Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Gormley work will set a standard to which Australia's artists can aspire

By Jane Rankin-Reid - posted Wednesday, 13 November 2002

Great news for remote Australia’s arts audiences this month with Perth International Arts Festival’s announcement that it will open on January 16th with the unveiling of prominent British artist Antony Gormley’s sculpture commission on the shores of Lake Ballard, some 800 km north of Perth. Although some commentators have greeted news of the $650,000 commission with skepticism, festival director Sean Doran’s attempt to present international contemporary art projects in the boondocks is a mighty leap forward for the visual arts industry in Australia.

In an article in The Australian, commentator Jane Albert reviewed the national arts festival scene including new initiatives to program important performances and arts events in the remote regions. Queensland Biennial Festival of Music director Lyndon Terracini has scheduled a dawn performance at Barcaline, a remote sheep farm 23 hours drive from Brisbane, while Tasmania’s Ten Days on the Island Artistic Advisor Robin Archer also weighs in with her own out-of-town schedule of touring performances to 38 locations throughout the state in March 2003.

With significant financial incentives aimed at capturing regional voters' hearts and minds, we may wonder which state-funded festival can afford to ignore Australia’s hinterland audiences these days. But in the visual arts these efforts at artistic inclusiveness can often be rendered into fairly meaningless community-scaled events. These may meet funders’ objectives or brand state-wide events in outlying regions, but they don't exactly break the sound barrier in the national or international visual art scene.


Perth International Arts Festival director Sean Doran’s vision of dragging as many as 5000 patrons 800 km to the shores of Lake Ballard to visit Gormley’s installation may begin to change this situation for several important reasons. First, outside its main city centres, Australia is a nation of far-flung regions - many of which are remote, culturally under-serviced and still relatively absent from the nation’s artistic idiom. Inviting international artists to explore Australia’s geographic dramas and harmonies is a sure-fire way to broaden regional awareness of what contemporary art can achieve as a form of 21st century expression, as well as internationalizing artistic perceptions of how this big country feels to foreigners. Commissioning international art works also extends Australia’s visual interpretation in the global culture industry and compels greater intellectual engagement and awareness of this nation’s contemporary experience.

Gormley is probably one of the most suitable contemporary artists to undertake the Lake Ballard commission because throughout his career, he’s worked in off-beat locations on projects drawing on community strengths to present global messages. His mid-1980s Fields involved Mexican villagers with whom he modelled some 35,000 haunting ceramic figures later installed in pristine galleries throughout the world. Fields' potent crowd of diminutive lumpy clay figures with sunken socket eyes has captured international audiences’ hearts everywhere it's been shown.

For Gormley’s Lake Ballard commission, titled Inside Australia, the artist has scanned a number of Western Australians’ bodies to create generic body forms to portray his theme. The work is an installation of black abstracted steel figures standing in a seven square kilometre area of Lake Ballard. Taut stick-like bodies built of local alloys will inhabit the Lake’s salt bed to create a "field of antennae reflexive rather than representational, allowing what is already there to be perceived and felt, in an acutely heightened way".

From an Australian perspective, littering Lake Ballard’s salt beds with stark angular sculpted humanoids to help viewers frame their visual experiences of our mysteriously alienating landscape may seem like old hat, given our broadened understanding of Indigenous cultures’ legacies at these sites. But Gormley’s 21st century artistic message is pertinent to continuing the expansion of our visual connection with vistas like Lake Ballard for no other reason than most of us will have to travel to the Lake’s shores, preferably at sunrise or sunset, to see Inside Australia, at its best.

Nevertheless, the Perth Festival’s selection of Antony Gormley to produce an artwork of international significance in a remote Australian location is slightly at odds with the national art world’s current interests. He’s determinedly opposed to cultural theory and has always been at conceptual right angles with most of his English contemporaries, particularly for his role in rescuing figurative art from the jaws of theoretical disillusion in the UK.

A decade older than high-profile British artists Damian Hirst, Sarah Lucas, Tracey Emin and Marc Quinn, Gormley has also persisted in exploring unfashionable spiritual languages and has written widely on the concept of religiosity in modern art. Typically, the artist’s sculptural forms of single and multiple figures built of riveted sheets of lead or steel often use his own body to calibrate the metaphoric heartbeat of humanity’s physical experience of a site or building, and their blunt awkward vulnerabilities are emotive and compelling. Gormley’s Angel of the North, a massive riveted-steel figure with arms outstretched installed on a roadside Newcastle hilltop is perhaps his best-known figurative sculpture expressing triumphant spiritual awakening at the edge of an abandoned northern English industrial wasteland.


So, for Lake Ballard’s Menzies Shire residents and the wider Australian art world, Gormley’s Inside Australia is likely to be a quietly unconventional evocation of sacredness without especially representing particular religious principles. We can be certain Inside Australia will attract worldwide media attention and my own hope is that the experience will give regional artists in Western Australia and elsewhere the necessary insight into how to globalize meaningful contemporary artistic messages in today’s world.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Jane Rankin-Reid is a former Mercury Sunday Tasmanian columnist, now a Principal Correspondent at Tehelka, India. Her most recent public appearance was with the Hobart Shouting Choir roaring the Australian national anthem at the Hobart Comedy Festival's gala evening at the Theatre Royal.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Jane Rankin-Reid
Related Links
Antony Gormley's website
Perth International Arts Festival
Photo of Jane Rankin-Reid
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy