The winning video work of the South Australian Museum’s Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize exemplifies the evolution of the streamlined biennial prize.
Canberra artist Erica Seccombe’s video work Metamorphosis was unanimously chosen by the judges as the winner of the 2018 Waterhouse Prize. The Canberra artist’s piece is not only the first video work to win the Waterhouse but is the result of cutting edge science and technology. Museum director Brian Oldman says Metamorphosis encapsulates the Waterhouse Prize.
“The work is actually leading-edge science, which is being used to create art,” Oldman says. “What it allows us to see is the mystery of metamorphosis; when something goes from the pupil stage to the chrysalis stage and emerges as the final insect, which all goes on within the case. You can now see this happen through a time-lapse of about six minutes, you can see that whole process. This is where science and art comes together, which is what the Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize is all about.”
The Waterhouse moved from an annual to a biennial in 2016, as a streamlined prize featuring two major awards and a first prize purse of $30,000. These changes allowed a wider breadth of entries, including video.
“You can now enter any media with the exception of photography, because we have the photography prize [Australian Geographic Natural Photographic of the Year],” Oldman says. “This allowed video to come in for the first time. If we hadn’t had made those changes, Metamorphosis could never have been submitted and never could have won.”
Another Canberra artist, Hayley Lander, won the emerging prize with her work The Great Forgetting. The Waterhouse is on show with 84 works at the museum until Sunday, August 5.
Visitors to the museum will also be able to vote for their favourite work in the People’s Choice Dr Wendy Wickes Memoriam Prize of $5000, while a Scientists’ Choice Award of $5000 will also be awarded as part of the now biennial exhibition and prize.
Open Category Winner: Erica Seccombe, Metamorphosis
The Waterhouse judges said Metamorphosis takes as its “foundation the ordinarily unseen intersection between science and art”. Does this intersection appeal to you as an artist?
This topic is very appealing to me. For a long time now I’ve been exploring how science and art inform each other and create new knowledge, particularly through the investigation of frontier visualisation technologies that allow us to see the invisible. Even before I started working with Micro-CT I have explored science and technology. My undergraduate training as printmaker directed me to question the use of emerging computational technologies and their potential for art. This line of questioning continues to direct my interdisciplinary practice-led research projects. Being embedded with scientific researchers has really opened up my world perspective, and it has made me ask questions about how we understand what it is to be in the world. I don’t see a division between art and science, because each discipline asks equally valid questions, and both are driven by the power of human imagination, creativity and foresight. They just have different outcomes. Therefore, it is very exciting when art, science and technology come together.
You’ve now won the Paramor Art and Innovation Prize and the Waterhouse. Are these the two Australian-based prizes that are closest to your heart?
Yes, they are close to my heart and that is actually an interesting way to think about them. Both have supported my work that results from 4D micro-X-ray computed tomography – or Micro-CT for short. The Paramor Art prize is held in the memory of Wendy Paramor (1938-1975) who was a very gifted and innovative Australian artist. To be a female artist working in an interdisciplinary field it was an honour to win this prize. It was also held at the Casula Powerhouse so the first two exhibitions so far have been very fresh, edgy and interesting and I’m looking forward to the next one. The Waterhouse Art Prize has been running for much longer so it is one of those amazing institutions, and I’ve been following it for many years wondering if I should even enter. It was just so great that they decided to change the entry conditions and as a result this is the first video work that has ever won.
What was it about this transformative stage of life that connected with you?
That transformative stage between the grub and insect is the perfect metaphor for human curiosity and wonder when we pause to reflect the mystery of life itself. But finding out how it actually happens doesn’t make it any less mysterious. It is a mistake to think that a romantic or spiritual notion of mystery is destroyed by the hard facts of science, because science creates greater experiences of awe through knowledge.
Emerging Artist Category Winner: Hayley Lander, The art of forgetting
Was this an unexpected win?
Very much so. It’s been a dream of mine to enter for a few years now. It was something I was aspiring to get into, and then hearing I won the emerging artist prize was a shock. I still haven’t quite believed it. It’s just starting to sink in.
Was this the first time you entered?
It is. I hadn’t had a painting I felt was quite ready to come into this prize, it’s such a strong exhibition and each one always has a beautiful theme and it’s really eloquent. I finally felt this year I hit a point in my practice where I could actually have something that spoke clearly about my ideas and I was really proud of it as well. So, I was happy to enter this year and was so excited to see it on the wall.
The painting shows eucalyptus at varying states of decay. Are you commenting of Australia as a whole or is it more about the ecosystem?
It is about the ecosystem. That’s my particular interest but I’m always open to interpretation. Eucalyptus is quite loaded. It’s so important to our history and our cultural identity as well, so there’s always going to be embedded stories and narratives with eucalyptus. Personally, it’s more about an ecological interest, as the decay and slow drying of the species changing over time was perfect for me to talk about the tipping points we’ve reached and are going over.
July Issue Cover: Jan Howlin, Core Blimey
In the artist statement you say the title Core Blimey is both an exclamation and a protest. Is this mainly in reference to humans’ consumption of natural resources? Or is it more than that?
The title largely refers to the scale of human consumption of natural resources, which, with a blithely expanding population on a finite planet, cannot go on indefinitely. For me, the work is also an image of the kind of thing we usually throw away without thinking, so the idea of waste is in there too. These are the areas of protest.
Can you tell me a little about the unnatural size and colour of the apple, and how this relates to scientific and technological responsibilities?
An apple that’s genetically engineered to be as big as a pumpkin could be a possibility. Perhaps we can save the world with it? Or at least save us from living on insects or maggot-meat or pills? The more we know the more we are able to manipulate the natural world, but how will we ever be able to do the ‘right’ thing? Questions and more questions.
Is Core Blimey part of a series and/or does it represent a development in your practice?
I usually do work in series, although the ideas that form the basis of each series are often discrete and diverse. I have at times addressed issues of conservation and the challenges of the environment. This work is the only one of its kind, so not part of a series, but a big blue banana could well be in the pipeline.
Anything else you’d like to add about your work?
Most of us love apples, but apart from the pleasure of eating them, the apple is a symbol that’s jam-packed with meaning – with different kinds of religious, cultural, historical and contemporary significance all round the world. I love the layering of all that significance.
The challenge was to find a way to make this apple mine, to carry my thoughts. When I showed it to people they really liked it: ‘It’s a big blue apple!’ they said. They didn’t at all think what I think about it. But that’s fine.
I like to make works that have a beauty about them, and humour, often, but it’s important that there’s an underlying meaning or intent. I always want to invest a lot of thought, feeling and care into a piece, because as a ceramic object, even if it ends up in pieces, it will be around for a long time.
Datsun Tran, We are red in tooth and claw
The work was inspired by a visit to the Catacombs of Paris and is a response to the Tennyson poem, In Memorium AHH. What was it about the line ‘nature, red in tooth and claw’ that spoke to you?
When I visited the Catacombs with my wife Callie on our honeymoon, the first thing that struck me was the scale of it all. To be among the remains of so many who have come before, I really felt the weight of time surrounding me. The line ‘nature, red in tooth and claw’ from Tennyson’s poem was reinforced, evidenced right in front of me. I wanted to give the viewer the same feeling. Unfortunately, there are size restrictions or else I would’ve made the work two or three times larger!
This piece acts as memorial to species past and present that humans have impacted. Did the visit to the Catacombs reinforce that humans are part of the animal world and this is something we’ve forgotten?
Our modern, everyday life is pretty removed and insulated from the way humans have lived for most of our existence. Part of my art practice has always been about how we, as a species, are not separate from nature. And to exist is to take the place of something else; it always has been and always will be.
Is We are red in tooth and claw part of a series or represent a new stage in your career?
My favourite part about being an artist is the exploration of it all. I don’t feel any part of my practice precludes me from exploring work that may not look like my ‘style’. I like to think that I’d choose the medium that best communicates the idea or narrative.
Anything else you’d like to add?
There’s also a reason why I chose to do 81 panels to make up this piece. When I was little, my dad talked about the Tao Te Ching, a Taoist text which was a guide for rulers. It’s supposed to explain life and consisted of 81 chapters. This work is what I know about life.
Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize
South Australian Museum
Until Sunday, August 5
The Adelaide Review is a media partner of the Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize