Australia: Looking Down Under

Imago Mundi

Contemporary artists from Australia

Australia: Looking Down Under, Contemporary Artists from Australia, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
Looking Down Under: Contemporary Artists from Australia 
This is indeed a unique project. It is a microcosm of the world, a model of creative determination, and a remarkable, private initiative with a very public face. As an ambitious, omnivorous collection offering “snapshots” of the artistic pulse in as many countries as logistically possible, Imago Mundi is motivated and driven by real human relationships. It enjoys the freedom of its own collective and ideological space, beyond the usual art market and museum walls, and is as interested in exploring society and culture as it is in art and in giving artists a “fair go”, as Australians say. It is also about generating actual keepsakes and personalised, spontaneous experiences across an increasingly virtual and pre- programmed world. Luciano Benetton’s idea was conceived by a curious occurrence during one of his countless trips, which set a precedent more than a decade ago. Having asked an artist he met in South America for his business card, he had a small canvas (10x12cm) delivered to his hotel, which the artist thought best represented his work, like a seed encapsulating his creative identity. After repeating the exercise on several other occasions, Luciano Benetton decided to turn these efforts into a permanent collection with itinerant exhibitions, so that many artists across the globe, whether living and working in isolation or basking in the limelight, could communicate in an original and promising way. 
Fragile, Anna Caione, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Fragile (2015)
by Anna Caione

As I began inviting these “Aussie” artists to join our adventure, I found little resistance and a typically enthusiastic desire to be part of an international “chorus” that would travel without cultural, political, or creative borders, much like the leaves of this book. They saw it as a chance to be part of something unusual, “out of the
blue”, surprisingly challenging, and much larger and farther reaching than their own studios or websites. I received emails like the following: “I just wanted to say that it was such a meeting you the other day when you came to drop off my canvas! I appreciated you taking the time to meet with me and discuss the project in person. I also very much valued the feedback and discussion
we had regarding my art practice – I do tend to work in isolation and it is rare to have
the opportunity to receive such valuable
and genuine critique”.

Untitled, Christian Lock, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Untitled (2015)
by Christian Lock

They demonstrate a strong desire to exchange their feelings about their own processes and development. So without commercial interests, the spirit of each artist’s contribution was as fascinating as their finished product. Our goal was
to make them accessible on a small but significant scale, and to trace some of the artistic nuances specific to Australia. It was a challenge for us to gather 210 artists and adequately cover the continent in a limited time. But we deliberately assembled a heterogeneous group, aiming to represent a spectrum, from well-known and established practitioners with international careers, to those discovering art in later life, to others energetically emerging into the saturated marketplace of imagery, and even one of the “youngest professional artists in the world”.

Untitled, Angela Harrison, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Untitled (2015)
by Angela Harrison

My approach was to integrate their voices, without favouring trends or particular schools of thought. Ultimately, it was a democratic exercise, on egalitarian principles, appealing to artists who share in the values of collective experience; the kind of “totality
of beliefs and sentiments [...] [that] forms a determinate system with a life of its own”, as Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) defined it in his well-known analysis of solidarity.

Heavenly Rainbow of the Cosmos, Aelita Andre, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Heavenly Rainbow of the Cosmos (2015)
by Aelita Andre

The result is a patchwork of ideas. Many are clearly in celebration or defence of our natural world. Others allude to the double-edged sword of freedom, which was described by D.H. Lawrence after his 13-week Sydney sojourn: “You feel free in Australia. There is great relief in the atmosphere [...]. The skies open above you and the areas open around you [...]. Not the old closing-in of Europe. But what then? The vacancy of this freedom is almost terrifying [...]”, (Kangaroo, 1923). Others are concerned with the paradoxical ideals of human equality in the context of extreme disparities. Finally, there are those who introspectively explore their inner world, searching for universal truths beyond their daily, often suburban, realities.

Arctic Blue – Bleik Is, Vanessa Stanley, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Arctic Blue – Bleik Is (2015)
by Vanessa Stanley

Several of these artworks suggest a strong desire to be entwined in nature, as well as a distinct spiritual inclination towards the Australian landscape, especially the raw power of its bush, desert and coastal environments. And many of these artists were quick to recommend others in a helpful and humble way, with that celebrated “down to earth” Australian modesty that is almost embarrassed by its own successes.

Abstraction: Red Circle and Stripes, Lila Afiouni, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Abstraction: Red Circle and Stripes (2015)
by Lila Afiouni

But then “the lucky country” is a truly extraordinary place, and geographically speaking it is a global anomaly: the world’s largest island and the smallest continent, with some of the oldest geological features of the earth, inhabited by one of its most ancient living civilisations, in the context of one of its youngest societies. With a land mass of about 7692 million square kilometres and a population of just under 24 million, it is slightly smaller than the contiguous 48 states of the USA (with their 325 plus million people).

A Quiet Place, Harley Manifold, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

A Quiet Place (2015)
by Harley Manifold

About 80% of and simultaneously demanding presence of other artists in cities like Beijing or Karachi provide emotional spaces which some of the Australian artists may even crave as they work in the relatively easier, organised, and “no worries” kind of Australian context. The remoteness of this special island, with its wild expanses, is actually in stark contrast
to the scheduled rhythms of urbanised, contemporary consciousness, experienced
in efficiently framed and perfectly packaged time segments. Indeed, many Australians have the occasional urge to “go bush”, deliberately forgoing comforts in order to “live rough”, even cutting off communication with the outside world for as long as possible.

The Shyer, Brittany McKeon, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

The Shyer (2015)
by Brittany McKeon

If art is a by-product of what is going on in the hearts and minds of artists, then these pocket-sized paintings, made in a huge country with one of the lowest population densities in the world this side of Antarctica, add another layer of meaning to an overused phrase, “artistic vision”. Just as you might well get lost but find it difficult to entirely disappear on the flatlands of the Central Australian desert, there is no place to hide on a canvas of this size. And small can be beautiful, but it is less fashionable in the spectacular world of “site-specific” installations and art fairs. But we know that what is frugal can also be a form of dissent; a way to counter indulgence and ostentation: qualities Australians are more inclined to be allergic to.

Southern Sky, Lesley Duxbury, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Southern Sky (2015)
by Lesley Duxbury

Humour is often the antagonist – dry, self-deprecating, and irreverent, as everyone knows, especially when mocking authority, pretension, and misfortune – and goes hand in hand with the social values of openness and directness, even at the expense of diplomacy. Tracing one’s feelings on a 10x12 cm surface is like writing a poem in 25 words or less; you must decide precisely what is important at that given time. These artists were quite unaware of what their peers were producing, and must wait to
see the entire tapestry unfold once all the works are installed in the final exhibit in Italy. Their ideas developed independently, even if some may reflect or overlap with others sparked across distant parts of the country. For each artist the question was
not so much who else was in the show but how they could be present within and not considering the group. Ironically their gesture was a private one, and this framework has allowed for an alternative intimacy within the art system, having not so much to do with competition as with cultural exposition.

Aerial Salt Lakes, Carol Rowling, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Aerial Salt Lakes (2015)
by Carol Rowling

Frequently travelling the world, I often get the sense, metaphorically speaking, that Australia is like the last “national park” left on earth; that unbridled consumerism is suicidal; that multiculturalism is a fact of life; and that human similarities deserve equal analysis. As the owner of the first 21st century building in the renowned Giardini in Venice – thanks to the efforts of Australian Commissioner for the 2015 Biennale, Simon Mordant, AM, and a groundbreaking public-private partnership – Australia is now exceptionally positioned to showcase the quality of its creativity.

Pilbara Blaze, Jill Bryant, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Pilbara Blaze (2015)
by Jill Bryant

Adelaide-based artist Fiona Hall, AO, was the first to exhibit her Wrong Way Time work in this new space, and it is no coincidence that she is acutely concerned with the perilous momentum of geopolitics, global markets, and an ailing environment. Some of our artists also share this keen awareness that we must protect free lifestyles in touch with nature.

Minnamurra (Aboriginal for “Plenty Fish” River), Marcella Kaspar, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Minnamurra (Aboriginal for “Plenty Fish” River) (2015)
by Marcella Kaspar

This collection is characterized by a depiction of a place – no doubt experienced in diverse ways – like the “salad bowl” of Australian society, which is nonetheless connected
by the cultural aspirations of an island continent that you must visit, in expedition style, in order to even begin to understand it. These antipodal images are coming from afar and find a distant resonance in Gibran’s celebrated verse: “We wanderers, ever seeking the lonelier way, begin no day where we have ended another day; and no sunrise finds us where sunset left us. Even while the earth sleeps we travel. We are the seeds of the tenacious plant, and it is in our ripeness and our fullness of heart that we are given to the wind and are scattered” (The Prophet).

Seeking Asylum, Mary Schepisi, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Seeking Asylum (2015)
by Mary Schepisi

I trust those looking from a world away will enjoy this rare opportunity.

Rosa Maria Falvo

Homelands, Janet Ayliffe, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Homelands (2015)
by Janet Ayliffe

Icon, Juan Ford, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Icon (2015)
by Juan Ford

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.