‘Space YZ’ at Campbelltown Arts Centre

‘Space YZ’ at Campbelltown Arts Centre is a celebratory exhibition reflecting on the creative legacy of Western Sydney University’s (WSU) visual arts program, and the gallery Space YZ established at the Kingswood campus in 1992. Formerly known as the University of Western Sydney (UWS), between 1986 and 2009 the institution’s faculty of arts provided a learning platform, which fostered critical thinking and encouraged its intake of visual arts students to engage in experimental and risk-taking practices across a range of media.

Commissioned by Campbelltown Arts Centre and curated by UWS alumni Daniel Mudie Cunningham, ‘Space YZ’ brings together a collection of significant early works by 88 Visual Arts and Electronic Arts alumni, which were made during their undergraduate studies or within two years of graduating from UWS. ‘Space YZ’ features work by a number of renowned artists including Brook Andrew, Liam Benson, Raquel Ormella, Savanhdary Vongpoothorn and Justene Williams, to name only a few.

Michael Lindeman's artwork Thong on Wheels. On view in the exhibition  'Space YZ' at Campbelltown Arts Centre
Michael Lindeman, Thong on Wheels, 1998, rubber thong, castors, various dimensions. Photograph: Kirsty Francis. Courtesy the artist

A specially designed website spaceyz.com.au invites audiences to explore more intimately the experiences of UWS student-artists and other key players involved in UWS at that time, and includes insights from former academics and special industry guests.

The digital platform is host to a compendium of commissioned written works, photographs, archival material and artist reflections telling of the trials and tribulations of those art school days, and the impact the journey has had on their lives and artistic careers. From this platform you can read individual artist profiles in the Yearbook, set your eyes on Graduation exhibition catalogues from 1986-2009, and find out about the UWS Foundation Studies, which was the first-year studio curriculum taught from 1985-2008. Linked barcodes next to each of the works in the exhibition lead viewers directly to the artists page on the Space YZ website. New material will be loaded onto the site as the show progresses.

Exhibition highlights: A cacophony of sound rings out at the entrance to the exhibition from electronic artist Emily Morandini’s Wall of Sound (2004/2020). Moving through the gallery Ana Carter’s quilt-like collage titled Which – an overlay to my obsession (2006-2007) constructed of polaroid photographs intricately stitched and woven together using acrylic wool emote sentimental evocations of memory and connection. Brooke Andrew exhibits two large-scale works White word I (1993) and Naraga Yarmble, Bungle-gara-gara (1993/2021), while Justene Williams presents a series of Type C photographs each titled Bunny Boy (1995), which she notes were made “a long time ago when I was in love with an artist.”

Artist, writer and filmmaker Ben Denham’s video work entitled Rewriting Series (2002-2007), draws on his interest in “the performance of writing and its relationship to the body.” Denham designs and creates drawing machines as the medium to investigate and mark his creative explorations. In the work Pulling Strings (2005) we see Denham suspended a few inches off the ground like a marionette puppet on strings. Wired to a main mechanism the artist synchronizes the movement of his arms and legs in an attempt to write two different letters at the same time on a large-scale canvas.

Michael Lindeman presents works, which he declares aim “to invite an absurd dialogue with the viewer”, and they do. You can’t help but smile at Lindeman’s fun sense of humour tied up in the retro aesthetics of second-hand objects. The artist’s curious inventions include a walking stick on a wheel, a three-legged chair with a safety seatbelt, a rubber thong on wheels (my favourite), a floral shopping trolley fitted with its own steering wheel lock, and a psychedelic patterned bean bag sporting a Dragster wheel.

Jemima Alexis Aitchison's artwork I Made it. On view in the exhibition 'Space YZ' at Campbelltown Arts Centre
Jemima Alexis Aitchison, I Made It, 2009, wool, nylon, cotton, ink. Photograph: Kirsty Francis. Courtesy the artist

Artist Jemima Alexis Aitchison’s textile work I Made It (2009) was created in the final and tumultuous year at UWS, and was part of an installation that included video and sculpture, which she exhibited in the final grad show at Carriageworks. Reflecting on her UWS experience Aitchison says, “Being at UWS at the end of an era taught so much about resilience and creativity. We can make magic even when the world is falling down around us.”

“Space YZ is a time capsule that reinserts a potentially forgotten narrative into an art history of the recent past. It is a timely and urgent reminder of the vital role art schools play in the formation of our cultural landscape and what can be achieved, individually and collectively,” says Cunningham.

“Against the backdrop of the current moment, this project is a pressing reminder of the importance of, not just of art schools, but the entire humanities. By taking stock of what was achieved during a compressed period in Western Sydney, Space YZ emphasises what we must fight to retain and protect in the present.”

‘Space YZ’ is on view at Campbelltown Arts Centre until 14 March. The gallery is open daily from 10am to 4pm. Check it out!