SCULPTURES AT BARANGAROO
The eye-catching sculpture Kangooroo by Richard Tipping that has been used to advertise the exhibition made me laugh: the kangaroo that has jumped out of the very traffic sign that warns drivers of it. The artist plays with an old spelling of its name (kangooroo) and the Australian slang word “ooroo” for “see you later!” And so the kangaroo, so stereotypical for Australia, hops away from the iconic sign and says goodbye for a while. I would bet my last Australian dollar that this will be the most photographed exhibit of the show, especially as it is placed strategically with the Harbour Bridge as its backdrop. Who on earth could resist such an accumulation of Australian icons? The tourist in me certainly could not.
After almost three years in Australia, I do, however, have a bit of a split identity. I am a local not yet, but a tourist no longer. It therefore gave me great pleasure and (considering that there were only 14 exhibits) surprisingly many fresh insights to explore the other sculptures at Barangaroo, from other Australian sculptors, some of them Aboriginal artists, who experimented with a number of materials, themes and topics.
Michael Le Grand’s sculptures (six of them are part of the exhibition), glittering beautifully in the morning sun, play with Japanese motives and also with the contrast of the heavy weight and rigidity of their steel material and the casual and seemingly light flow of their construction.
Christopher Langton’s rather monstrous inflatable plastic shoe has as its intent to expose the plastic nature of contemporary life and our increasing malleability. Unsurprisingly, it is placed in a somewhat hidden location at Barangaroo. Maybe it is too uncomfortable for the leisurely viewer to confront this theme, or maybe this sculpture does simply not fit quite as picturesquely and neatly into its beautiful surroundings. A clash that was undoubtedly fully intended by the artist!
Elyssa Sykes-Smith invites interesting perspectives on self-reflection with her sculpture Mental Convolution, a seemingly chaotic assortment of painted timber. It invites the visitor to enter her ‘labyrinth of the mind’ and explore its structure. The various doorways and windows symbolise the possibilities that are generated by the mind. Another thought-provoking experiment.
The artworks that really touched me though and provoked rather a lot of thought were the ones that highlighted aboriginal themes and perspectives.
Tereasa Trevor’s 11 Ships are the result of a community project. The eleven masts symbolise the eleven ships of the First Fleet that arrived in Botany Bay in 1788. Their arrival meant the end for the Aboriginal culture as the original owners of the land had known it. Nonetheless, the artwork is a contribution to reconciliation, where Aboriginal artists, elders and children worked together on the themes for the masts. The artwork is beautifully placed and thoughtfully conceived.
Similarly, the Bower, a work by an arts collective calling themselves Cave Urban, is placed in a picturesque setting and plays with aboriginal themes. The structure is made from bamboo and includes a contemporary cave for meditation. The visitor is invited to sit in the cave and use it as a place for reflection while being embedded in the natural landscape of Barangaroo. Barangaroo was, of course, the companion of Bennelong, a colourful character, who gave his name to Bennelong Point where the Sydney Opera House is located.
I also enjoyed the project Terra Omnia, masterminded by Nicole Monks: a counterclaim to that of the European settlers who claimed Australia as ‘terra nullius’, no-man’s land, which – so they said – gave them the right to claim it for themselves, ignoring the up to 60,000 years of habitation that had gone before them. In the tradition of aboriginal storytelling, indigenous flowers are used to symbolise certain qualities or virtues, such as remembrance, speaking up or hope.
The Faces of Darug by Adam King are an equally thought-provoking artwork: a cave-like structure that, when you wander through it, makes you feel as if you are being watched by this Australian clan. The cut-outs have been made from the faces of real Darug people who are now scattered over different places in Australia or in some cases already deceased, and, symbolically, it brings them all together in this setting. If ever land and rights have been claimed back by the original inhabitants who have been displaced or treated unlawfully, it has never been done in a more peaceful way than in this rather mesmerising little exhibition and its display of creativity, talent and spirit of reconciliation.
7 August 2017
Today I spent a lovely and relaxing morning at Barangaroo Reserve, enjoying the outdoor exhibition of “Sculpture at Barangaroo”, a ‘spin-off’, so to speak, from the “Sculpture by the Sea” exhibition that annually entertains those who embark on the beautiful Bondi to Coogee walk. I enjoy these events immensely as they bring a fresh perspective to a familiar landscape. Some artworks have been chosen or commissioned because they blend in with their setting perfectly, others because they clash with it and confront traditional viewpoints – literally and metaphorically. And sometimes they simply provide a little bit of fun.