2016 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art – Magic Object

Promising to be the best year yet, the 2016 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art has certainly lived up to expectations so far. Featuring artists ranging from age 28 to 105 in numerous locations around Adelaide, I had the opportunity to explore Magic Object at the Art Gallery of South Australia. Curated by Lisa Slade who is Assistant Director, Artistic Programs, at the Art Gallery of South Australia, this exhibition really has to be seen to be believed.

Drawing inspiration from ‘Wunderkammer’ (which translates to ‘a place where a collection of curiosities and rarities is exhibited’), the space has been transformed into an array of rooms and cabinets of wonder and magic. Slade states on Adelaide Biennial’s website that ‘much of the work presented in Magic Object looks like one thing but is really another, begging the question – are artists the last magicians?’ The word magic itself leads your mind to unbelievable things, where these incredibly talented artists have created works from an unknown world.


Robyn Stacey ‘Comfort Inn Riviera, SAHMRI’

The airy and bright upper level of the Art Gallery features works by Sydney artist Robyn Stacey. This series showcases Stacey’s use of a camera obscura which allows a shaft of light to travel through the camera to create an inverted projection. These works create an alternate way of viewing various Adelaide icons, like the SAHMRI Building shown in the image above, where she has merged these icons with simple, every day places. A live camera obscura has been set up at Carrick Hill, SA for the duration of the Adelaide Biennial for those who would like to experience the merging of two worlds in real life.


Tom Moore ‘Planktonic Self’

Stepping into one of the dark rooms off the main hall, I discover incredible hand-blown glass works by Adelaide artist Tom Moore. His creations combine the simpleness of comic book illustrations with the delicate intricacies of glass wear that could be found in an antique store. While the glass sculptures successfully amuse and capture the audience, his underlying theme is that of the history of human industry through glass work, and raising awareness of the world’s environmental fate. ‘I am concerned that we have messed up huge portions of the planet and broken the weather’ states Moore. This can be seen through an almost dark sense of humour in these mini sculptures.


Hiromi Tango ‘Lizard Tail (breaking cycle)’

Meandering downstairs I stumble upon the magical and colourful creation of NSW artist Hiromi Tango. The series of photographs and installations are part of a two-year project aimed to address mental health issues in regional communities across Western Australia. The complexity of the objects makes reference to the complexity of emotions in the cabinet of our minds. Tango writes ‘what if we had the power of the lizard to separate parts of ourselves and leave them behind? Could we heal our trauma and regenerate our minds and hearts?’ Tango encourages everyone to get involved in her art form, with a creative station set up in the Art Gallery where you can create a wildly wonderful piece to take home for yourself.


Loongkoonan ‘Bush Tucker in Nyikina Country’

Next I discover the exhibition’s oldest artist: Loongkoonan. At 105 years old, Loongkoonan of Western Australia describes her journeys; ‘when I was young I footwalked all over Nyikina country. Footwalking is the proper [only] way to learn about country and remember it’. Loongkoonan’s paintings are a spiritual and knowledgeable depiction of her experiences across the country where she collected bush tucker, plants used for medicinal purposes and spinifex wax in the wet season. The works showcase such detail in a room of simplicity, where she expresses her deep spiritual understanding and knowledge of her country and the importance of maintaining and preserving it.


Glenn Barkley ‘Temple of the Worm’

In contrast Glenn Barkley has created his own WunderKammer which pays homage to the seventeenth-century Danish physician and collector Ole Worm. Each intricately handcrafted piece (including the table legs) show a worm-like surface, and all surfaces in the room display a uniform bright red. I really was in another world in this tiny, worm-like space.

DSCN2607 Nell ‘The Wake’

From one room of objects to the next, I was greeted with Nell’s art which showcases a room she has created which ‘mocks our mortality’. This installation mimics the Haniwa, a Japanese tomb ornament arranged around a burial site, which serves to both protect the dead but also drive away evil. These colourful objects create a sense of humour on a generally dark topic, as people universally can do nothing but chuckle at the terms of our own inevitable fate.


Jacqui Stockdale ‘Historia’, ‘The Souvenir’ & ‘Kelly’ in ‘The Boho’

Melbourne-based artist, Stockdale, has created a series of photographs which make reference to the tales of Ned Kelly with an object relating to a particular event or story. The use of objects is used to showcase their ability to help us recreate related, long-forgotten memories, giving them an almost magical property. I think we can all relate to the concept of an object’s power to jog our memory.


Michael Zavros ‘The Pheonix’

Moving into the space of Brisbane artist Michael Zavros, we are greeted with the lively, soft aroma of fresh flowers. However, this space is one of illusion, where Zavros creates such life-like floral paintings which leave you wondering what is real and what is fake. His inspiration lies with the fifth-century Greek fable of Zeuxis and Parrahasius, where the two artists tried to outwit each other through their skilful renderings of grapes, so lifelike that birds came to eat them. A magical concept which alludes to a blurred world of forgery and reality, this space will leave you questioning what was real and what was an illusion.


Heather B. Swann ‘Banksia Men’

Stepping into a contrasting space, Heather B Swann’s darkly-lit Banksia Men dissolves the boundaries between human and non-human while transforming into something other and not from this realm. These wearable sculptures connect textures and forms from the natural world, and hint at the villainous characters from tales by the Australian children’s author May Gibbs. This space intrigues but leaves you slightly on edge as the memories of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie battling Banksia Men lurk in the dark corners of the room.

Leaving thoroughly enchanted by the magic created at the Art Gallery of South Australia, I left with an object of my own from the 2016 Adelaide Biennial gift shop and a cabinet full of memories to go with it.

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