SALA – Heartland – AGSA – 3.5K

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By Peter Maddern

Heartland is the latest in contemporary art exhibitions to hit the Art Gallery of South Australia, this time with a very local, home grown feel about it. The Heartland topic refers to not only local artists (some immigrants, some now emigrants) but the spiritual connection the artists used feel for the state, represented in all manner of urban and outback settings. Its connections with the Samstag’s Revealed #2 are that both connect with the citizens of the state but here the collecting is done by a public institution rather than private collectors but both represent their sincerity in supporting the development of the artists they sponsor.

Certainly some exhibition spaces make quite an impact upon their entry or their approach. In the centre of it all are all manner of works from the artists of the Amata-Tjala communities, a brightly coloured and lit area where large canvases encircle child-like monster toys that hang and float that make you feel like you have entered a Darryl Lea chocolate shop only the sweetest things can’t be eaten.

Before it is a dimly lit room of Kate Breakey’s 1 metre square sepia toned photographs. I have to say for this reviewer here there was a significant gap between impact and quality. Shafts of light through cloudy skies and views down an embankment after a bush fire may make for a whole but individually they don’t seem much more than the output you would expect from a new photographic enthusiast. I trust these weren’t part of the collection that was specially commissioned for which taxpayer money was used. Though, it has to be said they had more going for them than most of Ian North’s happy snaps from the 70’s.

Early on visitors will happen upon James Darling and Lesley Forwood’s River to Ocean, an ambitious installation of the Coorong area including the great lakes and the mouth of the Murray which is made entirely of mallee roots.  Its scope and diligence of construction delivers on the timeless nature of this area as well as the narrowness of the sand dune wall that separates an ecologically fragile area from pounding seas with no break til you reach the bottom of the earth. There is a solemnity about the work that matches the feel one gets from the nature of the land when one visits it. God only knows where this goes when the exhibition gets packed up!

As one proceeds past the sweetness of the Amata items, one’s attention gets captured by the view of a rotating, upturned bare tree in the end room ahead. It is part of Angela and Hossein Valamanesh’s What Remains? that will find poignancy for migrants from the northern hemisphere as it speaks of the mirror world of loss and memory from the place from which they came. Theatre goers will also remember it from the staging of the very successful Andrew Bovell’s play When the Rain Stops Falling that was premiered at the 2008 Festival Arts. Their video of snails crossing before a still camera provides an alternate take on a mesmerising work.

The Heartland initiative would seem one that could emulate the Samstag’s commitment to the state’s local collectors; that is by being a regularly appearing exhibition. Replacing or alternating with the Biennial of Australian Art at Festival time is one suggestion. Perhaps also a greater array of local artists could be represented for at its core six artists alone dominate most of the wall space utilised. But, for superficial visual impact, curators Nici Cumpston and Lisa Slade have done a good job.

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