Submitted Review

Monster Theatres: ‘The 2020 Biennial of Australian Art’

  • Art Gallery of South Australia • Adelaide

  • —07 June 2020

  • Marielle Soni • Published 07 March 2020

The flow comes close to jarring, the discovery delightful, but you will need the map. Take the map.

Celebrating its 30th birthday the biennial extends itself out of the confines of the AGSA into the Adelaide Botanic Gardens featuring the work of 25 practitioners/collaborators across the sites. Notions of the grotesque, macabre, nightmares & monsters encapsulate perfectly the zeitgeist of our contemporary age. Thus, the visual language of disparate practices is easily translated. We get the message; we are the monsters. It’s an uncomfortable truth.

The coloured geometry of Mikala Dwyer flags the building, but you know there’s doomsday action when your entry is an invitation to lay on sick beds, or perhaps they’re waiting for us upon our exit. A forewarning that, emotionally exhausted, we might need it by then.

‘The flow comes close to jarring, the discovery delightful, but you will need the map. Take the map.’

The ground floor is dedicated to the eclectic curation of permanent collections. You’ll find Monster highlights in Julian Day’s ‘New Silesia’ video/sound/installation. Mike Parr’s live recitation endurance performance over days transforms into a series of video pieces across monitors that will build into a cacophony of indecipherable sound. We got to see Michael Candy’s ‘Cryptid’ creature, on view for the vernissage weekend only. Kynan Tan sophisticatedly investigates machine & human intelligence in Gallery 16.

Downstairs Mark Valenzuela offers an immersive site-specific installation ‘Once bitten, twice shy’, impressive materiality, a post-apocalyptic vision, or that of contemporary poverty, an outcast life on corrugated roofs. Ceramic creatures that also migrate out to the gardens.

Abdul Abdullah’s simple but effective illusory visual spoonerism is a perfect response to the curatorial invitation.  Be on alert here, you might miss Willoh S Weiland’s curtained video work off to the side, & the hidden entrance to the extraordinarily expansive Judith Wright installation in Gallery 24. Aldo Iacobelli’s paintings & sculptural work completes the split Gallery 23……continue in comments…

‘Reclining Stickman’ by Stelarc was developed with Australian Industrial Transformation Institute (AITI) at Flinders University. Stelarc has fun with his monsters, no fear here, just possibility & play, with the disconcerting noise of mechanical sighs. Attending opening weekend has its blessings including seeing the international drawcard within the contraption – melding of human & robot.

We enter the high key colour intensity of Polly Borland’s seductive monsters, twisted, bulging imagery of the physical human body. Brent Harris exposes deep psychological confessionary truths in his ‘Grotesqueries’ from 2001-09 appearing to come to personal closure in its conversation with his current work included.

Through to Mike Parr again, a room of videos – 2-3 playing at a time of previous performance work. Erin Coates & Anna Nazzari, artists from WA, exhibit in various media, but their work is not given adequate spatial consideration or perhaps vice versa. Separated & segregated, it’s a little too easy to walk past & miss the power of their subtle drawings.

Upstairs we are met with 3 familiar looking David Noonan tapestries; a fabulously noisy Julian Day & the entrance into the companion exhibition. ‘The sleep of reason produces monsters’ a small, engrossing, collection of master works by luminaries of art history. The connection of the visual macabre is apparent, but these monsters have different historical meaning. They are a compelling treat.

Karla Dickens’ ‘A Dickensian Country Show’ is a major site-specific installation of a both familiar & strange country fair. Things are not quite right. The smiles are grimaces, the madness malicious, there is no mistaking that demonic red-eyed Pauline Hanson for anything else than the maestro of clown nation.

Megan Cope’s ‘Untitled (Death Song)’ will warrant repeat visits. As it stands it is a detail of her work, the full piece includes its being played as a sound instrument. A very considered piece, of the earth.

Pierre Makuba presents two large scale companion pieces pinned to curved opposite-facing crimson walls. A young, intriguing DR Congo-born Adelaide artist who is enriching the canon of Australian art, what it is & what it can be.

David Noonan large format video completes the tour. There are performances to come (Aphids, Garry Stewart & Australian Dance Theatre). Check the AGSA website for full program details & take the map to the gardens for the full delightful treasure hunt.

Monster Theatres curated by the AGSA’s Leigh Robb is expansive & ambitious. There are lulls, there are deeply significant impacts. The intensity of emotion reflects well the monsters that are closing in on us in 2020, but there are no solutions here. We are responsible for that.

You need to go. If you have, let us know what you thought in the comments below.

Marielle Soni

Written by Marielle Soni •
‘Monster Theatres’ is on at the
Art Gallery of South Australia.
Various displays extended until 16 Aug 2020.
Photography by Marielle Soni.