Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

Sculptures At Scenic World

by Giselle Stanborough

04 May 2013

Outdoor sculpture exhibitions that incorporate the location into the title get a bad rap in the emerging arts scene. It is not even necessary to explicitly mention the exemplar that dominates the genre and (I would argue) parasitises its reputation. Having acknowledged that, I have to say, visiting Sculpture at Scenic World was definitely an extremely enjoyable way to spend a day of my finite existence.

Sure, a lot the works were certainly not to my taste. I’m definitely a commentator likely to go on a rage-fuelled rant at the drop of a reference that lacks subtlety, or an unacknowledged material context or any myriad of other unpredictable things. But I didn’t feel that way in Scenic World. And it ain't just all that fresh air and rainforest ambiance.

I have a personal interest in themed environments and scripted spaces[1], and I found a particular pleasure in the conflation of many scripts within the same specific geographic locale. Firstly we can get our Eco on and appreciate Scenic World for all its hyper real[2] glory. The descending funicular by which the audience may access the exhibition sounds out the Indiana Jones theme song as the carriage glides down a dramatically steep incline. That imposition of cinematic adventure cliché would put Movie World to shame. I loved every 29 magical seconds of it.

Counter to that orchestrated entertainment spectacle we have the rhetorical experience of the Sublime in Nature. Think Casper David Fredrick and his Aussie-adopted counterpart Eugene von Guerard. As someone who was dragged on innumerable bushwalks by my Birkenstock-brandishing hippy mother I am particularly susceptible to the accoutrements of this kind of script, which, at Scenic World, has been keenly appropriated from National Parks.[3] These include the wooden boardwalk, as well as the intermittent signs explaining the significance of a particular site or drawing attention towards a specific species of ancient and rare flora. The good news is that on the Theme Park vs. National Park front, the toilets unambiguously sit with the former.[4]

And now for the script that I was actually sent there to discuss: the site-responsive sculpture script. The winner of this years $20,000 acquisitive prize was local Blue Mountains artist Daniel Kojta with his work Reflect Phi [a moment]. Kojta is no stranger to using the natural environment as a stylistic milieu for his practice, and it shows in this restrained and understated little gem. The work explores reflective geometry associated with plant ontogenesis and while sophisticated thematically, I feel that the true success of this work lies in unifying the principles of modernist sculpture with sensitivity to the picturesque backdrop of the rainforest.

Another work notable work was Kallie Turner’s Josephus. The presentation of the woven leather garment on a headless wooden mannequin and displayed within a suspended vitrine is so museological as to jolt the viewer out of the ‘sculpture in situ’ theme. The reflections of the sunlight and foliage on the transparent encasement as it rotates gently in the canopy breeze adds an illusive poetry and beautifully combines the elements of the rainforest with the conventions of garment display that are so customary within gallery environments as to be entirely invisible.

I have to say a work I surprisingly relished was Out on a Limb by Julianne Smallwood and Judy Paddison, which comprised of multiple raku-fired ceramic cockatoos foraging on the forest floor. It's hard to see these working in any other context. Yet as I saw it, the work perfectly unifies the multiple scripts of theme park, natural environment and art exhibition through its combination of cartoonish form, ceramic craftsmanship, the spectacle of wild life and of course my personal favourite, kitsch Australiana. Call me philistine if you must (in this case I totally deserve it) but the work made me grin like a goof and I’m pretty sure that means a big tick for the artist intention box.

As I final note I have to say the stand out element of Sculpture at Scenic World is the incredible integrity of the curator Lizzy Marshall in regards to balancing the need to care for both the participating artists and the natural environment. The exhibition has been independently assessed and found to have a 0% carbon footprint, and it is truly touching to hear of the numerous site visits and negotiations that culminated in the installation of the 35 artworks as well as the development of an impressive series of public programs. Despite the fact that Sculpture at Scenic World is only in its second year it already has a few return artists exhibiting, and that’s a good sign.

Honestly, I had a blast in the Blue Mountains. Sculpture at Scenic World closes on the 19th of May so you have about 2 weeks left to pack up the car and go in for some good old-fashioned cultural tourism.

www.scenicworld.com.au/experiences/sculpture/

24 April - 19 May 2013

Scenic World, Katoomba, Blue Mountains

[1] Klein, Norman M. The Vatican to Vegas: The History of Special Effects New York: New Press, 2004.

[2] Eco, Umberto. Travels in Hyper Reality: Essays San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986.

[3] The use of control and fantasy is pivotal in the understanding of scripted spaces. Richard Hertz and Pamela Burton specifically site National Parks as an example of scripted space in “Language of Scripted Spaces”, Landscape Review 1996: 2 (3) p 25.

[4] The land comprising Scenic World is privately owned and therefore inadmissible as a National Park or World Heritage Site, though it does sit directly adjacent to one and no doubt possesses comparable natural beauty.