The National 2021: New Australian Art, until September

Thirty-nine artists from urban, regional and remote corners of Australia present an extraordinary array of commissioned works in ‘The National 2021: New Australian Art’. From across generations and diverse cultural backgrounds established, mid-career and emerging artists take centre stage across three of Sydney’s leading arts and cultural institutions. From now until September, this major survey exhibition brings the final iteration of a six-year collaborative project between the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) and Carriageworks, full circle.

Aside from the aesthetics of art as something beautiful to behold, art documents the present, which becomes the past, and looks to the possibilities of the future. Be it with hope and optimism or with deeds of warning, art can empower us with the freedom to gain a more profound understanding of the world we live in and the people in it. Across multiple fields of creative practice from painting, collage and textiles to sculpture, video and performance, the artists in ‘The National 2021’ speak out about some of the most critical tensions and complexities of our times.

Fiona Hall, EXODUST, 2021, burnt tree, rope, iron bell, LED lighting, eucalyptus sapling, birds’ nests, water-based oil on burnt book, water-based oil on burnt fabric, installation dimensions variable. Photograph: AGNSW, Felicity Jenkins. © the artist. Courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

“The third iteration offers a renewed sense of what it means to be living in Australia and despite post-truth cynicism, an optimism in the transformative value of art,” says AGNSW Co-curator Matt Cox.

“The exhibition harbours a tension between sorrow and hope. The sites of grieving in the work of Fiona Hall and Gabriella Hirst, which respond to the devastation of the bushfires and the Barka Darling River system, are buoyed by an undeniable joy and promise of alternative futures in the performative installation of Justin Shoulder,’ Cox explains.

The AGNSW also presents Regenerator (2021) by artist duo Wona Bae & Charlie Lawler. Regenerator is an installation of seven large rings of blackened charcoal, which together form a mesmeric tunnel-like structure. The fully suspended artwork is not only extraordinary in its simplistic beauty, shape and form, but also in its function as air purifier. The properties of charcoal are said to remove toxins from the air.

Adjacent to Regenerator are two of Betty Muffler and Maringka Burton’s intricately detailed paintings titled Ngangkari ngurru (Healing Country) (2020). Monumental in size, these exquisite paintings rendered in layers of bold and fine brush strokes represent Country and the ngangkari healing practices within their communities. Works by Agatha Gothe-Snape, Lisa Sammut, Benjamin Prabowo Sexton, Leyla Stevens, Phaptawan Suwannakudt, Abdulah M.I.Sayed, Alick Tipoti, James Tylor and Judy Watson, are also on view.

Lauren Berkowitz, Plastic Topographies (detail), 2020–21, installation view, The National 2021: New Australian Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, plastic bottle tops, lids, containers, plants. Photograph: Anna Kučera. © the artist. Courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

At the MCA, a striking display of meticulously crafted large-scale works invite prolonged observation. Lauren Berkowitz’s installation Plastic Topographies (2020-21) contemplates the fragility of the natural world and the impact that excessive product consumption has on the planet. Plastic bottles, bottle tops, lids and containers strung together with nylon thread cascade from the ceiling to the floor amid an unbalanced ratio of potted plant life. Like a city of skyscrapers, Berkowitz’s threads of plastic waste tower over a seemingly dense and sprawling built world below.

Further to the practice of using found materials in art making, artist Caroline Rothwell takes recycling  measures to another level. Rothwell has been making paint from the residue of fossil fuel emissions by literally scraping the pollutant from car exhausts, as well as collecting charred matter from bushfire affected areas in NSW. Alongside sculptural pieces, Rothwell presents three animations created with said fuel emissions as the medium to visualise her imagery and in turn perceptions of our relationship with the natural world.

‘The National 2021’ at the MCA includes work by artists Maree Clarke, Kate Just, Deborah Kelly, Betty Kuntiwa Pumani, Cameron Robbins, Sancintya Mohini Simpson, Sally Smart, John Wolseley, Judith Wright and Mehwish Iqbal.

Mehwish Iqbal voices her concerns for global poverty, displacement, migration, survival and the value of human life throughout her artistic practice. Assemblage of a Fragmented Landscape (2020) is an elaborate multi-panel textile work made using a range of media and techniques including watercolour, printmaking, embroidery and silver leaf on dress-makers paper. The many hours of labour that have contributed to the creation of this phenomenal artwork are testament to the artist’s compassion towards human connection in an ever-changing world.

Vernon Ah Kee, Dalisa Pigram & Marrugeku, Gudirr Gudirr, 2021, installation view ‘The National 2021: New Australian Art’, Carriageworks, Sydney. Photograph: Zan Wimberley.  © the artists, Marrugeku Inc and Felix Media Pty Ltd. Courtesy the artists, Marrugeku Inc and Felix Media Pty Ltd

Carriageworks at Eveleigh invites audiences to explore a display of works by artists A Constructed World (Geoff Lowe and Jacqueline Riva), Agatha Gothe-Snape & Andrew Burrell, Alana Hunt, Brendan Van Hek, Darren Sylvester, Isadora Vaughan, Janet Burchill & Jennifer McCamley, Karrabing Film Collective, Lorraine Connelly-Northey, Michelle Nikou, Mitch Cairns, Sarah Rodigari, and Vernon Ah Kee and Dalisa Pigram with Marrugeku.

Visual artist Vernon Ah Kee and choreographer and dancer Dalisa Pigram worked collaboratively on the creation of Gudirr Gudirr (2021), a 3-channel video and sound installation. Pigram’s choreographic style activates a unique form of storytelling that brings the traditions of Aboriginal dance and language, silat martial arts (Malaysia), the movement of animals and break dance together. Ah Kee captures the deep-felt turmoil of Aboriginal people with his creation of text on screen, which echo Pigram’s spoken words. The coming together of these two important contemporary artists results in a powerful performance that cuts deep to the core of the devastating impact of colonisation on Aboriginal people in the past, and now. Don’t miss it! * Note there is some strong language that isn’t suitable for children

Audiences can explore all of the works in the The National 2021: New Australian Art at Carriageworks until 20 June, at the Museum of Contemporary Art until 22 August and the Art Gallery of New South Wales until 5 September.