Birds & Language
An exhibition curated by Madeleine Kelly at Wollongong Art Gallery
In order to challenge my creative comfort zone, this year I’m embarking on a series of excursions, 12 galleries over 12 months, with the first stop being Birds & Language curated by Madeleine Kelly.
The idea came to me after taking part in a peer assessment of grant applications for the Australia Council for the Arts late in 2021 (!!!), a panel for which I was selected due to my expertise within the craft and design sector.
What I discovered during the assessment process was that there are a plethora of art galleries across the country. Many that I have yet to visit! I felt an urgent need to do something about this.
In order to nudge me along (I’m motivated by challenges and ticking things off lists), I designed a simple excursion program. The goal is to visit 12 galleries over 12 months in 2022. I’ll be sharing my journey each month on the MGTH blog.
After fastidiously creating a custom page in my diary to track the process, complete with stickers and highlighter makers, I selected my first gallery for January 2022, the Wollongong Art Gallery.
Somewhat serendipitously, the featured exhibition at my time of visit was titled Birds & Language, curated by Madeleine Kelly. Serendipitous because as you may know, I love birds (perhaps not quite as much as Angela, but I’m a fan nonetheless).
The exhibition, which took over the main auditorium-style space on the ground floor of the gallery, was an immersive experience. Beyond the visual feast that awaited me after opening the door, was the sound that immediately caught my attention; delicate birdsong. I discovered this was the environmentally complex soundworks of zoömusicologist Hollis Taylor. These sweet calls completely blocked out any suggestion of a world outside the gallery. It was lovely.
The concept of the Birds & Language exhibition, as outlined by Gallery Program Director, John Monteleone, invites us to question what we know about non-human language modalities and forms, and how to approach and respond to them. His foreword printed in the exhibition catalogue reads:
“The exhibition includes the work of twenty-one Australian artists working across diverse practices who interrogate the meaning of language and re-imagine our relationship with non-human life. The exhibition also incorporates works from WAG’s art collection including Aboriginal artworks from Western Arnhem Land and the Tiwi islands.John Monteleone, WAG Program Director
The use of signs, symbolism and visual language is fundamental to the way that artists communicate. Birds & Language is a unique opportunity to view other perspectives and understanding on the intricacies of language and communication and the role artists can play in decoding often complex ideas and make them accessible to others through their work.”
There were several works that I really connected with. As a fan of anything with realism, it was hard not to run directly across the gallery space and straight to Danie Mellor’s, Marri diramu: balam dugurrba. This large mixed media work features a fig tree that marked a birthing site for generations of First Nations people. The only colour represented beyond the striking (or violent) blue wax crayon is that of the yellow-tailed black cockatoos, king parrots and female bowerbirds in the tree, and the skin of the Aboriginal peoples below.
My Aunty, who attended the exhibition with me, described the European willow pattern, the use of glitter and Swarovski crystals as “unsettling”. Upon researching the work further I’ve learnt that this was very much intentional. You can read more about this in the exhibition catalogue linked below.
Other highlights included Eugene Carchesio, The Ventriloquist 2017, Emily Floyd Anti-totalitarian Vectors, 2019, Djawida Nadjongorle, Brolga, 1990, Raquel Ormella’s embroidered quilt and Barbara Campbell, Bird Voices, 2019.
Birds & Language curated by Madeleine Kelly
Glenn Barkley, Barbara Campbell, Fernando do Campo, Eugene Carchesio, Ashley Eriksmoen, Emily Floyd, Liam Garstang, Danie Mellor, NOT, Bilinyarra Nabegeyo, Djawida Nadjongorle, Raquel Ormella, Debra Porch, Marie Celine Porkalari, Joan Ross, Laurens Tan, Hollis Taylor, John Tonkin, Jenny Watson, Louise Weaver, John Wolseley