It is not an obvious comparison at first glance – to draw links between Los Angeles and Perth, the Californian ‘La-la Land’ and the Australian city that proudly declares itself as the ‘most isolated in the world.’
But this is the aim of curator Annika Kristensen, who has assembled works by 14 artists in Love in Bright Landscapes that reveal an interesting wealth of commonalities shared by these two locations.
According to Kristensen, this exhibition exists as an ‘evocation of place’ – not as a definitive point-to-point comparison of Perth and LA, but rather an exploration of the stories and narratives that shape and surround our ideas of these cities, both in the popular imagination and from more marginalised voices.
In this era of Zoom meetings and doom-scrolling, it’s the tactile hand-crafted nature of the epic textile works in PICA’s main hall that first drew me in.
Both Emma Buswell’s Once Upon a Time In… and Teelah George’s Sky Piece, falling (Melbourne, Perth) are amazing displays of labour and patience, each representing vast subject matter – Perth’s recent history as told through folklore, and the Western Australian sky itself. I can’t help but see in these works my own warped concept of time within a global pandemic – how it feels deeply personal, yet repetitive, looping and twisting back over itself.
All works in PICA’s main hall appear to glow, assisted by the light of Laure Prouvost’s huge, dreamy projected film, Lick in the Past, paired with Brendan Van Hek’s dominating neon sculpture.
There is a general atmosphere of romanticised nostalgia for a place – a horizon over the ocean, hot sunlight in the city, exploring the world through a car window – which, interestingly, manifests a personal feeling of intimate connection to a city in America that I’ve never visited.
However this idea of nostalgia is challenged by the works in one of the side galleries, where Kevin Ballantine’s black and white photographs are shown documenting the streets of Fremantle during the 1980s. The subjects in these images have been so carefully framed they now appear removed from reality, more like dreamy cinematic stills.
Jack Ball’s nearby work gestures to the slipperiness of representation with a collage of photographs gently draped across two supports, as if they could slide off at any moment. The supple, overlapping images appear to depict a feeling, or a glimpse, both intimate and abstract. The works in this room seem to ask; how true are our memories, the stories we tell ourselves about places and our experiences within them?
Mirroring Van Hek’s neon tubes, all the way back across the other side of the main hall, are the tree trunks and skyline in Lisa Uhl’s stunning Kurrkapi Trees, a painting of desert oaks from Fitzroy Crossing. This work is a welcome reminder that the sites of both Perth and LA are embedded with First Nation histories, stories and links to places far older than the cities themselves.
(As Kristensen’s curatorial essay notes, in conversation with local writer and researcher Cass Lynch, Perth’s claim as the ‘most isolated city’ can be easily challenged when considering the Boorloo region from a Whadjuk Noongar perspective.)
Love in Bright Landscapes is a thoughtful and clever exhibition that invites Perth locals and visitors alike (if you’re allowed into WA) to ponder and reflect on the stories we tell and beliefs about our city. For those in lockdown, it is also accompanied with a great digital catalogue, which allows you to explore the exhibition from your own home.
Love in Bright Landscapes curated by Annika Kristensen
Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Perth Cultural Centre
30 July – 10 October