Heartland: a fresh look at South Australia

Jun 21, 2013

The curators of new exhibition Heartland didn’t set out to reconfigure the genre of landscape but rather to “make a show about us, about South Australia”, says Lisa Slade.

She and co-curator Nici Cumpston travelled the length and breadth of the state – from the desert to the ocean – to source fresh works for the Art Gallery of South Australia exhibition, which opens today. The resulting art ranges from canvases and sculptures by artists from the APY Lands, to photography, painting, drawing and large-scale installations.

“Some of the work’s political; some of it’s highly personal,” Slade says of the diversity of work by 45 artists from a broad range of cultural backgrounds.

“I think it’s about artists reflecting on where they are, on who they are and what place means to them.

“We’re hoping that it has the same impact on the audience so they start thinking about their connection to place.”

The first work that greets visitors to the exhibition is Artificial Kingdom by Chris de Rosa, who has photographed, printed and manipulated sea sponges to create lacework in a large, colourful, marine-inspired installation which reflects both her Italian heritage and her love of the ocean.

Another installation, James Darling and Lesley Forwood’s River to Ocean, depicts the lower reaches of the River Murray and its exit to the ocean. It incorporates 3.5 tonnes of mallee root as well as salt, which represents the desalination of the Murray, and is accompanied by a soundtrack of the sea.

“They want to draw our attention and educate us with regard to the delicacy, the fragility and the importance of the biggest river in the country,” Slade says of the work.

At the centre of Heartland are works by Tjala Arts artists from Amata in the APY Lands, including figurative sculptures made from tjanpi (spinifex) and found materials, and large vibrant canvases.

The photographic element of the exhibition captures both the urban and country landscape and identity of South Australia, and includes Kate Breakey’s large, hand-coloured images of the starkly beautiful natural environment in places such as Port Augusta, Kangaroo Island and Coffin Bay. A collection of smaller black and white prints by Ian North were taken between 1973 and 1978, while he was working at the gallery as a curator, but printed for the first time for Heartland.

“They capture something distinctly South Australian during this period,” Slade says.

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Other works include oil paintings by Stewart MacFarlane depicting landscapes and life in the Flinders Ranges; sculptural and multi-media work by Angela Valamanesh and Hossein Valamanesh and son Nassiem (including a tree hung upside-down and whirling, hypnotically, in space) and incredibly finely detailed figure drawings by Kim Buck.

Ultimately, Slade says, the title Heartland perfectly embraces the diversity of ideas and art within the exhibition.

“The fact that the word ‘land’ ended up in it is great, because it means we can explore that tenet, but the word ‘art’ is also in it, and the word ‘heart’ is in it and the word ‘hear’ is also in it, so to us it just seemed like a brilliant way of bringing together all those suggestive possibilities.”

Heartland is in Gallery 25 at the Art Gallery of South Australia until September 8.

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