barnes

MESMERISING PATTERNS: Scale Free Network, A Hierarchy of Eddies 2017. Photo: Zaylee Saint-James Turner
MESMERISING PATTERNS: Scale Free Network, A Hierarchy of Eddies 2017. Photo: Zaylee Saint-James Turner

Two important exhibitions showing in Newcastle at the moment are thoroughly engaging while challenging our often restricted views as to what forms artistic expression may take.

Experimenta Make Sense: International Triennial of Media Art at the Lock Up explores the diverse use of technology and electronic media in contemporary art practice through the work of 20 international and Australian artists.

In Behind the Words, at the University of Newcastle Art Gallery, Fine Art PhD candidate Mojgan Habibi uses one of the most ancient materials, clay, in a series of contemporary installations that interrogate immediate and historic aspects of oppression in her native Iran.

SHAPE OF BREATH: Catch Your Breath 2017, by Newcastle artist Andrew Styan.

SHAPE OF BREATH: Catch Your Breath 2017, by Newcastle artist Andrew Styan.

Experimenta, which was formed in Melbourne by video and experimental film makers in 1986 has grown to become our leading media-arts organisation, forever seeking out and commissioning works from artists pursuing opportunities and possibilities in the spaces where technology, science and digital media intersect with the senses, intellect and aesthetics.

The Lock Up is the first venue to host this exhibition on its national tour and the close collaboration between the gallery curator and the Experimenta organisation is evident in the careful selection and specific placement of each work within the Lock Up’s complex of cells, yard and exhibition space.

This exhibition gives us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in new artistic realms, which are not plagued by novelty for its own sake but seek to express the contemporary condition where the acceleration of change within our lives and cultures often seems  impossible to grapple with.

Throughout the exhibition, objects, sound, movement, and light combine and intersect with each other and the participating viewer to create an expansive and inclusive environment that is full reward for the small amount of time needed to engage with each work.

Newcastle artist Andrew Styan photographs the breaths of participants to produce a slightly unnerving record of our existence, while the Scale Free Network have constructed a wind-driven, stroboscopic installation where orchestral swirls of polystyrene balls mimic the dynamic structure of galaxies and weather patterns alike.

In a complete change of pace, Queensland-based artist Robert Andrew examines his indigenous heritage over the tens of thousands of years of its existence through the creation of a mesmerising kinetic work where large stones, endlessly grind eucalyptus planks whose spot-lit grub holes spell Buru, (an all-encompassing term for ground, time and space) on the gallery floor.

This is an interactive exhibition where video, virtual reality, robotics, mechanics, electronics and computer software combine with rocks, timber and human performance to produce new visions of contemporary existence.

Until March 18.

Political text

Mojgan Habibi’s Behind the Words is the culmination of her artistic career since arriving in Australia from Iran 12 years ago. This is a very elegant show whose five inter-related installations collectively seek to reveal the importance of text as an artistic vehicle in times of severe censorship and social repression.

Behind the Words is an overtly political exhibition where stories from Persian mythology are re-positioned in a contemporary context highlighting the oppression inflicted by recent regimes.

In Kaveh the Blacksmith the artist uses an intentionally dribbly clay slip and Persian calligraphy to produce a subversive contemporary take on an ancient tale whose sense of loss and hope is confirmed by the translation.

Burning Libraries is a pile of smashed ceramic tiles, remnants of the continuous attack by iconoclasts and autocrats, destroying cities and seeking to erase cultures.

In Behind the Words, suspended, abstracted calligraphic elements in clay form a floating screen, symbolising the imprisonment of all minorities by the command of language and rule by theocratic decree.

Turquoise Paradox uses a textual arrangement of small cup-sized glazed vessels to emphasise the oppression of women while The Word in Action offers the viewer the opportunity to rearrange the words of a 13th Century Persian to form an ever changing work of near-infinite possibilities.

Until February 18.

Dr Angela Philp

The local art world is deeply saddened by the recent death of Dr Angela Philp who had guided so many Fine Art students through the trials and traumas of undergraduate and post graduate study at the University of Newcastle.

She will be greatly missed.