Review: Up in the Sky | Landing Points
Finding a starting point in reviewing the summer exhibition Landing Points: Race, place and identity showing at the Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest is a difficult task. This is in part due to the intent and thinking behind Landing Points, which seeks to interrogate ongoing issues relating to identity politics both here in Australia and in global post-colonial contexts. Trying to unpack race relations in one space is a mission almost impossible, not only for Landing Points, but for any exhibition.
The exhibition brings together 11 contemporary artists as a celebration of the newfound home of Tracey Moffatt’s 1997 photographic series Up in the Sky in the gallery’s collection. Co-Curators Lee-Anne Hall and Hayley Megan French seek to re-ignite Moffatt’s exploration of post-colonial relations, examining race, gender identity and place. The diverse selection of artists showcase their own landing points through their artworks. For some of the artists this is highly personal, while others are driven by passion and controversy. What I want to pay attention to here are some of the strengths of the exhibition in thinking about race and racial politics. For example, Jason Wing’s Brute Force and Cigdem Aydemir’s The Ride uses personal experience in their artworks to illustrate ongoing racial tensions.
Jason Wing’s Brute Force is a commentary of the role technology plays in racial discrimination. His video installation centres on images of himself with barcodes flashing across his face. Brute Force is inspired from his experiences marching in the 2017 Invasion Day Protest and his interactions with police who were filming. He recounts that when he asked why they were filming, he was told to “move on” and was threatened with arrest. Pointing out this violation of privacy is his critique on the ethics of surveillance, as his artwork gestures to the uncertainty of how this footage will be used and for what purposes.
Not too far from Wing’s work is Aydemir’s The Ride. This performance piece takes shape on three separate screens and originally debuted at the 2017 Proximity Festival in Adelaide. It is based on a one-on-one performance where she channels her inner James Dean from Rebel without a Cause, but unlike Dean, she is a veiled woman. The artist and participant share a simulated motorcycle ride through what looks to be ‘the country’. As the duo move through farmland, the artist’s black veil becomes transparent in the blowing wind that we are able to see trees through it in the distance. This isn’t the first time Aydemir challenges dominant gender and racial norms and it won’t be her last, as much of her artistic practice lends itself to making space for women of colour and in particular Muslim women.
Both Wing and Aydemir use their personal politics in their artworks and this is bold, deliberate and explicit. Their artworks stood out as both politically and racially charged. In comparison, many of the other pieces fell into the background, as their engagement with identity politics, especially race were either subtle or unclear. As I moved to various points of the exhibition, exploring each artwork, I was left with a lingering question: Why were these particular artists selected? This then led to follow up questions: How do their artworks speak to each other; and what are their shared interests (if any) in thinking about Moffatt’s works and more broadly, did they consult with one another about the different ways in which they think about their own identity politics? In other words, as a viewer I was left with a lingering curiosity, what is the common thread in the exhibition?
Fitting their artworks into broad categories such as race, place and identity is not necessarily difficult for each individual contributing artist, however, is there more complexity to their artistic aspirations as a collective? Perhaps this was the intent of the exhibition, to leave racial discussions open-ended. In celebrating Moffatt’s Up in the Sky and its new home, maybe Landing Points is not about definitive threads as Moffatt is not prescriptive in how she wants audiences to take up her works. And although Moffatt’s Up in the Sky allows audiences to come to their own conclusions and interpretations, she provides a context by exploring place as a set of conditions, stories and lives, and this seems missing as a whole in Landing Points.
The connections between artist Tim Johnson’s Crop Circles, a nine-panel artwork that uses cross-cultural symbols and landscapes, and Caroline Garcia’s Pon de River / Pon de Bank, a photographic installation using the act of twerking as an automatic gesture in the everyday in the Yandhai, are more difficult to conceive than the relatable political resonances of Aydemir and Wing. In leaving room for interpretation, this is where the tension lies in this exhibition, as I keep wanting to make the artworks fit into something more cohesive, I want the curators to overtly state: why these artists and why these artworks?
Before leaving the gallery for the day about to take the train back into the inner city, I sit to have a coffee in the gallery’s courtyard café. It is a beautiful warm sunny Sunday, I am surrounded by children’s birthday parties, ladies who lunch and young families. As I reflect on Landing Points, I am faced with the reality that more people are sitting and eating outside than inside taking in the artworks. I wonder if they are aware of what is just behind them in the main gallery or around the corner – past the reception – where Moffatt’s work lives. Do they know about the racial dialogues taking place, the histories of land dispossession and environmental degradation stemming from a colonial legacy? Will they take the time to explore some uncomfortable truths and narratives?
Up in the Sky | Landing Points is Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest’s Summer Exhibition Suite. Landing Points is pitched as “contemporary artists respond[ing] to Tracey Moffatt’s 1997 photographic series Up in the Sky”. Landing Points features Tim Johnson, Jason Wing, Alana Hunt, Caroline Garcia, Victoria Garcia, Carla Liesch, Nicole Monks with Luke Butterly, Mark Shorter, Cigdem Aydemir, Hayley Megan French and Joan Ross. Both exhibition will run 2 December 2017 – 4 March 2018.