This year’s John Fries Award finalists come from diverse backgrounds and disciplines. Below are some questions we asked to get to know them a little better. Click on each finalist’s name to see how they responded and what they have to say about their work, the local arts scene and their Award experience thus far.
What innovation within your work are you most excited about at the moment?
At the moment, I am excited about revisiting physical constraints that I’ve used in my performance work and referenced in texts that affect the voice. I’m looking for ways to record and show them in a way that carries the same immediacy.
All my life I have been a Ngangkari (traditional healer) and over the past ten years I have been making paintings. Often when I’m working, my paintings and my Ngangkari spirit come together, into my artworks. My paintings explore different ways of mark making; I use only one colour and build up the highlights and shadows. My paintings reference my country – the APY Lands of central Australia, and they also explore my life’s story as a survivor of the Maralinga bombings.
I’m always thinking and pushing how to do this ‘Kalinykalinypa Tjukurrpa’ design. It’s all the feelings, ideas, drawings and shapes – I’m excited to find the next way for all of these things to come together. When it all comes together with the shapes and the design, that’s the way I feel happy.
A lot of my materials are ephemeral and often invisible: air, gases, pheromones, smoke, heat. I am interested in how invisible materials are physical as well as necessarily imaginative. Their materiality allows you to use your imagination to move through scale and picture their physicality on a molecular scale, a human scale, as well as a planetary scale. My latest research trajectory is looking at flames and combustion, culturally as well as physically. It is a spectacle as well as a threat; the transformation of material is physical as well as magical, and leaves no trace behind. It ‘vanishes into thin air’, as it were, through a charged performative moment that alarms as well as mesmerises.
I’m excited about the openness and flexibility of contemporary art and the conversations around it. I am beginning to engage more with other artists and practitioners who have different experiences, expertise and perspectives from my own.
In the past two years, I have been focused on extending painting to sculpture. While painting remains an independent starting point of the process that is resolved in my studio, co-responding sculptural works are largely reliant on both paintings and spaces where the final installation unfolds; thus, each project requires innovation and flexibility. Although at times challenging, this is the most exciting part of my work at the moment.
Since 2014 I have been experimenting with 16mm film, shooting on a Bolex camera and mostly hand processing. Analogue film is not always affordable or practical but I have really enjoyed having this material aspect to my practice. The limitations of the wind-up camera and photochemical process has taught me a lot about the performativity of recording images, and I am now approaching digital processes in a similar way.
For me, exploration and testing is embedded within the process of making work. So each new work is always a challenge in trying to arrive at some point that you can step away. At the moment, my practice has been intertwined with a doctoral research project – it has been interesting for me to think of my practice as mapping out a research question, as well as a way of engaging with research fields outside of the arts, such as social geography and transculturation.
The focus of my video works is on the materiality and tactility of the objects they animate, attempting to break down the physical barrier between the viewer and the intangible otherworld of time and space.
Lately I have become interested in moving my sonic explorations beyond the relatively controlled conditions of architectural structures, such as galleries, and working in more open environments where the range of material and energetic variables are vast and unpredictable. What excites me about working in site specific contexts is the creative potential of exploring the idiosyncrasies of ‘place’ and the range of dynamic qualities and forces at play.
My paintings are a way for me to see my dreams in real life.
I am excited about convergences between compositional strategies in painting, spatial arrangements in installation and choreographic patterns in performance. I am interested in experimenting with abstraction at the boundaries of disciplines, to explore how movement of bodies can be expressed and felt by audiences.
How do you see your practice within the context of the contemporary arts scene in Australia and New Zealand at the moment?
I’ve been thinking about a recent conversation between a few friends that showed what I thought was a generational divide. One who was a little older was lamenting the use of the word ‘earnest’ as a disparagement – which, for the rest of us, seemed absurd. I think for a lot of artists that I respect, earnestness is so important.
It is fantastic that more Indigenous artists are supported within the contemporary art scene today. I was born in the bush and didn’t meet white people until the missionaries helped us escape from the bombs. I have a history, culture, and art practice that is my own, and I am very happy and excited to be able to share this with the broader public.
I’m a contemporary artist. When I visit galleries in big cities and look at the paintings there I can see that my work is different, like them. When I look around the studio in Papunya I can see my work is unique to my process and my story. It’s an important story that I tell and it’s important to tell this story in a contemporary context, because ‘Kalinykalinypa’ is relevant today. I’m telling this story now for myself and my grandchildren.
It’s important for me to pass these stories down to children. I am always teaching kids; my grandchildren, including my grandson, are always learning from my paintings.
I consider myself a conceptual artist who attempts to reconcile vast, lofty ideas with the practical actualities of being a citizen in a system of government that is meant to make decisions about these ideas. I find humour and bathos in this relationship, as well as wonder and awe.
Australia and New Zealand have a unique relationship with nature, climate change, and the politics surrounding these topics. I often consider how Australia understands its relationship with the rest of the world and with global topics. I have a lot of compassion for humans and our follies.
Within the contemporary art scene in Australia, my practice crosses installation, performance and video. I am an emerging artist based in Sydney, but I would like to work more in other parts of the country!
I feel lucky to be immersed in the really intelligent and generous community of local artists and practitioners whose work ethic and integrity have not only shaped my work, but also profoundly affected my understanding of the world beyond art.
[I am interested] in both the ‘old school’ of figurative painting and the more experimental approaches to art making, both of which are evident in my practice.
I’ve always operated on the periphery of the Australian visual arts scene, initially practising in Perth and then Hobart. But my early career wouldn’t have been possible without the opportunities to exhibit and the artists I’ve met through the national network of artist run initiatives. As I’m now partly based in the UK I’ve found it hard to exhibit without this context and, as a result, have been mostly showing work in an experimental film context. But I now feel very fortunate to have a foot in both camps, crossing between gallery installs and film festival screenings as each project requires.
As part of a continuum of moving image and photography practices that reconfigure narratives around cultural identities and histories.
With a focus on the nonhuman, I see my work as part of a broader turn towards re-examining anthropocentric thought.
I feel my work is aligned with local experimental art practices, particularly those that approach sound and experimental music as a means to interrogate the nature of energy, natural processes and the materiality of aural phenomena. My work also draws broadly from science and other fields that deal with these themes, as well as the process-based art of late modernism and post-minimalism that is foundational to much of contemporary material-based sound practice.
For me, painting is a way to translate my dreams into reality. To communicate the colours and stories of those dreams on the canvas, and share them with others.
Interdisciplinarity and experimentation are strong in the Australian and New Zealand contemporary arts scenes. I see my practice as contributing to the diverse range of approaches to interdisciplinarity and expanded painting, drawing and choreography in contemporary art. My work aims to re-imagine the material surface of representation, the transference of movement and the co-agency of aesthetics.
What does it mean for you to be a finalist in the John Fries Award?
Starting out, it’s always exciting to have an opportunity to show work, especially to new audiences. It’s particularly exciting to have my work in such a public exhibition to be able to understand how it exists more broadly.
I am so happy to be included in this special award. I have been working as a Ngangkari for a long time, working with clinics, hospitals and the NPY Women’s Council. To be included in this award goes beyond just my paintings and my art practice: it shows recognition of my culture and personal life story, a curiosity and appreciation of the life behind my paintings.
I feel happy and proud. It’s the first time an artist from Papunya Tjupi has been shortlisted for this prize. It’s not only an achievement for me, but all the painters in Papunya. We are proud to be recognised for our paintings.
I am thrilled to be a finalist in the John Fries Award. It is a prestigious national award that gains the attention of the art community, curators, artists, writers and audience. It creates a moment where my work can invite dialogue and consideration from the people I admire.
It is a career highlight to have my work recognised and celebrated amongst that of my peers, and to reflect on the rich and exciting art community we have in Australia. Being part of the award is an opportunity to reflect on, experiment with and improve my practice.
It is really special to have the support of your peers and of spaces that further the careers and practices of artists, like the John Fries Award. It’s a good motivator to keep making art to keep the conversation flowing.
To be selected as a finalist of the John Fries Award means that I will have an opportunity to show my work to a wider audience. In addition, I recognise and appreciate the significance of the John Fries Award’s media platform facilitating closer discussion of artists’ practices.
I feel very honoured to have my work selected for the John Fries Award and for the opportunity to exhibit alongside a group of artists who I greatly admire. For me it confirms the interest and audience for my work in Australia and encourages me to take risks and make new work.
Even at this early stage it has felt quite supportive and inclusive to be a part of this award. The representation of diversity and the number of female artists in the finalists feels important and encouraging.
To be a part of the John Fries Award alongside such a talented group of peers is a great honour. It provides encouragement to be ambitious, experimental and just keep going.
I feel that the John Fries Award presents the opportunity for me to raise my profile by exposing my work and ideas to new audiences. I’m excited by the prospect of working with Consuelo to produce a new work for the show that extends the basis of my practice while opening up new trajectories.
I’m so happy to be part of the John Fries Award this year.
It’s very exciting to be nominated, because this gives me the opportunity to spend more time doing what I love – painting!
Selection for the John Fries Award exhibition is much appreciated, as I have a lot of respect for the other finalists and the judging panel. The award is an excellent platform to introduce my practice to broader audiences interstate and in New Zealand. I look forward to making new work for the award context and working closely with the curator, Consuelo Cavaniglia, whose practice I greatly admire.