Photographica Australis

When the first Europeans came to Australia they were struck by the unusual variety of its flora and fauna. The title alludes to this fact and suggests a potent 'biodiversity' in photographic practice in Australia today, stemming from a rich multiculturalism unfettered by the weight of history.

Michael Riley, Untitled, 2000, from Cloud, chromogenic pigment print, 110 x 155 cm

: Alasdair Foster

Artists: Pat Brassington, Lyndell Brown and Charles Green, Brenda L Croft, Max
Doyle, Rose Farrell and George Parkin, Joachim Froese, Philip George, Deborah Paauwe, Polixeni Papapetrou, Scott Redford, Michael Riley, Glenn Sloggett, Darren Sylvester, Martin Walch, Anne Zahalka

Tour: Bangkok, Singapore, Dhaka, Taipei (2003-2004).

The first part of the exhibition includes the work of six photographic artists. Collectively they reflect something of the diversity of ideas, styles and methodologies current in Australia today. Phillip George uses digital manipulation to create a large panoramic image of a fictional coastline strewn with the remnants of ancient civilisations whose descendants came only recently to Australia. Meanwhile Martin Walch challenges the easy romanticism of popular ecology with a series of seductive stereo images of open cut mining in Tasmania. By contrast, Scott Redford finds a sumptuous aesthetic in the surface of public urinals, whilst hinting at a sexual significance they may hold for a gay man.

Deborah Paauwe presents an image of herself hovering in the ambiguous space between childhood innocence and sexual maturity. Joachim Froese creates idiosyncratic still lifes in which dead insects enact allegorical parodies of the human condition.

Finally, Max Doyle, one of a new generation of photographers who are bringing the visual language of postmodern art photography to the worlds of fashion and lifestyle publishing, presents an installation of a teenage boy's bedroom in which all the pictures on the wall and the fanzines by the bed have been replaced by the artist's work. In this way he seeks to break away from the classic modernist practice of setting art in a 'neutral' space.

In the second part two artists present work which looks at Australian suburbia. Anne Zahalka's large colour photographs explore the leisure industry while Glenn Sloggett records images of dereliction, failed aspiration and abject domesticity. Both Zahalka and Sloggett locate the heart of the suburban experience in the surface of things and in the triumph of fey optimism over irony. For Zahalka it is in the fibreglass volcanoes of the theme park or the regimentation of beach culture. For Sloggett it is in the dilapidated wastelands of suburbia and a battered pink hearse bearing the cheerful slogan: Budget Burials - Cheaper & Deeper.

Artists who bring a fresh and original approach to traditional forms and ideas are showing in the third part. Pat Brassington explores and exploits the legacies of surrealism, whilst subtly subverting those (primarily masculine) traditions with a clearly feminine and feminist inflection. There is a wistful humour in these deceptively simple juxtapositions which set up strangely perverse associations that grip the imagination. For many years Rose Farrell & George Parkin have been exploring historical medical machinery. They create large complex tableaux juxtaposing papier-migures with real human beings.
The fourth part brings together work by three artists and one artistic partnership that describes two intersecting trajectories in contemporary Australian photo-media: the consumer/cultural and the personal/political. Darren Sylvester's celebration of consumer technologies contrasts with Lyndell Brown & Charles Green's trompe l'oeil works that mix painting and photographic media to address the representation of art historical imagery and its reproduction. Meanwhile Brenda L. Croft and Polixeni Papapetrou address issues of personal identity. Croft uses digital imaging to expose the injustices and hypocrisies surrounding the relationship between early colonists and Australia's first peoples, while Papapetrou works with her four year old daughter to explore childhood role-play through the game of dressing up.

Michael Riley's Cloud (2000) occupies the last part. This sequence of ten large inkjet prints reflects upon his enforced Christian upbringing and the wider impact of assimilation programs on Aboriginal communities throughout Australia. Recognising both negative and positive outcomes of his upbringing, Cloud seeks to make sense of a history that defies simple resolution. Showing with this work is Empire, Riley's acclaimed and evocative short film made in 1997 for The Festival of the Dreaming. The film was commissioned by the Australian Broadcasting Company and has a soundtrack performed by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.