Exhibition review: KANANGOOR/Shimmer, Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery

Journey with the wardong/crow through an exhibition of mourning, orientation and healing.

The Western saying “as the crow flies” generally means a direct route from one place to another. KANANGOOR/Shimmer, now on display at Lawrence Wilson Arts Gallery, University of Western Australia, completes this idea spiritually by becoming the crow in connection to Country.

Co-curated by Badimia and Yued artist Amanda Bell and resident curator Lee Kinsella, KANANGOOR/Shimmer is primarily dedicated the work of Noongar artists as a place to orient on Whadjuk Noongar Boodjar (Whadjuk Noongar Land), and to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the Land upon which the university stands. This exhibition is a soaring achievement of Noongar journeys, solidarity and reflection, and it is a privilege as the audience to take flight through the gallery.

Christopher Pease has always had an incredible eloquence in using iconography to convey meaning, and this reviewer was delighted to find a favourite work, Down the rabbit hole II (2013), as part of this exhibition. Down the rabbit hole II is an unsettling visual analogy rendered in oil on canvas representing the first contact of British colonists onto Noongar Land. Two figures are depicted starkly in the foreground, with a river set in Whadjuk Noongar Boodjar uneasy under a heavy, overcast sky. The Noongar man in traditional clothing stares out in disbelief while the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland looks earnestly at his pocket watch. As the surreal presence of the rabbit represents both a British cultural symbol and an introduced species in Australia, Down the rabbit hole II is a commanding and foreboding representation of the tension and terror created by colonisation.

Noongar/Yamatji artist Corey Khan was commissioned to create Nyitting (2023) for the exhibition. Created from locally sourced vegetation, the expansive installation represents the Dreamtime story of Gnangangarich Waguyl (Hairy Faced Serpent) who created the river systems on Country. The serpent, a half cone shape, constructed from paperbark, traditional rope reeds and kangaroo skins among other materials, curves up to the gallery window. Sitting atop a bed of sand, the serpent looks as though his wide mouth is pressed up against the glass, his body half visible as he swims through the earth. Khan’s work makes spiritual connection to Country both profound and tangible.

Amanda Bell, ‘…and the crow are we’ 2023, installation view in ‘KANANGOOR/Shimmer’ at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery 2023. Photo: Suzie Gravestock.

In the Ruby Rose Maller Gallery, Bell’s immersive installation …and the crow are we (2023), extrapolated from her poem of the same name, is a deep dive in audio, video organza and mirrors. Illustrations of crows are projected onto pieces of organza that are draped from ceiling to floor. On one piece of organza is a collection of wardongs (crows) circling and, on another, a singular wardong flies and dies alone.

A mirror sits tomb-like within a grey metal box in the corner of the gallery, reflecting light onto the wall behind and creating a warped reflection like a spirit rising. The audio over the installation has a percussive eeriness below the sound of wardongs echoing in the distance. Bell’s installation takes the audience with her into grief for Country, followed by a renewed sense of homecoming. The result is both exquisite and haunting to behold.

Read: Exhibition review: Kayannie Denigan, Belconnen Arts Centre

Visitors began the exhibition with as the crow flies and finished their journey with …and the crow are we. KANANGOOR/Shimmer is a considered and immersive invitation across Whadjuk Noongar Boodjar, and a journey worth taking.

KANANGOOR/Shimmer is on view at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery from 13 May to 19 August; free.

This review is published under the Amplify Collective, an initiative supported by The Walkley Foundation and made possible through funding from the Meta Australian News Fund.

Jaimi Wright is a Development Coordinator for arts organisations and your friendly neighbourhood arts writer. She also writes for Seesaw Magazine and Art Almanac because she can't keep still.