Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)
19 Aug 2010 to 31 Oct 2010
The Artist as Family (Patrick Jones, Meg Ulman and Zephyr Ogden Jones), Badger Bates, Lauren Berkowitz, Diego Bonetto, Andrea Bowers, Dadang Christanto, Bob Connolly, Georgia Curry, Lorraine Connelly-Northey, Nici Cumpston, Peter Dombrovskis, Bonita Ely, Euraba Artists & Papermakers, Dan Allende (Futurefarmers), Jeanne Van Heeswijk, Lucas Ihlein, Lyndal Jones, Yvonne Koolmatrie, Janet Laurence, David Mackenzie, James Newitt, Mavis Ngallametta, Susan Norrie, Raquel Ormella, Cecilia Peter, Frank Petero, Catherine Rogers, Paul Sixta, David Stephenson, Joni Taylor, theweathergroup_u, Angela 'Mahnah’ Torenbeek, Olegas Truchanas, Tessa Zettel & Karl Kohe
In the Balance: Art for a Changing World surveyed the work of over thirty artists and collectives who were engaged with pressing environmental issues and debates. The majority of artists featured in the exhibition were Australian; their work was contextualised and expanded through the inclusion of international participants whose works resonated strongly with local concerns.
The exhibition was divided into four loose thematic groupings. It addressed a history of art and environmental activism from the 1960s onwards in Tasmania: the logging of ancient forests, the damming of the Franklin River and the flooding of Lake Pedder. The elegiac slide shows and photographs of Olegas Truchanas and Peter Dombrovskis were presented alongside a younger generation of artists’ works, which explored a rapidly changing landscape and the tensions between different community groups such as loggers and protestors. Second, the exhibition considered the current state of mainland Australian waterways with a focus on the Murray Darling River system. It traced a visual journey from the northernmost part of the Darling over the Queensland border, downwards to South Australia, acknowledging the practices of various artists along the way. Indigenous life on the Murray formed a key aspect of this exploration and questions of survival and change were considered. Art works ranged from Yvonne Koolmatrie’s fish and eel traps, woven from Murray sedge rushes, to Nici Cumpston’s hand-coloured photographs depicting the cultural and environmental damage done to Lake Bonney through water mismanagement.
A further aspect of the exhibition focused on human industry and how mining practices (uranium, oil and gas) impact on our environment, as agents for change and as catalysts for catastrophe. Artists’ collective theweathergroup_U explored uranium mining and traditional land ownership in the area surrounding Kakadu, in the Northern Territory; and Susan Norrie and David Mackenzie’s film installation focused on Sidoarjo, East Java and the unstoppable, toxic mudslide precipitated by oil and gas drilling there in 2006. The impact of oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Circle was further explored by American artist Andrea Bowers in relation to the Gwich’in First Nations community in Alaska. Global warming and sustainability in a rapidly changing world were themes addressed in this work and they continue to have strong meaning for Australia today.
In the Balance also looked at positive outcomes, and the things that artists and the wider community can do to enable change for good. It considered recycling practices and involved voluntary participants in a range of art-making activities. They included a live performance on the MCA forecourt with Indonesian artist Dadang Christanto to commemorate the Sidoarjo survivors on the closing weekend of the exhibition; community volunteers and school children growing seedlings for Lauren Berkowitz’s installation of edible and medicinal plants from New South Wales, pre and post European contact; and educational walking tours led by Joni Taylor in Sydney’s CBD in search of the ways that humans, architecture and wildlife interact in the contemporary urban environment.
Plants formed an integral aspect of the exhibition, from on-site installations to an off-site community garden in Surry Hills by the Artist as Family for producing food, to Diego Bonetto’s focus on ‘spontaneous flora’ (or weeds) in Sydney’s public parks and their unexpected histories and uses. Bonetto’s glass terrariums housing soil from five local parks were dotted though the exhibition, each with its own weedy micro-habitat and visitors were invited to befriend the weeds through Facebook.