The monsters of our times

‘Monster Theatres’ proposes an arena of speculation, a circus of the unorthodox and the absurd, a shadow play between truth and fiction – Leigh Robb, Curator of Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA).

Polly Borland, MORPH 4, 2018, Los Angeles, archival pigment print, 200 x 162.5cm. Courtesy the artist and Murray White Room, Melbourne. © Polly Borland

AGSA is celebrating a 30-year milestone exhibition titled ‘Monster Theatres’ for the 2020 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art from 28 February to 8 June, presented as part of the Adelaide Festival.

As children we are afraid of monsters that might be lurking in the dark and we are told they are all but make-believe, fictitious characters of our mind. But as adults we can interpret monsters as something or someone that is grotesque and cruel by nature – a monstrous, real and frightening spectacle that has the power to denigrate and disempower others.

Exploring the latter, Leigh Robb leads a group of Australian artists from across a range of creative disciplines onto the stage with a showcase of performance, live art, installation, painting, photography, sculpture, textiles, film, video and sound art, which seeks to reveal the ideas and beliefs that threaten our judgements, empathy and understanding of one and other, with a particular focus on issues of race, gender, sexuality and spirituality. These are the monsters of ‘our times’.

“Monsters are always of their time. The term ‘monster’ comes from Latin – monere, ‘to warn’ and monstrare, ‘to make visible’,” notes Robb.

Karla Dickens, A Dickensian Circus, Clown nation, 2019, mixed media, 120 ×120cm. Courtesy the artist and Art Gallery of South Australia

Drawing on the curatorial themes, artists Abdul Abdullah, Mike Bianco, Polly Borland, Michael Candy, Megan Cope, Erin Coates and Anna Nazzari, Julian Day, Karla Dickens, Mikala Dwyer, Brent Harris, Aldo Iacobelli,  Pierre Mukeba, David Noonan, Mike Parr, Julia Robinson, Yhonnie Scarce, Garry Stewart and Australian Dance Theatre, Stelarc, Kynan Tan, Mark Valenzuela, Willoh S. Weiland and Judith Wright, interrogate and reveal the obscure intricacies that weigh these monsters down.

“The exhibition title hints at a double narrative which also resonates through the multiple meanings of ‘theatre’. An operating ‘theatre’ is a room in which to examine as well as heal; it is also a ‘theatre’ of war, a site of conflict where clashes between nations and ideologies play out all too frequently, but a theatre is also an arena – a social space in which to observe and be observed,” says Robb.

‘Monster Theatres’ is an invitation to explore the anxieties of our times through the horror and strangeness of the ‘monster’ and the dramatised play of the theatre. The exhibition is free to the public and is on throughout the AGSA, with site-specific presentations in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, as well as in the Santos Museum of Economic Botany and the Dead House. Visit the AGSA website here for more information.

Celebrate during Vernissage Weekend
Artist talks & Exhibition Launch: 3pm on Tuesday 3 March at the Santos Museum of Economic Botany. Here visitors can listen to artists Mike Bianco, Michael Candy, Julia Robinson and Yhonnie Scarce talk about their site-specific projects, and following this are welcome to enjoy light refreshments during the official opening. Bookings are not required.

Adelaide Festival
Adelaide Festival celebrates it’s 60-year anniversary from 28 February until 15 March with program jam-packed with music, art, theatre, dance and much more. Writer’s Week explores the theme of ‘Being Human’ through our interactions with technology, the natural world and each other, from 29 February to 5 March.

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