Exhibition review: The view from Here, AGWA

A celebration of over 230 WA artists: an eclectic survey of where we have been and where we are now.

On the 6 November 2021, The Art Gallery of WA (AGWA) reopened its doors with the launch of The View From Here, a celebration of homegrown talent featuring over 230 artists in a refreshed, ‘new-look’ iteration of the iconic brutalist building.

Lead by Director Colin Walker and Guest Creative Director, Ian Strange, The View From Here offers a platform for artists from across the state and at different stages of their careers to engage in a dialogue about place, culture and identity.

Showcasing artworks from the collection alongside 111 new commissions and acquisitions, it is one of the largest surveys of Western Australian art to date.

At the top of the building is the new AGWA Rooftop and the gallery’s shining light a significant, permanent commission titled Targets by Noongar artist, Christopher Pease. Referred to by Walker as ‘a beacon to which we all can look’, it is also a signifier for a much-needed change in perspective.

In what is essentially a retelling of Frederick Garling’s painting Swan River – View from Fraser’s Point 1827, Pease’s expansive 34-metre-long painting and light work positions the Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan River) at the epicentre of a narrative that seeks to make visible a more complete and accurate account of WA’s colonial history.

The original painting, which has been printed onto perforated metal panels that are backlit at night, attempts to interrogate and deconstruct colonisation by depicting a landscape punctuated by a concentric red circle with multiple meanings.

Read: Theatre review: The Ajoona Guest Hotel, Bakehouse Theatre

In many ways, Targets can be considered an interlocuter that flows, like a river, in and around the exhibits on the ground level, prompting consideration for the broader role water has, and continues to play, in shaping WA’s identity.

The river is the ‘lifeblood of the city and of the Noongar people’ says Pease, but it runs deeper. Beneath the layers of sand and clay of Perth’s swampy landscape are ancient aquifers – expansive reserves of underground water. Perth was originally built on water, and it continues to be defined by it.

For artists such as Joanna Lamb and Brian Blanchflower, water is explored through the roles colour and memory play in defining our connection to places. Far removed from traditional landscape painting conventions, Blanchflower’s immersive monochrome, Canopy 74 (Brighton Blue), invites the viewer to reach beyond the painting’s richly textured surface to experience an ocean abyss of shifting atmospheres from within.

Almost antithetical to Blanchflower’s painterly spiritual encounter are the newly commissioned murals of suburban swimming pools by Joanna Lamb, featuring the cool blue palette associated with the Perth backyard oasis. Rendered flat, non-expressive, and slightly impenetrable, they are nostalgic as well as symbolic of a gradual disconnect from the natural world.

A sublime new installation by Wangkajunga/Walmajarri artist, Ngarralja Tommy May, positions old knowledge within contemporary dialogues about climate change and caring for Country. Suspended from the gallery ceiling is a shimmering brass rain cloud consisting of laser cut pieces that connect to a sacred desert waterhole via luminous gold threads.

Bathing Ngarralja’s work in a dusky pink glow, is a neon and audio work, From our lip, mouths, throat and belly by emerging Badimia and Yued artist, Amanda Bell. Made up of quivering lines that form the ancient Noongar word Moorditj, it lures the viewer towards it like a moth to a flame. Translating to ‘good’ or ‘awesome’ in English, it reinforces the power of ancestral language and casts a protective spell across the space. The connections between these works are magical and deeply felt.

The power of words extends to other spaces too, particularly the standout interactive Dictator by international enigma, Danielle Freakley. Commissioned by AGWA and constructed in situ, Freakley has erected an intimidating, monolithic and theatrical façade of glistening black lava that echoes the geomorphology of ancient rock formations. Fitted with microphones, participants are invited to climb up the scaffolding and commandeer the speech of another.

The View From Here is an eclectic meditation on where we have come from as much as it is a survey of where we are now. It is a celebration of how we view the state collectively, individually, and cross-culturally, whether it is looking back from across the seas or deep from within. It is a view of the world from here.

The View from Here
Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA)

Free entry

The View from Here will be be on display until 31 December 2021

Stephanie Reisch is an interdisciplinary artist, curator, freelance writer and arts educator. She has worked as a design consultant on public art projects nationally, lectured in visual arts at the University of Western Australia and is a former Chairperson of the Victoria Park Centre for the Arts. Her studio is based in Perth (Boorloo), Western Australia.