On Fire: Climate and Crisis

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On Fire: Climate and Crisis profiles contemporary Queensland art in a time of significant ecological change. Environmental historian Stephen Pyne describes this era as the Pyrocene—the fire equivalent of an ice age—with Australia as one of the locations where its effects are most keenly felt.

One year on from the devastating Black Summer bushfires of 2019–20, the work of fifteen emerging, established, and posthumous artistic voices are presented to illustrate this new incendiary moment, and engage with closely related themes of global warming and climate threat in this state.

Queensland’s identity and culture is synonymous with its climate; as both a place of extreme weather and sweat-inducing climes, as well as an idyllic and benign sub-tropical paradise. This exhibition pronounces a further image of increasingly precarious conditions.

On Fire: Climate and Crisis looks to the past, present, and future of the Pyrocene—foregrounding the damaging legacies of colonialism, before examining how artists visualise connection and disconnection with the environment, and exploring fire’s capacity for rejuvenation guided by the Indigenous cultural burning movement. The exhibition concludes with artistic reflections on speculative futures.

Curated by Tim Riley Walsh

Map

Part 1

Prefacing the broader exhibition, this first space examines ongoing colonial behaviours of categorisation, control, and possession toward other cultures and the natural world. These processes are foregrounded to consider a broader settler-psychology relevant to our current environmental crisis and the impacts of global warming. The adjoining space presents a scene reminiscent of Black Summer’s destruction, the inevitable outcome of the stress settler-culture places on the land.

1a Tintin Wulia

Some Memory Prevails, 2019
Papilio ulysses butterfly (dead specimen), nylon monofilament, split-shot sinker, silver insect pin, acrylic mirror, acrylic monomer and powder, HMA, glass dome, pedestal
37 x 40 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

Tintin Wulia’s art investigates borders in a globalising and neocolonial world. One of Wulia’s ongoing subjects are mosquitoes and their significance for both warfare and environmental issues, reflected particularly in the effects of the insecticide DDT. A U.S. Army weapon against Malaria vector mosquitoes during WWII, DDT later became part of American soft power in the post-war world, also prompting the conception of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring – a historical turning point of the environmental movement.

Some Memory Prevails expands on this context via the Ulysses butterfly, a tourism icon in Queensland, Wulia’s present home. The butterfly’s large-wingspan allows its migration between QLD’s rainforests, Papua New Guinea, and Wulia’s birthplace, Indonesia. Wulia’s work features a Ulysses specimen, presented using clinical, museum-grade techniques. Unusually, its famous electric blue wings are hidden, only visible through the mirrored, geodesic dome cradling it. This fractured perception alludes to trauma’s persistence for displaced migrants across generations, with an increasing number fleeing the results of global warming.

1b Warraba Weatherall

To know and possess, 2021
Cast bronze plaques
10 parts, 10.1 x 15.2 cm each
Courtesy of the artist

Warraba Weatherall’s installation-based practice explores archival structures, analysing cultural histories’ existence within institutional repositories. Weatherall’s new work draws from his research into Kamilaroi objects held within Australian collections and their accompanying systems of categorisation. To know and possess is a result of the artist’s specific engagement with index cards, used for documenting objects within museums. A product of the Enlightenment, these cards became a global standard disciplined through education. Paradoxically, through the act of the objects’ removal from their environment and intended use, these items’ ‘preservation’ also means they effectively cease their objecthood and are valued only as data.

Ten of these cards have been replicated by Weatherall as cast bronze plaques: an aesthetic ubiquitous with memorials. Despite connoting ‘authority’, the original cards’ telling omissions—especially the circumstances for these objects’ acquisition—speaks to a broader barbarism inherent in the normalised practices and outdated logic of museological possession. These plaques thus mark a point of death, but at the ‘hands’ of the archive.  

1c Paul Bong

Dispersed Fragment 2 2016
Hand-coloured intaglio etching on paper
42 x 26 cm, artist proof

Dispersed Fragment 7 2016
Hand-coloured intaglio etching on paper
34 x 60 cm, artist proof

Crossroads 
2016
Hand-coloured intaglio etching on paper
121 x 68 cm, artist proof

Dispersed Fragment 5 2016
Hand-coloured intaglio etching on paper
50 x 26 cm, artist proof

Courtesy of the artist

These etchings by the Yidinji printmaker Paul Bong depict a fractured rainforest shield and separate fragments. Often adorned with cultural lore, similar shields were used during combat by rainforest peoples, as well as in ceremony. As records of infractions between British colonists and Aboriginal peoples—particular examples in museum collections display bullet holes – these shields also remain a stark rebuttal of ‘peaceful settlement’. As objects native to the wet tropics, they also echo the ongoing threat of colonisation to these environments. 

These prints reflect Bong’s reverence for these objects—as reminders of settler violence against his people but also as evidence of Yidinji knowledge as a living continuum. Three prints from the Dispersed Fragments series show sections seemingly broken off from the fuller form. Initial associations with displacement are countered by the detailed cultural imagery on their surface; a reminder that though divided, they are living and carry deep meaning.

1d Naomi Blacklock

Lecanomancy, 2021
Water, recycled plastic, charred logs, wood mulch, liquid smoke, subwoofer, electronics, amplifier, LCD screen, video documentation
Dimensions variable
Video documentation: Charlie Hillhouse
Courtesy of the artist

Naomi Blacklock’s practice bridges experimental sound installation, sculpture, and performance to examine archetypes, mythologies, and histories that impact gender and cultural identity. The artist’s installations often incorporate live activation using conventional instruments like cymbals and bells, as well as atypical noise-making, including contact mics that capture the friction of salt crystals on glass and the percussive dripping of melting wax.

Lecanomancy is a new installation inspired by an earlier work, Lustration (2017). An isolated pool of water is illuminated and surrounded by a charred pyre—a lyric allusion to scenes of destruction from Black Summer. Instead of offering a still surface, the reservoir ripples ominously as if attuned to an imperceptible, tectonic warning. The work’s title refers to a type of divination using a basin and reverberations as a prophetic device. Accompanying documentation shows Blacklock activating the work by playing a waterphone or ocean harp, a type of idiophone often used to create ethereal unease in horror film soundtracks.

Part 2

This collection of works considers differing artistic representations of nature and natural subjects, each mediated in diverse ways by the psyche, cinema, language, technology, politics, science, and cultural knowledge. Through these depictions, the environment and fire are articulated as relative and intersecting subjects—reflecting the complexity of the multiple ecological threats presently facing us.

2a Madonna Staunton

The Light on the Hill, 2014
Acrylic on linen
20 x 25 cm
Private collection, Brisbane

A hilltop glows at night with a warm, bright yellow. Contrasted with the ominous blacks beneath, the peak exudes, at first, a quality of sunny optimism. A work by the late artist and poet Madonna Staunton (1938–2019), this ambiguous emanation invites speculation: is it due to the dawn approaching, just over the angular horizon? Or something more sinister, like the light of a bushfire?

Staunton returned to painting late in life, after beginning her artistic career as an abstract painter in the mid-century. These later works bring together the artist’s skill with words and images. Recalling Samuel Beckett, Staunton’s paintings are introspective, sometimes communicating a sense of anguish, tempered by others’ will-to-life. This work’s text–like the hill’s glow–also invites reflection. In 1941, Australia’s 16th prime minister, Ben Chifley, utilised the same phrase to evoke the “great objective” of the Australian Labour movement as “the betterment of humankind”; a light whose promise appears increasingly distant.

2b Anne Wallace

Fire in the Hills, 2019
Oil on linen
61.4 x 92 cm
Collection of Philip Leeson and Lee Erickson, Canberra

Anne Wallace’s painterly practice considers the disquieting qualities of everyday life. Fire in the Hills depicts a mid-century style interior–not dissimilar to contemporary homes with a revivalist bent–with an uncertain temporality: part-past, part-present. Wallace draws inspiration here from black and white photographs of 1940s and 50s interiors, and references Near Ponchartrain (2008), an earlier work of hers in which a mischief of rats flow up the stairs of a flooding antebellum-style mansion.

The rats’ destabilising presence is echoed by the raging blaze of Fire in the Hills, sweeping up what recalls the Hollywood Hills. This is visible through a cinema screen-like window, framed neatly by sheer curtains and a valance, suggesting film’s mediating presence – where similar images are frequently fantasised – and recalls the broader influence of a cinematic aesthetic on Wallace’s art. Who is implicated as the spectator here remains curiously undefined, though they witness the fire from an exclusive refuge.

2c Gordon Bennett

Relative/Absolute (Fire), 1991
Acrylic and Flashe on canvas
116 x 89 cm
The Estate of Gordon Bennett, Brisbane

Relative/Absolute (Fire) is from a series of works by the late Brisbane-based artist Gordon Bennett (1955–2014), begun while living abroad in Hautvillers, France, from 1991 to 1992. Bennett’s art drew particular influence from postcolonial, postmodern, and poststructural thought. As an artist of Aboriginal and Anglo-Celtic descent, Bennett frequently critiqued the binary relationships (such as black/white, civilised/savage, self/other) that structure our perception of the world.

In this series, Bennett considers the titular binary. Each work includes a pictorial icon and its linguistic equivalent across six European and indigenous languages. These evidence the relativity of subjects in language, with their myriad of names, and in opposition, the consistent, shared, and seeming absolute-ness across cultures of these same subjects as they exist within the world. However, Bennett shows the supposed ‘absolute’ as itself also inherently relative: meaning different things to different peoples, and utilised in our various worlds in crucially divergent ways.

2d Dale Harding

Moreton Bay Ash branch smoulders slowly, 2020
Two-channel video, audio
19:26 duration, looped
Courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

Dale Harding works across a variety of media to explore the visual and social languages of his communities as cultural continuum, drawing upon and maintaining the spiritual and philosophical sensibilities of his cultural inheritance within the framework of contemporary art internationally.

Harding’s new video Moreton Bay Ash branch smoulders slowlyis a meditative study of the burning of the titular tree, known also as Corymbia/Eucalyptus tessellaris, a type of eucalypt tree found in northern New South Wales, but more common in the eastern half of Queensland and into the tip of Cape York. Filmed with an intimate proximity, the cross-section of charred timber glows internally with the flame’s life, its heat pulsing through the wood. At times, plumes of grey smoke drift across the lens. Reflecting abstractly on fire’s environmental and social stories within cultural landscapes, Harding’s work communicates a sense of the element’s deep innateness to this place—a quality frequently marginalised in colonial misrepresentations.

2e Jemima Wyman

Haze (from top to bottom sorted by colour and then chronologically): Smoke from protester against the government's anti-protest law, Kiev, Ukraine, 22 January 2014 (Black [B]); Smoke from protester against the government's anti-protest law, Kiev, Ukraine, 23 January 2014 (note: there are seven different images from this protest) (B); Smoke from open fire on Hrushevskoho street during anti-government protest, Kiev, Ukraine, 31 January 2014 (B); Smoke from burnt debris and Molotov cocktails during anti-government protests, Kiev, Ukraine, 21 February 2014 (B); Smoke from petrol bomb at pro-government protest, Kiev, Ukraine, 7 August 2014 (B); Smoke from tires burnt by Palestinian protesters during clashes with Israeli troops, Gaza Strip, 6 April 2018 (B); Smoke at ‘The Great March of Return’ in Ramallah, West Bank, 6 April 2018 (B); Smoke during Palestinian and Israeli clashes, West Bank, 11 November 2019 (B); Smoke at 148th day of ‘Social Outbreak’ protest, Santiago, Chile, 13 March 2020 (B); Smoke from construction site during 'I Can't Breathe' protest near police precinct, Minneapolis, USA, 27 May 2020 (B); Smoke from tires burnt by protesters against the closure of the Nissan Barcelona plant, Spain, 28 May 2020 (B); Smoke from a police car on fire during a protest for George Floyd, Philadelphia, USA, 30 May 2020 (B); Smoke from burning car during protests for George Floyd, Columbia, USA, 31 May 2020 (B); Smoke during a protest for George Floyd, Los Angeles, USA, 31 May 2020 (B); Smoke during a protest for George Floyd, Philadelphia, USA, 1 June 2020 (B); Smoke from protester against the government's anti-protest law, Kiev, Ukraine, 23 January 2014 (Grey [G]); Smoke from burning barricades during anti-government protests, Kiev, Ukraine, 18 February 2014 (G); Smoke during student protest at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, 12 November 2019 (G); Tear gas from security forces during an anti-government protest, Karbala, Iraq, 20 January 2020 (G); Smoke during protest over  the death of George Floyd, Minneapolis, USA, 28 May 2020 (G); Smoke from a police car on fire during a protest for George Floyd, Philadelphia, USA, 30 May 2020 (G); Smoke from a police car on fire during a protest over the death of George Floyd, Seattle, USA, 30 May 2020 (G); Smoke from a can during a protest over the death of George Floyd, Miami, USA, 30 May 2020 (G); Tear gas from police during a protest for George Floyd, Orlando, USA, 2 June 2020 (G); Police tear gas and protesters Molotov cocktails during a protest over lawmakers anti-protest bill, Athens, Greece, 9 July 2020 (G); Smoke bomb release during student anti-austerity protests against the government and in solidarity with the ‘Pitchfork’ movement, Turin, Italy, 14 December 2013 (Red [R]); Smoke from Goldsmiths students’ burning objects to protest London’s high rents, England, 18 March 2016 (R); Smoke during anti-government election plans, Kiev, Ukraine, 6 October 2019 (R); Smoke from burning tires during an anti-government protest because of a controversial prime minister appointment, Najaf, Iraq, 1 February 2020 (note: there are three different images from this protest) (R); Smoke during feminist protest for abortion rights, Athens, Greece, 9 February 2020 (R); Smoke from hand-held smoke bomb during May Day protests, Berlin, Germany, 1 May 2020 (R); Smoke flare during anti-government, anti-lockdown protest by right-wing VOX party, Madrid, Spain, 23 May 2020 (R); Smoke from NYC police car on fire during protests for George Floyd, Brooklyn, USA, 29 May 2020 (R); Smoke from canisters thrown back and forth between police and protesters during a protest for George Floyd, Boston, USA, 31 May 2020 (R); Tear gas and other synthetic smoke used by police during protests for George Floyd, Madison, USA, 31 May 2020 (R); Smoke deterrents used by police during a protest for George Floyd, Tulsa, USA, 1 June 2020 (R); Tear gas during a protest for George Floyd and ‘Black Lives Matter’, Athens, Greece, 4 June 2020 (R); Smoke bombs and fireworks used during ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests for George Floyd and Adama Traoré, Marseille, France, 13 June 2020 (R); Smoke during a protest against government lockdown plans to prevent mass gatherings during COVID-19 pandemic, Belgrade, Serbia, 8 July 2020 (R); Smoke during a protest against government lockdown plans to prevent mass gatherings during COVID-19 pandemic, Belgrade, Serbia, 10 July 2020 (R); Smoke during a protest against the closure of the Nissan factory, where 3,000 people will lose their jobs, Barcelona, Spain, 15 July 2020 (note: there are two different images from this protest) (R); Smoke from hand-held smoke bombs during a ‘Hands Off Language!’ protest, Kiev, Ukraine, 16 July 2020 (note: there are four different images from this protest) (R); Smoke from tear gas, pepper spray and pepper balls during a protest for George Floyd and ‘Black Lives Matter’, Portland, USA, 17 July 2020 (R); Smoke flare during 'Blood on Your Hands' protest for animal rights, Amsterdam, 18 July 2020 (R); Federal law enforcement officers use tear gas during protest for George Floyd, ‘Black Lives Matter’ and anti-police brutality, Portland, USA, 21 July 2020 (note: there are three different images from this protest) (R), Tear gas from police during a protest around government austerity measures, Athens, Greece, 29 June 2011 (Orange [O]); Smoke from burning tires during protests over government deliberations to award prisoners amnesty, Kiev, Ukraine, 25 January 2014 (O); Smoke from burning properties during a protest for Michael Brown, Ferguson, USA, 24 November 2014 (O); Smoke from burning cars and property during protests for Freddie Gray, Baltimore, USA, 27 April 2015 (note: there are two different images from this protest) (O); Smoke during a protest against the election of Donald Trump, Portland, USA, 10 November 2016 (O); Smoke from hand-held smoke bomb during a ‘Yellow Vest’ protest, Nantes, France, 11 May 2019 (O); Smoke during a protest over failing economic situation, Beirut, Lebanon, 17 October 2019 (O); Smoke during student strike and protest advocating for investigations into police violence and political reform at the University of Hong Kong in the Shatin district, 11 November 2019 (O); Smoke during student strike and protest for investigations into police violence and political reform at the University of Hong Kong in the Shatin district, 12 November 2019 (O); Protests for social reform and changes to the constitution, Valparaiso, Chile, 13 November 2019 (O); Smoke from hand-held smoke bomb during a protest against pension reform, Marseille, France, 5 December 2019 (O); Tear gas from police during a protest against government pension reforms, Paris, France, 17 December 2019 (O); Smoke from garbage cans lit by ‘Democratic Tsunami’ protesters during a clash with police, Barcelona, Spain, 18 December 2019 (O); Smoke from burning tires during an anti-government protest because of a controversial prime minister appointment, Najaf, Iraq, 1 February 2020 (O); Smoke from burning police station during protests for George Floyd, Minneapolis, USA, 28 May 2020 (O); Smoke from burning car during protests for George Floyd, Minneapolis, USA, 29 May 2020 (note: there are two different images from this protest) (O); Smoke from police car on fire during protest for George Floyd in NYC, USA, 29 May 2020 (O); Smoke from burning commercial properties during protests for George Floyd in Los Angeles, USA, 30 May 2020 (O); Smoke from property on fire during protests for George Floyd, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 30 May 2020 (O); Tear gas and stun grenades during protest for George Floyd, Minneapolis, USA 31 May 2020 (O); Smoke from garbage cans during protests for George Floyd, NYC, USA, 1 June 2020 (O); Smoke bombs released during protest for George Floyd, Portland, USA, 14 June 2020 (O); Smoke from hand-held smoke bomb during protest for Serhii Sternenko about to undergo trial, Kiev, Ukraine, 15 June 2020 (O); Smoke bombs released during a protest demanding the resignation of Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, Kiev, Ukraine, 18 June 2020 (O); Smoke bomb released during a protest against ‘Immigration and Customs Enforcement’ (ICE) and the use of immigration detention centres, Seattle, USA, 12 July 2020 (O); Smoke from burning commercial property during ongoing protest for George Floyd, ‘Black Lives Matter’ and anti-police brutality, Portland, USA, 26 June 2020 (O); Smoke bombs released during protests for George Floyd, ‘Black Lives Matter’ and anti-police brutality, Portland, USA, 29 June 2020 (O); Smoke during a protest against government lockdown plans to prevent mass gatherings during COVID-19 pandemic in Belgrade, Serbia, 8 July 2020 (O); Smoke from tear gas, pepper spray and pepper balls during a protest for George Floyd, ‘Black Lives Matter’ and anti-police brutality, Portland, USA, 17 July 2020 (O) (note: there are three different images from this protest) (O); Tear gas and projectiles used by federal agents during George Floyd, ‘Black Lives Matter’ and anti-police brutality Portland, USA, 21 July 2020 (O); Smoke during ongoing protest for George Floyd, ‘Black Lives Matter’ and anti-police brutality Portland, USA, 24 July 2020 (O); Smoke deterrent used by police during a protest for ‘Black Lives Matter’ and against the use of federal agents in Seattle, Washington, USA, 25 July 2020 (O); Smoke from the Wirt Dexter Building on fire, in Chicago, USA, 25 October 2006 (Yellow [Y]); Smoke from a protester’s flare during a protest against the farmers strike in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1 April 2008 (Y); Smoke from burning tires during protests over government deliberations to award prisoners amnesty, Kiev, Ukraine, 25 January 2014 (Y); Smoke from a smoke bomb released during protest advocating the government to save the environment, Kiev, Ukraine, 19th June 2014 (Y); Smoke from a street fire, following the grand jury decision in relation to the police shooting of Michael Brown, Oakland, USA, 25 November 2014 (Y); Smoke from burning property and cars during a protest against the police custody death of Freddie Gray, Baltimore, USA, 27 April 2015 (Y); Tear gas used by police during a protest against a Donald Trump campaign rally, Phoenix, Arizona, 22 August 2017 (note: there are two different images from this protest) (Y); Smoke from hand-held smoke bomb during a protest against the unlawful use of tear gas by police, Kiev, Ukraine, 30 March 2018 (Y); Smoke from hand-held smoke bomb during ‘Yellow Vests’ protest, Toulouse, France, 27 April 2019 (Y); Smoke from hand-held smoke bomb during ‘Yellow Vests’ protest, Paris, France, 27 April 2019 (Y); Smoke during inter-union protests by ‘Black Bloc’ and ‘Yellow Vests’, Paris, France, 1 May 2019 (note: there are two different images from this protest) (Y); Smoke from hand-held smoke bomb during ‘Yellow Vests’ protest, Toulouse, France, 18 May 2019 (Y); Smoke released by protester during a ‘Yellow Vest’ protest, Brussels, Belgium, 26 May 2019 (Y); Smoke during a protest against social and economic inequity in Santiago, Chile, 29 November 2019 (Y); Tear gas from police during an anti-government protest related to pension plans in Paris, France, 5 December 2019 (Y); Smoke during a protest against the ‘Citizen amendment Bill’, Guwahati, India, 12 December 2019 (Y); Smoke during anti-government protest related to pension reforms and transport worker strikes, Paris, France, 9 January 2020 (Y); Smoke during the 'Rally Against Capital' outside the Bank of England, London, England, 28 February 2020 (Y); Smoke during protest for George Floyd in Portland, USA, 29 May 2020 (Y); Smoke during protest for George Floyd, Little Rock Arkansas, USA, 30 May 2020 (Y); Smoke during a protest for George Floyd, Portland, USA, 30 May 2020 (Y); Smoke during a protest for George Floyd outside the White House, Washington DC, USA, 30 May 2020 (Y); Tear gas from police during a protest for George Floyd outside the White House in Washington DC, USA, 31 May 2020 (Y); Smoke from burning garbage cans during a protest for George Floyd, North Carolina, USA, 31 May 2020 (Y); Tear gas during protest for George Floyd in Las Vegas, USA, 31 May 2020 (Y); Smoke from fireworks and burning tires during protest for George Floyd, Denver, USA, 1 June 2020 (Y); Smoke from flashbangs and tear gas during protests for George Floyd, Iowa, USA, 3 June 2020 (Y); Smoke during protest for George Floyd, Portland, Oregon, USA, 4 July 2020 (Y); Smoke during protest supporting accused journalist assassins and demanding government official resignation, Kiev Ukraine, 4 July 2020 (Y); Smoke from flare during a protest by property investors to resume construction on residential buildings, Kiev, Ukraine, 6 July 2020 (note: there are two different images from this protest) (Y); Tear gas during student protest over economic issues at the University of Tehran, Iran, 30 December 2017 (White [W]); Smoke from torch and smoke bomb during protest advocating for those killed in 2014 during the ‘Euromaidan Revolution’, Kiev, Ukraine, 29 November 2018 (W); Smoke from ceremony during protests against ‘Australia Day’, Brisbane, Australia, 26 January 2019 (note: there are two different images from this protest) (W); Tear gas at pro-democracy and anti-extradition protests at Kowloon Bay, Hong Kong, 24 August 2019 (W); Tear gas at pro-democracy and anti-extradition protests at Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong, 25 August 2019 (W); Tear gas at pro-democracy and anti-extradition protests at Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, 29 September 2019 (W); Tear gas at pro-democracy, anti-extradition and anti-police brutality protests, Hong Kong, 2 November 2019 (W); Tear gas during anti-government protest, Basra, Iraq, 8 November 2019 (W); Smoke during anti-government protest, Santiago, Chile, 8 November 2019 (W); Tear gas at pro-democracy and anti-extradition protests, Hong Kong, 11 November 2019 (W); Tear gas during a protest for George Floyd, Portland, USA, 29 May 2020 (W); Tear gas released by police during protests for George Floyd, Oakland, USA, 29 May 2020 (W); Smoke from burning cars during protests for George Floyd, Seattle, USA, 30 May 2020 (W); Smoke during protests for ‘Black Lives Matter’, Dion Johnson and George Floyd, Phoenix, Arizona, 30 May 2020 (W); Smoke during protest for George Floyd and ‘Black Lives Matter’, Indianapolis, USA, 30 May 2020 (W); Tear gas during a protest for Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, Louisville, USA, 30 May 2020 (W); Smoke from burning police car during protests for George Floyd, Philadelphia, USA, 30 May 2020 (W); Tear gas during protests for George Floyd, Los Angeles, USA, 31 May 2020 (note: there are two different images from this protest) (W); Tear gas during protests for George Floyd outside the White House, Washington DC, USA, 31 May 2020 (W); Smoke during a protest for George Floyd and ‘Black Lives Matter’, Richmond, USA, 1 June 2020 (W); Smoke from fireworks and tear gas during a protest for George Floyd, Asheville, USA, 1 June 2020 (W); Smoke during protests for George Floyd, Washington DC, USA, 1 June 2020 (W); Tear gas released by police during a protest for George Floyd and ‘Black Lives Matter’, Atlanta, USA, 1 June 2020 (W); Smoke from ceremony during protests for ‘Black Lives Matter’, George Floyd and against the deaths of Indigenous Australians in police custody, Sydney, Australia, 6 June 2020 (W); Smoke from ceremony during protests against the destruction of Juukan Gorge heritage site, Rio Tinto office, Perth, Australia, 8 June 2020 (W); Tear gas during a protest against government lockdown plans to prevent mass gatherings during COVID-19 pandemic, Belgrade, Serbia, 8 July 2020 (W); Tear gas released by federal agents during protests for George Floyd and ‘Black Lives Matter’, Portland, USA, 17 July 2020 (note: there are two different images from this protest) (W); and Tear gas during protests for George Floyd and ‘Black Lives Matter’, Portland, USA, 24 July 2020 (W), 2020-21
Digital print on chiffon
350 x 480 cm
Courtesy of the artist, Milani Gallery, Brisbane, and Sullivan + Strumpf, Sydney/Singapore

Haze… (2020-21) is a new, large-scale, chiffon work by the Los Angeles and Brisbane-based artist Jemima Wyman. This piece expands on the artist’s ongoing photo collage practice, where Wyman accumulates images documenting global activism that are printed, hand-cut, and arranged in patterns recalling camouflage and other aesthetics of protest.

Wyman’s recent work features plumes of smoke from flares or deterrents, utilised to disorient activists’ senses by police/military forces. The material translucency of Haze… recalls the physical experience of the rising environmental smoke of a fire front—a familiar indicator of bush or wildfire for Australians and Californians. This dual experience is further engrained by the sharing of firefighting equipment and personnel between the two locales, their increasingly catastrophic and extended fire seasons, but also more broadly—via the collaged images replicated on its surface and documented in Wyman’s detailed titles—the overlapping environmental and political concerns that fuel activism.

2f Kinly Grey

vereor, 2021
Ceramic ultrasonic diffusers, water, lighting, wood, projection material
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist

Kinly Grey’s immersive, installation-based practice often utilises lo-fi materials and effects to generate poetic, sensorial experiences. Previously, Grey has used smoke, light, and heat to encourage feeling-based responses from audiences, and producing allusions to elemental, metaphysical, and cosmic subject matter.

vereor is a new, site-specific work that invites visitors to view the work externally, before entering into its internal space. Echoing the cube form of a rudimentary dwelling, the exterior walls of the structure function as screens for a subtle, yet evocative shadow theatre. Plumes of what appear at first to be smoke float and lick against the surface, thrown into exaggerated relief by directional lighting. The result from outside is the appearance of a room quietly ablaze, yet upon entering the interior, no fire can be found. The work’s title is the Latin root of today’s reverence, though it conflates the later term’s respectful awe with the affect of fear.

2g Judy Watson

australian mean temperature anomaly, 2021
Acrylic, graphite, pastel, chinagraph on canvas, and coal
269 x 179.5 cm, assisted by Leecee Carmichael

fire danger rating, 2021
Acrylic, graphite, pigment on canvas
267 x 179.5 cm, assisted by Dorothy Watson, Leecee Carmichael, and Dale Harding

Courtesy of the artist, Milani Gallery, Brisbane, and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

Known predominantly as a painter and printmaker, Judy Watson’s canvas works incorporate expressive use of colours, as well as layering shadow-like images of cultural objects, plants, and scientific data. These pieces conflate the ‘cold’ information of empirical research with evocative washes and imagery—enlivening these subjects through feeling.

Watson’s two new paintings incorporate systems for measuring Australia’s median temperature and fire danger, the latter a familiar sight on regional road networks. An evident influence on the likelihood of bushfires is heat and as australian mean temperature anomaly reveals, the recent decades record dramatic increases influenced by global warming. This work is accompanied pointedly by a coal sample. Echoing the vibrant green regrowth on K’gari (Fraser Island) after the devastating 2020 bushfires, Watson contrasts this more hopeful hue in the opposing work with a ember red-orange and at its centre depicts the stark silhouette of a denuded tree.

Part 3

Concluding with three possible futures, this final space elaborates on what T.J. Demos calls the “endgame”, a densely-layered terminal point driven by “catastrophic environmental breakdown, global pandemic, neocolonial extractivism, algorithmic governance, disaster and racial capitalism, antimigration populism…” amongst other factors. Resisting total pessimism, these works temper their speculations with irreverence, resistance, and a warning of the impending, but still yet-to-be.

3a Erika Scott

The Revolving Doormat, 2021
Trampoline, construction adhesive, fairy lights, computer keyboard keys, aquarium helicopter ornament, flashlight, water cooler, cat sculpture, arachnid specimen, custom wooden stand
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist

Erika Scott’s sculptures and installations are maximalist bricolages, constructed from the discarded and outmoded material excess of 21st century consumerist society. Scott’s process of collecting and combining these objects is intuitive and affect-driven. Responding to particular textures and colours in a synesthetic manner, the artist’s works express internal drives and feelings that resist typical articulation through language.

The Revolving Doormat is a new sculpture conceived as a response to the exhibition’s theme of climate precarity and foreboding. Utilising a second-hand trampoline as a material support, Scott ‘painted’ its rippling surface with silt-coloured construction adhesive, into which a riot of lights and objects are submerged. The result, though offset by Scott’s characteristic humour, recalls the dream sequence from Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 science fiction film Stalker, in which a slow tracking shot across a shallow body of water reveals forgotten debris from human lives swallowed by time and accumulating sediment.

3b Hannah Brontë

Umma’s Tongue–Molten at 6000°, 2017
Single-channel video
4:50 min duration
Courtesy of the artist

The work of Hannah Brontë is inspired by the natural environment, and conceives of speculative futures within these spaces that centre Indigenous, Black, and Brown women and their voices. Brontë’s 2017 video, Umma’s Tongue–Molten at 6000° contrasts scenes of vibrant environmental splendour with blasts of volcanic magma and ruined structures, directing viewers’s attention to the destruction of ecosystems through damaging, extractivist processes such as fracking.

The work centres on the voice of the planet as it flows through a matriarchy, voicing the pain of mining, exploitation, and Umma’s ensuing anger, accompanied by percussive beats recalling the Earth’s deep geological power. Its argumentpredicts that of T.J. Demos, whose recent framing of “ecology-as-intersectionality” insists that averting ecological collapse means recognising the relatedness of oppressing marginalised communities as a symptom of a broader appetite for violence towards the planet, and situating anti-colonialism as a crucial path forward.

3c Michael Candy

Azimuth, 2021
UV-C bulbs, laser-cut aluminium, servo motor, wiring, fasteners
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist and Michael Bugelli Gallery, Hobart

Michael Candy’s new, mechanical sculpture Azimuth is an unlikely combination of industrial-standard sterilisation and abstract, apocalyptic timepiece. Constructed from 3D printed and laser-cut components and propelled by a reaction wheel, the work’s conical form turns in a circular orbit on the gallery floor. Azimuth is covered by twelve UV-C bulbs emitting a santising, germicidal light—utilised as an alternative to conventional chemical disinfectants. As a zoonotic virus, COVID-19 likely spread from animals to humans—with habitat destruction an important influence on the pandemic according to the United Nations.

Azimuth creates a contradictory environment for viewers. The artwork, visible mostly by the bulbs’ glow, must be viewed through a protective, semi-translucent welding curtain. Though the work is effectively ‘cleaning’ the space, it also makes it equally inhospitable. The device’s metronome-like ticking and programmed rotation generates added suspense: either innocently demarcating time or, in a more ominous fashion, suggesting a doomsday-esque countdown.

Screening Room

4 Tracey Moffatt with Gary Hillberg

Doomed, 2007
Single-channel video
9:21 duration, looped
Courtesy of the artists and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

Brisbane-born, Sydney-based artist Tracey Moffatt and collaborator Gary Hillberg’s series Montages (1999–2015) consists of eight short videos, each combining diverse scenes borrowed from the history of cinema. Each work focuses on a different subject, elaborating on the differing, but often stereotypical interpretations of these topics within the medium. 

Doomed brings together cinematic depictions of crisis, disaster, and apocalypse. Accompanied by a pulsing soundtrack partly appropriated from 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded, the work illustrates the ubiquity of fantasies about our planet’s demise on film. By drawing from both 20th and early 21st century cinema, it also evidences that speculations of societal and planetary fragility are hardly new, and that through their repetition, these events gradually inure themselves to our minds, even becoming banal. However, this overfamiliarity is far from innocuous – especially in a present when such scenes are increasingly crossing over from fantasy to reality.


Biographies

Read full artist and curator biographies here.

Events

Panel Discussion: Cultural Fire and Art
With Dale Harding, Judy Watson, Leeton Lee, facilitated by Shannon Brett 
30 January, 1-2.15pm

Panel Discussion: Art and Crisis
With Kinly Grey, Tintin Wulia, Warraba Weatherall, facilitated by Tim Riley Walsh
30 January, 2.30–3.45pm

Book Launch and Panel Discussion: Architecture and Design in the Pyrocene
20 March, 3pm

On Fire: Climate and Crisis exhibition tour and to the curve of you performance activation
Every Thursday and Saturday, 11am (commencing 6 Febraury)

Sustainability

On Fire: Climate and Crisis and the Institute of Modern Art (IMA) are committed to improving the sustainability of exhibition-making and related institutional practices.

The exhibition is purposefully designed to limit the quantity of newly-built walls by reusing existing wall frames from earlier projects and reutilising welding strip curtains from a previous, external exhibition. Where possible, these materials will be reused or rehomed at the conclusion of the exhibition. Energy-intensive artworks are controlled by motion sensors. In an effort to reduce the use of paper, room sheets are accessible via QR codes displayed throughout the exhibition space. Printed copies are available at the IMA Gallery Shop upon request.