Exhibition view (HI)STORY 2005, photo: Christian Helmle

Exhibition view (HI)STORY 2005, photo: Christian Helmle

Exhibition view (HI)STORY 2005, photo: Christian Helmle

2. October – 4. December 2005


"(Hi)story" presents the work of four international artists who explore, research and deconstruct ideas around the theme of collective memory and personal recollection. It avoids generalisations by focussing on artists who in a very visceral way communicate a sense of place, the urge to engage with their own origins and context, and their desire to translate their responses by appealing to the viewer on a number of levels. For all the artists involved, the way they use and test their chosen medium is a critical and integral aspect of the subject matter.

Since the mid 1990s Jananne Al-Ani (Kirkuk, Iraq *1966) has developed a body of video and photographic work that has revolved around narrative, history and story-telling and has often looked at Western representations of the Middle East. She has regularly used her mother and her three sisters, as well as herself, as performers. Their relationship to each other is never explicit, but their striking resemblance to one another and compelling intimacy has become a consistent motif in her work. In response to the clichéd, exoticised depictions of women in late-nineteenth century Orientalist photography and painting, Al-Ani’s photographic work has employed the visual motif of the veil to confront Western preconceptions of Middle East society. Her explorations of the symbolic use of the veil highlight it as an interface between public and private space, contrasting the exposure to the real with the realm of the imaginary that opens up once something is hidden from view. There is also an aspect of veiling in the way that Al-Ani tantalises the viewers of her work with the truth. A Loving Man, 1996/99, a series of monitors shown in a small circular space, is an apparently intimate conversation about a man familiar to the five women, but the audience is able to relate to the deliberately generalised comments. Based on a word game, a pre-existing structure, it is also about the idea of communication.

Tracey Moffatt (Brisbane *1960) employs drawing, storyboards, casting and sets to create carefully constructed films and photographs that, from the artist’s background as an Aboriginal woman brought up by adoptive white parents, explore contemporary Australia. In her work based on themes such as the Australian outback, sporting competitions and the Victorian fantasies fed by colonial expansion, Moffatt draws on a powerful stock of images produced by Australia. These include the solitude of the outback, the beauty and boredom of the desert and the ancient and very new inherent in the mix of races and cultures. Moffatt starts from the personal but speaks also about the history of others, showing that the desire for origin – a personal myth that is repeatedly rewritten and mixed with fantasies and fictions – matters more than one’s actual origin. Although they refer to reality, her photographs and films are filtered and mediated through images from cinema and television, representing our collective history or the history of the human imagination. The series of photogravures, Laudanum, 1998, reveals the Gothic aspect of Moffatt’s work: dreams or visions supposedly produced by the tincture of opium that gives the series its name are blended with a vague atmosphere of colonial decadence, giving rise to all sorts of fantasies. The more recent photographic series, Adventure, 2004, employs garishly coloured computer-generated backdrops combined with actors in caricatured roles to create a fragmented narrative about contemporary Australia.

Adriana Varejão (Rio de Janeiro *1964) researches and reinterprets the history of colonialism in Brazil, in terms of its social impact, the ways in which artistic conventions were appropriated from the colonies and mixed with indigenous styles and how the artist places herself within this legacy. Varejão’s paintings from the early 1990s depict scenes of colonial repression in a primitive style. Other paintings portray severed limbs or are created with a trompe l’oeil background of Portuguese tiles. Varejão began to quote the history of art by bringing painting off the support, creating "painting-sculptures" that literally extend the canvas into the viewer’s space. Works such as Azulejaria Verde em Carne Viva, 2000, in which the finished painting is partially slashed and filled with polyurethane, formed and coloured to imitate entrails, experiment with the notion of the canvas as being a corporeal entity. In her newest paintings, for example Parede con Incisao a la Fontana, 2002, Varejão has emptied the canvas of its plasticity in a series of semi-abstract works presenting saunas. The rigorous depictions of tiled structures hint less at a specifically Brazilian past than at a universal history of places of torture. However, in their combination of figuration and geometry, they are also timeless environments that create the illusion of internal labyrinthine space.

Richard Wentworth (Samoa *1947) is a key figure in British art, transforming the way we think about sculpture. He finds his materials in the everyday world, deploying ready-made things and thoughts in new and unexpected contexts. Whether isolating a marginal, easily overlooked event in a photograph or combining, transforming or manipulating found objects not normally associated with art including dictionaries, sweet wrappers, books, plates and buckets in his sculptures, Wentworth teases the viewer into a new awareness of the everyday and allows the thousands of tiny gestures that constitute the world around us to be read in new and unexpected ways. Wentworth is interested in our social history, the way we use objects – like language – as an interface between ourselves and the world in order to make sense of and to leave our mark on it. In focussing not on monuments and great events but on the everyday, marginal and overlooked, Wentworth creates an alternative history of the human consciousness. The installation Twenty Seven Minutes, Twenty Two Nouns, Seven Adjectives, 1999, is one of a series of works combining dictionaries and detritus found on the streets of London, suggests that words are another ready-made with a history that we add to each time we speak. The ceramic floor installation Spread, 1997, employs one of the most basic elements of social history, functional but individualised by ornament, underlining ways in which humans arrange and re-arrange the world, adding and subtracting meaning as they go.

Curator: Felicity Lunn