Heysen Sculpture Biennial: Shaped by nature

For the first time since the inaugural Heysen Sculpture Biennial (HSB) of 2000, the project has a curator.

Stephanie Radok brings to the task of curating the 2019 HSB a wealth of experience – over 30 years’ practice as an artist, curator and writer. Extensive travel and looking at art within Australia and beyond and critical writing has informed Radok’s knowledge and understanding of art within the public domain. The HSB has been well-served by a committee structure but the commitment to a curated biennial is a good move. It sends out the right message to artists and wider communities that it is aspirational. The authority experienced curators like Radok bring to the table encourages artists to be bold in their thinking and execution. Boldness is critical in terms of the HSB’s performance. Making and siting art within expansive and largely natural landscape sites is not for the fainthearted or inexperienced. In forming a position from which to orchestrate the 2019 HSB, Radok considered the challenges and potential of getting up close and personal with place.

“Looking at sculpture in a landscape is very different to seeing it in a gallery,” Radok says. “Placing artworks in an environment can foster a deeper engagement through witnessing relationships and echoes between art and nature. If we can begin to see that the lives of the trees that dwell around us are as important as our own, then we will be getting somewhere.”

Artists were invited to reflect on the theme of ‘Dwelling’ when formulating proposals. The scope is wide: dwelling as shelter; dwelling in a space be it a room, a tent or under a tree; living in a city such as Adelaide with its layered histories; or dwelling as an act of reflection on a particular aspect or thought. The Heysen family home and property, The Cedars, offers more specific points of reflection and response, as does Heysen’s concern for the environment. In this context, it is not surprising that a good number of artists have been attracted to the idea of making some statement about relationships with nature. Experience of such art in previous HSBs and similar projects shows that it is never enough to have a worthy idea or passion for causes. Unless the finished items work as art, no amount of text can save it from oblivion.

Globulous with studio dog, Quentin Gore, 2019 (Photo: Quentin Gore)

This year’s cohort of artists have certainly caught the fire and it will be interesting to see if curatorial frameworks will guarantee exceptional rather than dutiful art. There are 24 artists: Karl Chilcott (Sweden), Geraldo Zamproni (Brazil) and South Australian artists David Atkins, Quentin Gore, Ian Hamilton, Greg Johns, Barry Lincoln, Rebecca Lloyd, Stephen Lloyd, Phillip McGillivray-Tory, Karl Meyer, Tis Milner- Nichols, Astra Parker, Ron Rowe, Mary Ann Santin, Deborah Sleeman, Jojo Spook, Evette Sunset, Peter Syndicas, Tim Thomson, Westley Tully, Nicholas Uhlmann, Clancy Warner and Lorry Wedding-Marchioro.

The 2019 HSB is operating in literally an expanded field. Sites are extended beyond previous boundaries. With the massive trees that overshadowed the studio now cleared, the topography of the valley has been laid open. With this approach, more expansive sight lines for approaching a number of works. The advantage of this is already apparent in the instalment of Karl Chilcott’s The Golden Gum, a gold foil-covered fallen tree that shines like an insistent beacon in a small stand of trees. A number of kangaroos are gathered around it as I approach. Chilcott speaks of his approach as “treading lightly”.

His Gum is in good company. The best vantage point to see this work is on a slope within a copse of saplings. Evette Sunset has installed her work, As Within, So Without, in this place. It consists of several ground-sited structures composed of interwoven branches. The boat/cradle-like forms express the artist’s concerns of nurturing and protection. Within such sentiments, echoed by other HSB artists, hopes, fears, imaginings and emotions race ahead of the actual artwork in a tangle of text. Better to set this material to one side on first encounter and let the forms speak directly to the imagination.

The boat character of these shapes suggests the idea of coming ashore, perhaps Chilcott’s Golden Gum is the el Dorado that lured explorers down under. Hans Heysen certainly realised this when on his return from studies in Europe in 1904. He couldn’t wait to commune with the sun’s golden light and the opalescent tints of his mighty gums. A sense of radiant light lies at the heart of different work sited nearby, Globulous by Quentin Gore.

Like many of the sculptural forms Gore creates, this work is inspired by nature, in this case the globulous flower forms of the pin-cushion hakea plant, Hakea laurina, found throughout the Adelaide Hills and at The Cedars. It is interesting to note that the artist likes that “the work can also be read as an atomic form. I’m interested in this change of scale and the macro– micro view”. Herein lies the potential for works in this year’s Biennial to command attention by virtue of the form, scale, materiality and siting, then share a secret or two about nature – including the one we like to call ‘human’.

Heysen Sculpture Biennial
68 Heysen Road, Hahndorf
heysensculpturebiennial.com.au

The Cedars will have restricted access hours during the Adelaide Festival period. Exhibition visitors are able to visit the 2019 HSB during the dates/ hours below:

Tuesday, February 26 to Saturday, March 16 (Tuesdays to Saturdays: 10am to 1pm, Sundays: 10am to 4.30pm) Sunday, March 17 to Tuesday, April 30 (Tuesdays to Sundays: 10am to 4.30pm)

Header image:
As Within, So Without, Evette Sunset, 2019 (Photo: John Neylon)

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