The MCA’s ‘Tatsuo Miyjamia: Connect with Everything’ exhibition

Whether lying on your back and looking up into the deep red neon haze of ‘Arrow of Time (Unfinished Life)’ or surrounded by the chilly beauty of ‘Mega Death’, the works of Tatsuo Miyajima are deeply immersive, drenching everyone in their proximity in light. Epic in scale and engaged with the grandest of ideas, his is a thematically unified and stylishly recursive body of work.

One of the major names in contemporary Japanese art, Miyajima’s work has been exhibited over 300 times, but the Museum of Contemporary Art’s summer blockbuster ‘Connect with Everything’ is his first major solo retrospective in Australia. Visitors will find all the key room-scale installations and LED-based sculptures from across his remarkable career.

They’re visually spectacular, but also steeped in deep melancholy. A recurring motif in Miyajima’s work are displays of scattered numbers counting down from 9 to 1, then cycling through the process again, creating a kind of infinite loop of life, death and rebirth.

Speaking through an interpreter, Miyajima says the countdown ties in with his Buddhist beliefs. “In Buddhist philosophy, we’re born, we live, we die, but then we come back, so there’s a cyclical nature to that journey”.

Growing up in postwar Japan, he was surrounded by childhood mortality (including his own serious illness) and the legacy of nuclear destruction, both of which informed his work. “I actually despaired for humanity at times” he says. “But it’s a Buddhist thing to fight that evil, that utter darkness within us”.

Rachel Kent, the Chief Curator at the MCA and the curator of this exhibition, says Miyajima’s installations are fascinating partly for how they deal with death without ever becoming maudlin. “There’s a wonderfully redemptive quality,” she says. “There’s a sense that life eventually resumes again.”

It’s very much a passion project for Kent, who says her initial exposure to Miyajima’s work, back at London’s Hayward gallery in 1997, was a hugely memorable one. “I was in the early stages of my career as a curator… and it was a beautiful big exhibition and it just made this incredible impact on me,” she explains. “It stayed with me for years. I can still remember different parts of that exhibition today.”

She reconnected with Miyajima’s practice for the MCA’s 2012 exhibition ‘Marking Time’, introducing him to Sydney audiences and paving the way for future collaborations. “That (exhibition) was all about how artists mark the passage of time so Tatsuo was obviously central to my thinking, and it was a good way of starting a conversation towards a major retrospective of his work, ” she says. This current exhibition is the culmination of more than three years work and feverish planning.

The ambitious and technologically based nature of the work made for huge logistical challenges, Kent says. “There’s been an enormous amount of construction (for the exhibition), we’ve pretty well had to rebuild parts of the gallery, knock down walls, drop ceilings.” Some 9 tonnes of coal were shipped in for ‘Counter Coal’, while installing ‘100 Time Lotus’necessitated bringing in some 6,500 gallons of water as well as live fish and lotuses.

The huge undertaking has produced a fascinating exhibition which feels both futuristic in its tangles of electric wires and microcomputers, and in thrall to the past, having a strong memorial aspect. It’s a collection that bridges technology and humanism, and you won’t be able to look away for a second.


‘Tatsuo Miyajima: Connect With Everything’ will be showing at the Museum of Contemporary Art from 3 November 2016- 5 March 2017. Book tickets here.

Art Review – Wangechi Mutu @ Museum of Contemporary Art, 2013

It would be easy to breeze through this collection, which takes in collages, installations, short films and sculpture and simply be stunned into submission by her Wangechi Mutu’s maximalist aesthetic and singular style. Look closer though and there’s a strong vein of political commentary in Mutu’s work and a sense of lingering disquiet beneath the shiny veneers.

Born in Kenya, and based in the thriving contemporary art scene of Brooklyn, Mutu has compiled a completely distinctive body of work which focuses on the themes of exoticism, representations of the female body and the bloody legacy of colonialism and slavery in Africa.

The stunning large-scale Perhaps The Moon Will Save Us is a good representation of her modus operandi, being a fantastical creation which closer inspection reveals is made of mundane materials. What initially looks like scattered stars are mere holes smashed in the wall, while a sagging moon hangs over mountains made from packing tape and a makeshift fantasia of fake fur, thrift shop jewellery and ripped felt blankets.

One of Mutu’s many works to draw on African influences is Black Thrones where handsomely carved chairs sit atop empty thrones lavishly decorated with feathers, hair and horns. It’s a piece grounded both in realism and fantasy. The striking visuals have a certain fairy tale quality, but also act as a reference to the hush harbours, where African slaves would gather out of sight of their imperial overseers to congregate, practice religion and sing. The piece also touches the idea of loss in its invocation of absent royalty, a theme which runs through much of Mutu’s work.

Enclosed in a shipping container where light pierces holes in the wall, Exhuming Gluttony: Another Requiem is another visually striking, but somewhat queasy, installation where a collection of animal pelts hangs on the wall like a hunting trophy, looking out over a banquet table and a series of suspended red wine bottles which drip slowly, like blood from a wound. There is a sense the scene has been abandoned, while the tufts of hair on the floor add a gruesome touch.

Mutu is perhaps best known for her mixed media collages, and this side of her work is well represented with a number of works showcased. Feathers, plastic jewellery and explosions of glitter jostle for position with pictures of snakes, and images cut from motorbike magazines. Another highlight is Suspended Playtime, which features shiny black garbage bags rolled up into hanging baubles, in a work both sinister and playful.

The hour-long looped film Amazing Grace, which features the famous spiritual sung in Mutu’s nativeKikuyu, has a bewitching, dreamlike quality, though many of the other short films feel anonymous among such distinctive work. Overall, though, it’s a vital exhibition, from an artist literally capable of fashioning treasures out of trash and creating sobering political rhetoric out of the most abstract of mixed media collages.

Originally appeared in: Concrete Playground

Art review – Richard Kean: Aural Labirynth at Articulate (2012)

A ubiquitous feature at most art exhibitions is some variation on the ‘DO NOT TOUCH THE ART’ sign; a surly security guard, a cordon subtly but firmly separating audience from artist, a general feeling that chin-stroking contemplation and a safe distance from the work is expected. Richard Kean’s new installation ‘Aural Labyrinth’ flips the script on these norms and instead directly encourages and almost demands participation from those who visit.

This new piece consists of a series of acoustic strings, stretching out stretch out along the walls and vaulting to the ceilings of the 300 cubic metre room. Sounds are made when people touch the strings, which are affixed to the space with objects roughly approximating the frets of a guitar. The transformation of the room into a giant instrument is not merely a vessel for the interactivity but allows the piece to also function as a large scale, minimalist, visually striking response to the grey walls, wooden pillars and exposed beams of the space.

The setup means strangers can become instant collaborators and co-conspirators in a fun, messy, musical melange. One of the real pleasures of the installation is watching the looks on people’s faces as they react and reply, often with surprise and laughter, to the discordant musical interjections of those around them. The artist himself does perform on the installation, and proved a surprisingly accomplished practitioner of this most unlikely of instruments, but generally the work becomes a kind of toy instrument cacophony as multiple people pluck strings and have the sounds overlap and reverberate around the space.

Kean is a Sydney-based artist whose previous works have focused on the interplay between space and sound, and here he has come up with a work of real playfulness. This seems inspired in roughly equal measures by heavy art theory on the relationship between a site and the art and the artist and audience and those giant keyboards that you could walk across in toy scores as a kid. No two people experience find the work exactly the same and that’s the beauty of it. This is art you can touch, pull, pluck and play with to your heart’s content.

Originally appeared in: Concrete Playground

Art review – Marco Fusinato: The Colour of the Sky Has Melted at Artspace (2012)

Probably the only art exhibition in Sydney which comes with free ear plugs, Marco Fusinato’s The Color of the Sky Has Melted collects the best of the always challenging Fusinato’s recent work. The ear plugs are a good idea for the central work, the striking interactive installation Aetheric Plexus(2009), a somewhat ominous-looking industrial work which suddenly blasts those who dare to walk in its crosshairs with a brain-melting flash of intense light and deafening 105 decibels of white noise.

Also a noted drone noise guitarist who was collaborated with Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore, Fusinato’s interest in the extreme possibilities of music and the blurry line between extreme music and noise continues in the ongoing series Mass Black Implosion (2007-). These works see Fusinato take a score and draw lines from individual notes like light beams shooting off into the distance, making the scores look like some chaotic, mathematical diagrams.

There’s more noise in Free 1998-2004 (2012), a video series compiled over a number of years where Fusinato proves himself possibly the worst guitar shop customer of all time, turning up at unsuspecting stores and launching into high-volume noise assaults on the store guitars. This is guerilla art at once playful and wildly unpredictable, the stunt often ending with him being ejected from the store.

Free is also a useful introduction to Fusinato’s distinctive guitar style, which is more akin to attacking the instrument then playing it in any conventional way. Like much of what he does, it sees the artist refusing to accept passive engagement with his work and making the audience part of the art rather than passive receptacles.

Elsewhere there’s a striking photo print of a rioter with a rock poised reading for action, all the more disturbing for its lack of context, and a huge screenprint which is a reworking of a protest sign made by an Eastern European art collective in the 1970s. Although the collection covers a number of mediums, it is very much cohesive, tied together by an unremitting palette of black, white, and gray, an interest in revolutionary movements, and a furious intent to smash the barriers of what sound and image can do. This is one of the most intriguing and in-your-face collections of art in Sydney at the moment. It’s also almost certainly the loudest.

Originally appeared in: Concrete Playground

Art review – We Used to Talk About Love at Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2013

Taking place in a recently redesigned space in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, We Used to Talk About Love is a small but fascinating exhibition curated by Natasha Bullock. It features 11 contemporary Australian artists covering a theme that is so central to our lives yet surprisingly under-represented in the visual arts.

Love is interpreted pretty broadly here, with unexpected curatorial choices. Glenn Sloggett’s photos of unlovely suburbia include the ominous words “U R Alone” carved into a concrete footpath and a wrecked car on someone’s front lawn. Paul Knight’s photographs also tap into something subtly unsettling, depicting a series of couples and lovers in bed together. Each image is comprised of two separate halves ripped and roughly folded together, suggesting each of the pair’s overlapping but ultimately competing views of the same intimate moment.

A completely different sensibility is seen in Darren Sylvester’s prints, which have the glossy, polished look of high-end fashion mags but capture moments of vulnerability and awkward contemplation. In Your First Love Is Your Last Love a private schoolboy sits in an austere-looking house surveying a love letter, accompanied only by the incongruous remains of a half-eaten subway meal.

Also featured is Angela Mesiti’s remarkable video Rapture (Silent Anthem). A past winner of the Blake prize, it is a series of slow-motion close-ups of teenagers at a music festival. Like much of this exhibition, it focuses the viewer on something vital but rarely examined. Music festivals wouldn’t exist without passionate fans, but seeing the open-mouthed awe of devotees — completely enraptured in what they are watching — offers a compelling new visual perspective, even for the most hardened festival veteran.

Even better is Grant Stevens’ video, where words of break-ups and romantic unhappiness appear on a background of a starry night set to sentimental soundtrack music. The text is revealed slowly at first, eventually speeding up and becoming an incoherent mess of polite yet painful kiss-offs. It’s ahypnotic, strangely moving piece that works as a kind of reversal of the famous opening line of Anna Karenina, suggesting that every happy couple may be happy in their own unique way, but the sting and the fumbling, cliched language of a break-up is depressingly universal.

Originally appeared in: Concrete Playground