A photograph of a mouth becomes a wool rug; a chocolate bar becomes a bronze ingot. Michelle Nikou’s alchemical transformations often turn around hunger and sustenance. She uses a wide range of everyday materials but seems especially drawn to objects like cups and plates, buckets and shoes—to vessels. Many of her works feel like they could be filled and emptied again; like Nikou has captured them at one point in a cycle.
My creative nonfiction piece on Michelle Nikou’s practice is now online. I’m thankful for the opportunity to spend time with this work & take some risks in trying to capture that experience on the page.
Jenna Gribbon wants you to look. She wants you to enjoy the act of looking, but she also wants you to know what you’re doing. Nipples are a glaring pink. Limbs are suggestively entwined. But it’s not quite what you’re thinking. She talks to Vault from New York about bodies, pleasure and the ethics of looking.
The Biennale of Sydney opened on March 12 after weeks of heavy rain along the east coast of Australia. Catastrophic floods had affected several regions. Emergency relief lagged, and grassroots organizations scrambled to help their communities themselves. Titled “rīvus” after the Latin for “stream,” this year’s biennale was a provocation to consider how life depends on water. It was a timely one.
My full review is in ArtAsiaPacific ($). I also wrote about Erin Coates, Yuko Mohri, Jumana Emil Abboud, Kiki Smith, waterways and connection.
Out the back of Isadora Vaughan’s studio, there’s a small yard that looks onto a huge, semi-vacant lot. “They’ve been building warehouses out there,” she says. Last year, she watched as they dug enormous basalt boulders out of the ground. “There were these huge rock breakers out the back, turning these giant, giant rocks into smaller boulders.” The rocks got smaller and smaller. “They were making gravel,” she explains. “It was just one of the most amazing and insane processes.”
Vaughan likes working outside. From her spot in the yard of her Melbourne studio she can also see ponds that have been built to filter runoff before it reaches a nearby creek. “All these beautiful, very precise endemic species have been chosen and planted around it. There are reeds – a whole system,” she says. “There are these machines that are doing, on some level, these fantastical things. You can see how much destruction and chaos it’s causing, but then there’s also this industry and this real presence, despite it all, of the native flora and fauna.”
In Sally Anderson’s Sea Belly Screen, the sea is always at a distance. It’s seen from the shore, up high, through a window. It’s always out there, over there—never something you’re in. In these paintings, distance has to be constantly negotiated.
Anderson’s landscape imagery is often taken second-hand, borrowed and filtered through the experiences of others. She takes screenshots of her friends’ social media and references this part of her process in her titles. Heather’s Sea View with GM Vessel and MM Banksias, 2021, is a riff on a view that does not strictly belong to her, and yet it does.
In the en plein air tradition, direct sensory experience is essential to capturing place. Anderson’s works treat landscape as something far less fugitive—far less in need of capturing, and much more powerful. When she paints these fleeting moments, Anderson is acknowledging the split-screen nature of contemporary life, with its layering of simultaneous experience, and also questioning inherited values around immediacy and authenticity.
Over the years, Maree Clarke’s practice has ranged across jewellery, sculpture, photography, printmaking and video. Clarke is a Yorta Yorta / Wamba Wamba / Mutti Mutti / Boonwurrung woman who grew up in regional Victoria and now lives in Melbourne, and a large part of her work involves reclaiming cultural knowledge, such as making kangaroo teeth necklaces and possum skin cloaks.
Clarke spoke to Jane O’Sullivan about her drive to tell First Nations stories through art, in whatever form that takes, and her major show at the National Gallery of Victoria, Maree Clarke: Ancestral Memories, which surveys 30 years of her diverse practice.
Jane O’Sullivan: You’ve worked across many mediums, finding different ways to tell stories through art. You seem to have such a clear sense of purpose, but where does that story start? What was your path to art?
Maree Clarke: I didn’t go to art school or even finish high school. I pretty much wagged as often as I could. I would catch the bus to school and when I got there, I would cut through the school and meet the other black kids down the channel… When I was in my teens, I used to just about turn myself inside out wondering what my purpose in life was.
Then I was an Aboriginal Educator at the local primary school from 1978 to 1987. And after that, the local Aboriginal Corporation wanted to set up an Aboriginal art shop in Mildura and my brother Peter, who was a brilliant artist, started making jewellery for the shop. He gave me my first pair of earrings and it took me about 15 goes before I was happy with the end design, to actually show people and sell. And basically, I haven’t stopped making jewellery since.