Art prize honours legacy of innovation in South West Sydney

Innovation is broadly defined as new ideas, methods or products. This is true in the arts, where it can also refer to new ways of seeing society, or methods of engaging with ideas and knowledge.

On Saturday 18 February 2017 the second Paramor Prize: Art + Innovation was officially opened at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. The prize was launched in 2015 in memory of Wendy Paramour, who lived in the Liverpool region from 1966 and is one of Australia’s most celebrated female artists. In 2017 the prize presents a high standard of work in new media, installation and photography, including a large representation of artists who have connections to western Sydney.

The top prize of $20,000 was awarded to Susannah Williams and Warren Armstrong for their work ‘Listening Device VII: Felt Histories.’ This work was originally commissioned by Blacktown Arts Centre and maps the stories of residents predominately from migrant and Aboriginal backgrounds. The work is a multi-sensory experience, asking viewers to don a pair of headphones and walk across the thermo-sensory plates. The audio responds to the slightest suggestion of movement, weaving and overlaying stories. Visitors are also invited to interact with the tactile tapestries that hang on the wall and an IPad.

A stand out theme running through some of the finalists of the prize is the everyday – be that movement, habits or objects. James Nguyen’s installation ‘Rest Ice Compression’ refers to knowledge of First Aid in order to take care of oneself and the community.

CPAC20170218-068 Ben Williams Photography

A large component of the work is a video projection onto vertical drapes commonly found in the household. Intersecting the gallery space, visitors need to walk behind the work to locate a smart phone looping all too common racial slurs. Filmed in Villawood, the work asks us to think about what we value as a society and humanity more broadly.

A highlight to this year’s prize was Matthew James’s ‘Sydney to Gulmarrad’ which explores documentation methods for time and movement across regions. A part of an ongoing project, the artist strapped a frame to his windscreen whilst driving north from Sydney, catching the bugs that landed in it. Filled with resin before being fitted to a light box, the work combines early scientific explorations of bugs with new presentation methods. In a time where we are increasingly dependent on private transport and highways, James’ work is subtle reminded of the diverse ecologies that co-exist.

A quiet achiever in this year’s show is Lee Bethel’s ‘Operculum’ which combines watercolor, flowers and seeds collected from particular sites reaching from Mount Annan to the Cumberland Plain. Her work draws attention to conservation methods, as well as the accumilation and sorting of organic matter for the purposes of management and development of the landscape. Such activities are crucial to the Australian Botanic Garden Research Centre (Mount Annan) and to the threatened natural landscape of the Cumberland Plain.

In a nod to the legacy of Wendy Paramor, a selection of her geometrically abstract sculptures that were bequeathed to CPAC is spread throughout the exhibition.

Paramor Prize: Art + Innovation demonstrates how artists are actively exploring new media and new methods of display and representation to communicate the concerns and ideas of contemporary society. Whilst innovation may be a tired buzz word for smarter city strategies, in this context it gives artists permission to extend themselves in search of new ways of working.

Exhibition is open until 23 April and will alternate with The Blake Prize in CPAC’s creative program.
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Image credits:

James Nguyen, Rest Ice Compression, 2016. Photograph courtesy of Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. Photo by Ben Williams Photography.
Lee Bethel, Operculum, 2016. Photograph courtesy of Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. Photo by Ben Williams Photography.
Wendy Paramor, Luke, 2000. (re-fabrication based on original circa 1968). Photograph courtesy of Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. Photo by Ben Williams Photography.

This article was first published on State of the Arts Media on May 5, 2017.

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