Artists in the Blue Mountains

Art Monthly 2016

In spite of a reputation as an eccentric and slightly feral community the Blue Mountains are more complicated than that and a lot more interesting. The Mountains are home to an astonishing number of very sophisticated artists with international reputations. Artists such as Joyce Hinterding and David Haynes, Sean Cordiero and Clair Healey, Mike Parr, Ian Millis, Roger Foley Fogg, Alan Schacher, Wei Zen, Jon Rose, Joan Ross. There are many more and all of them take an active part in the community through exhibitions and events at a number of different venues. Three years ago the Council opened a new gallery in Katoomba, The Blue Mountains Cultural Centre. The Sydney art world still has not fully realised that this is a very sophisticated venue with excellent facilities and a very ambitious programme less than two hours from the CBD. The quality of the innovative programme is particularly impressive since they do not qualify for funding from the government. It seems that they are not considered regional enough nor part of Western Sydney so the center is not seen as a priority. This will have to change as the rest of the country recognizes the seriousness of the center and of the active community that surrounds it.

The Center’s Director Paul Brinkman has done a great job establishing the venue and managing a slender budget derived from admissions, Blue Mountains City Council and running a thriving café. There are two curatorial staff Rilke Oakley curator and Sabrina Roesner exhibitions manager. They also work with guest curators. The artist Billy Gruner curated one of the impressive exhibitions at BMCC this year. It was drawn from the programme of exhibitions and events known as ‘Modern Art Projects’. The MAP programme was initiated by Billy with a team of enthusiastic volunteers including artists, designers, and curators drawn from the local community. The projects occupy buildings identified by Billy as important examples of modernism in the mountains. There are a surprising number of these in the area. Local artists are invited to contribute to a 24-hour exhibition in the chosen building and architects and designers are invited to participate. Many of them come from outside the area, to inspect the house hear a talk about its history and to take a guided tour of the artworks. It is a great way to bring architects and artists together and to expose the artists’ work to influential designers of the built environment.

The exhibition at BMCC was installed around an architectural frame that suggested a classic modernist structure. It was partly left as a frame to make the space transparent while creating a sense of rooms in a domestic environment. All the artists had participated in one or more of the MAP programmes in the previous year. Ian Millis included a very impressive hard-edged painting he made in the 1960s. Foley Fogg showed a group of his light works using LED to pulse rings of changing colours. The quality of all the works was convincing and they were appropriate to the concept of MAP. There were performances including an interactive piece by Alan Schacher whose work is constantly evolving away from dance into impromptu engagement with objects space and the public. On this occasion he interacted with a sculpture by Anne Graham a large leather pod with a long tapering snout. Alan decided to address the pod explaining the rest of the exhibition to it, Shades of Beuys and the hare!

The first exhibition next year at the center will include conceptual art that addresses the landscape or the idea of the landscape. The project has been curated by the center and draws on both the Kaldor Collection and some important works from the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Some artists are Christo and Jean-Claude, Richard Long, Simryn Gill, Andy Goldsworthy, Andreas Gursky and Imants Tillers. The exhibition will be touring to The Glasshouse in Port Macquarie later in 2017.

The latest event arranged by Modern Art Projects commissioned a sound performance from Joyce Hinterding and David Haynes. The selected building was an extraordinary Mormon temple designed by Ken Woolley in 1980 and built in 1983 at Leura. In 1984 it was awarded the AIA merit award. Woolley understood that the Mormons were very interested in the symbolism of light and designed a pure clear space that drew light into itself wherever possible. Along one side of the chapel for example there are a number of ‘windows’ that open onto white troughs designed to hold water. The light that comes down into these basins from outside is then reflected back up into the ceiling of the chapel.

Joyce and David are just two of the international artists who live and work in the mountains and they regularly participate in events organized by the BMCC, and MAP. This specially created work conjures an auditory equivalent of bright light in sound. Joyce and David have been collaborating for many years although each has their own way of thinking about the world. Joyce opened the performance with a sound event she called ‘Orbital’. A metallic rock they had found on the Newnes Plateau was suspended from a tripod and had sensors attached to it. Joyce started the rock on an orbital journey that took it past a second magnetic rock on the ground with each circuit. As it swung round a crackle began to be audible, it was the acoustic signature of the rock or at least that is how I perceived it. Slowly Joyce introduced other sounds sourced from the Newnes plateau such as wind and running water and less obvious manifestations of the earth. She manipulated these found sounds using a computer and you could see that her concentration was intense. The experience was of listening closely to the sounds of the earth captured and coaxed into an artwork. Joyce has always made work that actually discovers or makes audible energy in the world that is real but not normally accessible to our senses.

David is more interested in composition although improvisation always plays a big role in the music he creates. In this case he also used samples of sound recorded on the Newnes Plateau. This time however his structured minimalist music evoked energy, possibly bright light that swelled to quadrophonically fill the space and resonate with it. The difference between hearing sound being discovered and sound being structured to create a sense of something imagined could not be more dramatic and yet the juxtaposition of the two works built into something very powerful and true. The privately run Scenic World with its famous near vertical railway and skyway has been running a ‘Sculpture at Scenic World’ project for some years now. Sculptors are invited to submit environmentally sensitive site specific works to be installed in the spectacular rain forest that clings to the escarpment facing the world famous Three Sisters landmark. One of the works is acquired each year. The first of these was the extraordinary Ken Unsworth’s ‘Harlequin’s Shuttle’.

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