An image of a dumpster, a blurred painting of a wall and an LSD-ridden secret society that believes to be in conversations with dolphins. Like all art, these sentiments aim to bring meaning to the seemingly pointless. At the John Curtin Gallery, the Higher Degrees 19 exhibition brought together three very distinct artists—Kieron Broadhurst, Lance Ward and David Ralph—and showed how they see the world through a lens of pointed significance. With the exhibition now passed, let us explore the deeply rooted meaning of these artworks and how they have more in common than one might think.
Inspired heavily by conspiracy theories and science fiction, Western Australian based artist Kieron Broadhurst, took items from our world to create an entire secret society based on everyone’s favourite marine mammal—dolphins. The animal was a central part of Broadhurst’s installation and the narrative that accompanied it. You stepped into a dimly lit section of the gallery, in the centre sat a desk with salt laid out like cocaine on top. In front of the desk was a large corkboard of photos, brochures and messages, some with red circles on them. At first, the items within the space seemed insignificant until Broadhurst explained the intricacies surrounding the artwork. As an installation, the viewer could step in and almost play a role within the piece. Broadhurst revealed the true story about American physician John C. Lilly who was believed to make communication with dolphins—although this could be attributed to the LSD. In this society, the Earth Coincidence Control Office, many experiments were funded by NASA and speculation occurred. The installation is Broadhurst’s recreation of an office that was found in Fremantle by a past member of the society. Broadhurst aimed to bring this secret society to life, which still operates today, whilst commenting on how as humans we are always looking at a way to explain our existence.
Broadhurst’s conspiracy wall
When we walk past concrete walls and backs of buildings, we don’t usually give them a second thought. However, artist Lance Ward wants to give these spaces a chance to be noticed. Using photography, Ward captured the underdog of urban spaces with a broader comment made on how we live our lives on a day-to-day basis. Ward wandered these areas, allowing moments of inspiration to arise. In turn, he created a genuine sense of discovery and exploration, drawing inspiration from science-fiction such as Blade Runner, with the idea big city living is gritty. The images captured are of spaces that help the city to run: dumpster, trolleys, ports etc. These spaces are vital for the continuation of city living, but are often unnoticed by the average pedestrian. Ward described his approach to his work as “serendipitous”, always on the lookout for a forgotten space. In the future, Ward is interested in exploring the implications of social media within our lives.
Photographs of urban spaces from Lance Ward
Based in Europe and Australia, David Ralph uses his paintings to explore the underlining meaning of living spaces. His inspirations come from Dutch painters like Vermeer and the bohemian lifestyle of artists living in Leipzig, Germany, where he too resides. Ralph’s paintings are not necessarily a mirror image of the spaces he paints but rather a reflection of the personalities they elude. He draws a connection between the spaces people live and work, and how this can represent the people themselves. Some of the paintings displayed also reflect Ralph’s own domestic spaces, categorising them as self-portraits that he described as “absence portraiture”. The subjects painted showcase communal areas, like cafes and bars, or domestic areas like, studios and offices. His paintings were manipulated and picked at, to create these derelict places. Using muted yet saturated colour schemes, the paintings seemed frozen in an afternoon, possibly something only to exist in a dream. Ralph used light and shade to mimic this effect. These spaces are based in areas of Leipzig where it is affordable for artists, presenting this gritty yet colourful way of living. Ralph’s work presents a much broader question of human living; how we live and where, is in direct connection with who we are. The environment that people choose and create for themselves reflects the self. This notion has been a key focus for much of Ralph’s work and continues to explore these ideas through his paintings.
Painting of studio from David Ralph
‘Absence portraiture’ from David Ralph
On reflection of this exhibition there seems to be a common theme threaded throughout. Each artist used different mediums to explore the question of human life. What does it mean to live day-to-day? What is reality? They challenged their viewers, and themselves, to think deeper about their physical environment and how this could affect overall living. Like in Kieron Broadhurst’s work, the conspiracy theorist’s own beliefs and speculations were translated in a control centre, Lance Ward captured the in-between of journey’s and David Ralph reflected on how people are embedded in their environment. As humans, we build the world around us and there is no way we can’t help but attach a part of ourselves to those spaces. This is what all three artists were aiming for, to provoke us to be more present in our living spaces and see beyond what is in front of us.
Higher Degrees 19 was on show at the John Curtin Gallery from 16 August to 15 September 2019.
Head to the JCG website to see what’s on!