As we move toward the summer months, preparations for the Tidal 2016: City of Devonport National Art Award are in full swing, with the much anticipated opening and award announcement taking place on Friday the 25th of November. Tidal was first launched in 2004, and since 2010 has been an acquisitive award worth $15,000. As a result, three Tidal Award recipients to date have become a part of the Devonport City Council Permanent Collection. This post revisits these works, each of which has added great value to the DCC Permanent Collection, while increasing our representation of contemporary Tasmanian artists.
The recipient of the first acquisitive Tidal Award in 2010 was Hobart based photographer and cinematographer Matthew Newton, for his digital print Moonbird boy 3. Through his body of work, encompassing both documentary photography and film projects, Newton has discussed issues and impacts of climate change, both within Tasmania and internationally. His work has captured and promoted the beauty of Tasmania’s unique natural environment, while calling for the translation of appreciation into action on matters of climate change and sustainability. Specific issues explored by Newton have included a recent project examining the decline of the Albatross population in Tasmania, persisting political disputes and activism relating to Tasmanian forests, and an exploration of the issues faced by Tasmania’s Aboriginal population. In this vein, Newton’s striking portrait Moonbird boy 3 depicts a boy carrying a Mutton bird, or Moon bird, which Aboriginal people have harvested for hundreds of years, towards a processing hut on Big Dig Island in the Bass Strait. It references the poem The Moon Birds of Big Dog Island, written by the young Aboriginal Tasmanian Errol West in the 1970s:
Like dust blown across the plain are the people of the Moon Bird
And yet there is no one to teach me the songs
That bring the Mood Bird, the fish
Or any other thing that makes me what I am.
Errol West’s poem and Newton’s work alike highlight the enduring questions of identity, of preserving oral traditions and customs, and of the rich and enduring living culture of a group of people we have commonly misconceived to have been the victims of complete genocide in Tasmania.
Paul SNELL, Elliptic # 201201, 2012, Lambda metallic print, 85 x 200 cm
In 2012, Launceston based artist Paul Snell was the recipient of the second acquisitive Tidal Award for his work Elliptic # 201201, which provides a stark contrast to the work of Matthew Newton. While not an overtly literal or figurative response to the theme, many of the processes and considerations underlying Snell’s work reflect systems and rhythms found in nature. Through his work, Snell aims to provide viewers the opportunity to engage in a meditative experience, which may reflect contemplative and tranquil elements of the vast Tasmanian landscape. As is evident in Elliptic # 201201, Snell’s use of colour is vibrant and seductive, while lines of varying width create a sense of movement; a pulsing rhythm. The aim is not to present an optical illusion, rather the focus is the act of looking; the sensory experience aroused. Snell cites geometric and hard-edged abstraction as influences on his work, and though he engages digital and photographic processes, the experience of viewing works such as Elliptic # 201201 more closely aligns with the feelings of awe and transcendence that have been associated with viewing abstract paintings.
Joel CROSSWELL, Galaxias 2014, 5 Drawings, ink on paper, 62 x 175.5 cm
The third and most recent acquisitive Tidal Award in 2014 was received by yet another Tasmanian artist, Hobart based Joel Crosswell. Crosswell works across a variety of mediums ranging from drawing to sculpture, with his body of work in the broadest sense relating to the nature of humanity. In this work, Galaxias, Crosswell focused on the Central Tasmanian Clarence Galaxias trout, linking its status as critically endangered with humankind’s own vulnerabilities. Across five panels, Crosswell’s trout morphs to adopt human-like traits, which serves to link the evolution and potential demise of this species with our own progression and mortality. While focusing on a very small and specific endangered species, Crosswell’s work acts as a symbol of the broader ecological issues that will face current and future generations. Within a widening field of artists engaging with themes of climate change, a topic which often seems overwhelming in its scope and impact, Crosswell’s Galaxias is an unexpected and striking image, which conjures a more engaged awareness of the fragility of our ecosystem, and of all beings that live within it.
While each of these works has responded to the theme of Tidal, referencing Aboriginal Tasmanian culture, the impacts of our shifting ecosystems, and the abstract meditative qualities offered by the Tasmanian landscape, each is vastly different in subject and representation. A priority of the DCC Permanent Collection is to build upon its collection of contemporary Tasmanian artists, over time accumulating a strong representation of the continuing development of artistic practice in Tasmania. Each of these works is a rich addition to this collection, and we look forward to viewing the interpretations of a new group of artists from Tasmania and beyond in the Tidal 2016: City of Devonport National Art Award.
-Erin Wilson, Curator of Collections