UNDER THE RADAR: MECHELLE BOUNPRASEUTH
“I met a man who told me he loved my ceramic bin. It took him back to his childhood when him and his friend used to tip them over and use them as cricket wickets. I was tempted to tell him about how I watched a man take a shit in one once in an open field.” This excerpt is from a story posted recently on Mechelle Bounpraseuth’s Instagram account (@mechelleb_), along with a picture of one of her ceramic sculptures, a replica rubbish bin. It’s one of those schoolyard aluminium ones with two handles and a sanctimonious ‘Do The Right Thing’ label. Bounpraseuth’s clay version comes complete with dents and grime, and is glazed a sickly green.
Deadpan humour and unflinching honesty are hallmarks of Bounpraseuth’s work. She depicts the detritus of city life: cigarette butts, crushed cans and chip packets; scavenging ibis and wide-eyed pigeons. These objects and tableaux are based on her experiences growing up in southwest Sydney, and each comes with a story. Bounpraseuth describes her work as “a way of processing trauma,” whilst recognising her own tendency to inject humour into even the bleakest experiences of blatant racism and borderline poverty.
Having spent years making zines and illustrations – skilled, hilarious and beautiful works that featured in Space Invaders at the National Gallery of Australia in 2010 – Bounpraseuth began tertiary study in 2014. She studied at Gymea TAFE under Lynda Draper, a champion of experimental approaches to ceramics, who encouraged Bounpraseuth to enrol at the National Art School.
Bounpraseuth is now halfway through a Master of Fine Arts, and the response to her ceramics has been enthusiastic and immediate. She participated in eleven group shows in 2017 including the Hatched: National Graduate Show, and took out the Sculpture prize at the Fisher’s Ghost Art Award, with her winning work acquired by Artbank. With a solo exhibition at Sabbia Gallery and group shows in Sydney and Melbourne on the cards for 2018, Bounpraseuth shows no signs of slowing doWn.
TASTEMAKERS: SIÂN MCINTYRE
As a curator and gallery director, Siân McIntyre makes space for other voices by “creating a platform, inviting people to occupy that space and then stepping back and facilitating that occupation.” For McIntyre, this means curating exhibitions around major political and social issues. It means inviting and funding those with lived experience of these issues to program events. It means opening up the gallery to afternoon tea socials, live music and performances that spur “political conversations, different kinds of dialogues and community building.”
After co-directing Sydney artist-run initiative The Paper Mill, McIntyre took on directorship of Verge Gallery, run by the University of Sydney Union. At the helm of Verge since mid-2014, McIntyre has made important changes, from new interior walls, branding and website to the introduction of a zine library and reading room. Most important, though, has been her approach to building a program that is “accessible, critical, and hopefully show[s] things that weren’t being shown to the same extent elsewhere.”
In 2015 McIntyre curated REFUGE, examining “the basic human need for safety and security, free from the threat of violence and persecution.” Contributors ranged from established, socially-engaged artists like Alex Seton and Amy Spiers, to a group of refugee school students. McIntyre deliberately brought lesser-known refugee artists together with recognised art-world drawcards – both in the exhibition and through events in public programs – to create new connections between communities.
McIntyre’s curatorial project Portraits of Men (2017) set up a context where power and patriarchy could be questioned and challenged. Ubiquitous University portraits of white men were brought out of The Great Hall and into the gallery, alongside portraiture by contemporary artists including Joan Ross and Abdul Abdullah. This contrast allowed for new readings of official portraiture, a genre usually immune to critical interrogation.
Part of why McIntyre is so good at what she does is her palpable energy. Another factor is her genuine social and political engagement, and her drive to push for real change for refugee, Indigenous and LGBTQIA+ communities. Her curatorial approach, evolved from research processes in her own artistic practice, is unorthodox and refreshing. Verge is a University gallery, and under McIntyre’s guidance it is punching above its weight, its reach and relevance extending well beyond the University framework.
COOLHUNTER PREDICTIONS: TANÉ ANDREWS
Tané Andrews’ drawings and sculptures are quasi-scientific in their precise detail and museological presentation, and it’s unsurprising to learn that he first learned to draw from his father, a botanical illustrator. Tané and his father Milton Andrews are currently collaborating on a new project, which involves sending drawings back and forth in the mail. Some are Tané’s drawings – incredibly fine and detailed pointillist depictions of flowers and plants – that he invites his father to add to with critique and commentary. This sounds potentially fraught, but Tané assures, “I really enjoy his critical response and narration of my drawings”. Other works are half-finished drawings that the recipient must complete. This intimate process will visually chart the relationship and transmission of knowledge between father and son.
Collaboration is nothing new for Tané Andrews, who works across a range of media including bronze, marble and electronics. He is pragmatic about getting the job done, and happy to outsource where his skillset doesn’t quite match the picture he has in mind. This approach to production fits with the slick, minimal, designer aesthetic of Andrews’ work. His subjects are drawn from the natural world – flowers, plants, cocoons and butterflies – but his works feel hermetic and refined, recalling Victorian era collections and natural history museum displays.
In Butterfly Performance (2013, reprised as Untitled (Perfect Lovers) in 2016), living butterfly cocoons are suspended from brass clamps sealed in glass domes. This work has a seven-day duration after which time Monarch butterflies emerge and fly away. In Electronic Form 2 (2011, in collaboration with Phillip Gamblen), five sets of butterfly wings are connected to a rotor via long glass stems. Each pair of wings opens and closes in a repeated sequence. These works are elaborate memento mori, reminders of the brevity and fragility of life.
Originally from Perth, where he held six solo shows between 2009-2014, Andrews moved to Sydney following a three-month residency at Artspace in 2014. In 2015 he exhibited alongside Stelarc and Patricia Piccinini for DeMonstrable at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, Perth. Andrews will return west in March 2018 for Sensual Nature at Fremantle Arts Centre, a curated group show featuring the likes of Andrew Nicholls, Julia Robinson and Angela Valamanesh.
Last year saw Andrews awarded the 4A Beijing Studio Program residency, resulting in a month-long stint in the studio of renowned Chinese Australian artist Shen Shaomin. Andrews and Shen Shaomin share a common interest in animal and plant aesthetics, and for Andrews, the residency provided an important opportunity to discuss “ethical practices for art that involves living organisms.” These conversations, and the experience of seeing a world-class artist collaborate with a team on an immense scale, will no doubt inform Andrews’ work moving forwards.