PAVILION OF AUSTRALIA at the 57th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia
Australian Pavilion To Present
Tracey Moffatt’s Solo Exhibition My Horizon
“I have taken my camera into unknown locations and created photo-dramas. My stories meld fiction, fact and some aspects of my family history. MY HORIZON can represent a yearning for escape to another place.” Tracey Moffatt
10, 11 and 12 May 2017, 10am – 6pm
The Pavilion of Australia, Giardini della Biennale
The Pavilion of Australia, Giardini della Biennale
13 May to 26 November 2017, 10am – 6pm
The Giardini are closed Mondays (except 15 May, 14 August, 4 September, 30 October and 20 November)
Wednesday 10 May 2017 10:30am –11:30am
The Pavilion of Australia, Giardini della Biennale
VENICE, Italy, May 10, 2017— The Australian Pavilion at the Biennale Arte 2017 is proud to present MY HORIZON, a solo exhibition by the Brisbane-born, internationally acclaimed artist Tracey Moffatt. Evoking tantalising, open-ended narratives, MY HORIZON comprises two new series of large-scale photographs, Body Remembers and Passage, and two new video works, Vigil and The White Ghosts Sailed In, which use carefully constructed scenarios while drawing upon inspirations as diverse as television news reports, poetry, Surrealist painting, documentary photography, Hollywood cinema and the artist’s personal memories.
Speaking of the exhibition’s title, Tracey Moffatt said, “My fictional characters are seen to gaze out to the horizon line, possibly dreaming of escape, or reflecting on their memories. The title MY HORIZONcan be interpreted as wanting to see beyond where one is: to have vision, to project out, to exist in the realm of one’s imagination, or to want to go beyond one’s limitations. There are times in life when we can all see what is ‘coming over the horizon,’ and those are the moments when we either make a move or do nothing and wait for whatever it is to arrive.”
Naomi Milgrom AO, Australian Commissioner for the 2017 Venice Biennale, said “MY HORIZON is an exceptional experience, created with dedication, focus, discipline and a ferocious commitment by one of Australia’s most successful artists. Tracey Moffatt has transformed and activated the Australian Pavilion with her poignant narratives, which position desperate human journeys, border crossings and belonging as global concerns independent of a particular time or place.”
Natalie King, curator for the Australian Pavilion in 2017, said that Tracey Moffatt’s new work sits somewhere between fiction and history, and is redolent with imaginative narratives as she works across photography, film and video in highly staged photo dramas.
“Tracey’s carefully constructed scenarios and vignettes are melodramatic and resonate with references to film, art and the epic history of photography, as well as aspects of her own family history. Journeys and arrivals, occupation and dispossession, colonisation and massacres, loss and longing are alluded to in her choreographed cast of characters. MY HORIZON is capacious, open, expansive and personal,” Ms King said.
The following works will be featured in the exhibition:
BODY REMEMBERS (digital pigment prints on rag paper 162 x 244 cm)
Body Remembers is a suite of 10 free-floating photographs that evoke the lives of generations of women who have undertaken domestic and emotional labour.
Staged in a remote desolate location, the photographs depict a woman, played by Moffatt herself, with upswept, 1950s-style hair and a black-and-white maid’s dress. She haunts the inside of a rustic house and its surrounding rough-hewn ruins.
“We don’t know if my maid character projects her life into the future, where the house she works in has become a ruin,” Ms Moffatt said. “Or is it that my maid character returns to the ruin to relive a strong memory, perhaps of someone she knew in the house?”
With their ochre hues on rag paper, the photographs reference vintage sepia photographs and early Surrealist cinema. These large-scale works also suggest mural frescoes.
Suspended in time and place, the dream-like, distilled images recall a history that for Moffatt is at once personal and universal. The narrative could also be staged in other countries with abandoned stone ruins such as North Africa, Mexico, the Middle East, Spain or Italy.
PASSAGE (C prints on glossy paper 105.5 x 156cm)
Passage is a suite of 12 vivid large-scale photographs staged in raking late-afternoon sun or at twilight in a mysterious port. The composition is atmospheric and strongly reminiscent of film noir, while the painterly colour and omnipresent haze achieve a Turneresque effect.
The cast of characters – a mother, a baby, a policeman with a motorcycle and a slim, sharply dressed, cigarette-smoking character whom Moffatt calls ‘the middleman’ – act out a story of furtive encounters in a deserted port. In the opening photograph, Mother and Baby, the young mother enveloped in yellow fog nurses a squirming baby and points to the horizon – perhaps representing the baby’s future, with or without her. In Tug, the policeman stands in the foreground either preventing the young mother’s escape or assisting her. Later, in Cop and Baby, the policeman holds the child in a heroic stance – raising the question, is he a saviour or a snatcher?
“I wanted the 40s-era, film noirimages to read as being ‘of the past,’ but the storyline speaks about what is happening in the world today, with asylum seekers crossing borders,” Ms Moffatt said. “Passage is a story as old as time itself. People throughout history and across cultures have always escaped across borders to seek new lives.”
In Passage, Moffatt alludes to the current global crisis of displacement and its impact on the human condition. We are reminded of mass human movement across borders and terrain: the timeless narrative of forced migration.
VIGIL (digital video with sound, 2 minutes)
A two-minute video, Vigil is the most recent montage in Moffatt’s ongoing series of riffs on cinematic imagery. It is inspired by the profound shock the artist felt at seeing television news coverage of the December 2010 drowning of dozens of asylum seekers, whose boat ran aground in rough seas off the coast of Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.
Set to a foreboding soundtrack, Vigil juxtaposes two radically different kinds of imagery: news footage of dilapidated boats that overflow with dark-skinned refugees, and movie close-ups of white Hollywood actors – Elizabeth Taylor, Kathleen Turner, Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland – who are shown staring through windows. Moffatt has intensified the blood-like hue of the sea, accentuating the sense of carnage.
Moffatt has spoken of how the misery of migrants and refugees often becomes a spectacle for the television and movie audience, “white people gawking at desperate poor brown people in boats.” The cut-out graphics of Vigil highlight the crisis of refugees and migrants, but they can also be read, Moffatt said, as “a blatant commentary on ‘race.’ There is nothing subtle in the editing and construction of Vigil.”
THE WHITE GHOSTS SAILED IN (digital video with sound, 2 minutes)
The White Ghosts Sailed In is also a two-minute-long video newly created by Moffatt for the Australian Pavilion. The artist claims that she recently discovered a fragment of old nitrate film in the vault of a former Aboriginal Mission in the centre of Sydney. The footage, as Moffatt recounts, was recorded by Indigenous people using an early film camera that had been discarded by a member of Captain Cook’s crew. The film was allegedly taken on January 26, 1788: the day when English colonists of the First Fleet sailed into Sydney harbour to begin the settlement of Australia.
The White Ghosts Sailed In is a panoramic view of the entrance to Sydney Harbour. The degraded film is layered with ‘ghosts’ and decay reminiscent of old nitrate films. Projected onto the battered planks of an old Georgian picture frame, the moving image has a brooding, dark hue. The accompanying soundtrack features the sounds of a British military drumbeat, a howling wind and a baby’s cry.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Tracey Moffatt (b. 1960, Brisbane, Australia) studied visual communications at the Queensland College of Art. Since her first solo exhibition at the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney in 1989, Moffatt has exhibited extensively in museums all over the world. She first gained significant critical acclaim when her short film Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy was selected for official competition at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival. Her first feature film, beDevil, was also selected for Cannes in 1993. In 1997, she was invited to exhibit in the Aperto section of the Venice Biennale. A major exhibition of Moffatt’s work – Tracey Moffatt: Free-Falling – was later held at the Dia Center for the Arts in New York in 1997–98, consolidating her international reputation.
Moffatt is the recipient of numerous honours and awards, and her work is held in major international collections across the Asia Pacific, North America, Europe and Scandinavia. Major survey exhibitions of Moffatt’s work have been held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2003–4), the Hasselblad Centre in Göteburg, Sweden (2004), the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (2011), the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane (2014) and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (2016). In 2006, she had her first retrospective exhibition Tracey Moffatt: Between Dreams and Reality in Italy, at Spazio Oberdan, Milan. In 2007 a major monograph, The Moving Images of Tracey Moffatt by Catherine Summerhayes, was published by Charta Publishers, Milan. A solo survey exhibition featuring all seven video montage works at the Museum of Modern Art, New York opened in May 2012. In 2016, Christine Macel curated Moffatt’s montage film Love in Prospectif Cinéma at the Centre Pompidou, Paris. She has been selected for the Biennales of Gwangju, Prague, São Paulo, Sharjah, Singapore and Sydney.
ABOUT THE CURATOR
Natalie King is a curator and writer based in Australia. She curates multifaceted programs that include exhibition making, publications, lectures, workshops and cultural partnerships across contemporary art and indigenous culture. Recent roles include Chief Curator of Biennial Lab, City of Melbourne/Melbourne Festival 2016 and Senior Research Fellow, Victorian College of the Arts, The University of Melbourne. King was inaugural Director of Utopia@Asialink: a pan-Asian incubator, University of Melbourne from 2010-2013. She was co-curator with Djon Mundine of TarraWarra Biennial: Whisper in My Mask and the 13th International Photo Festival at the Dong Gang Museum of Photography, Korea. She has curated exhibitions for numerous museums including the Singapore Art Museum; National Museum of Art, Osaka; Palazzo delle Prigione, Venice; Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo; Tjibaou Cultural Centre, New Caledonia; Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne; the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne; National Gallery of Indonesia, Jakarta; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. King is a Member of the International Association of Art Critics, Paris, and is widely published in arts media.
ABOUT THE COMMISSIONER
Naomi Milgrom AO is an exceptional business leader and entrepreneur with a distinguished record of leadership and philanthropy in the arts, sciences and education. Milgrom has shepherded landmark initiatives in the cultural arena and shaped alliances between local and global partners. A pioneer of the design thinking movement, she is the owner of the Sportsgirl/Sussan Group of Companies. A committed and passionate supporter of the arts and contemporary culture, Milgrom recently established the Naomi Milgrom Foundation to initiate bold public art, design and architecture projects. Milgrom is a member of the International Council for the Museum of Modern Art New York, Tate Museum London’s International Council, the Art Basel Global Patrons Council, former Chair of The Katherine Hannay Visual Arts Commission for ANZ Trustees and former judge for the World Architecture Awards. Milgrom was the inaugural Chair of the Melbourne Fashion Festival and Chair of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art from 2005 – 2011. Milgrom is a former Trustee of both the National Gallery of Victoria and The Jewish Museum of Australia. She has also been featured in ForbesMagazine’s ‘Asia’s Power Businesswomen’; The Australian newspaper’s ‘Top 10 Most Powerful Women in Business’ and The Australian Financial Review’s ‘True Leaders’.
Tracey Moffatt: MY HORIZON
The exhibition will be accompanied by a major new book, co-published by Thames & Hudson and the Australia Council, and edited by Natalie King. The book will present a compendium of texts that reflect on the artist's highly political and personal fictions, allowing readers to ponder what might be over the horizon. Contributing authors include Germano Celant, Adrian Martin, Moira Roth, Susan Bright, Djon Mundine, Alexis Wright, and Romaine Moreton.
ABOUT THE AUSTRALIAN PAVILION
MY HORIZON is the second art exhibition held at the new Pavilion of Australia, which was inaugurated in 2015, designed by Denton Corker Marshall and managed by the Australia Council for the Arts. This is the first 21st-century building and only water-facing pavilion to be built in the historic Giardini della Biennale, and is in contrast against the Venice skyline with its black granite exterior and stark geometric silhouette. Large-scale operable panels on the exterior of the building can be lifted, allowing natural light to stream through the exhibition space and offering pavilion visitors views of the canal. The interior of the building is a 240m2 rectangular, almost square gallery, whose flexible format can be transformed in accordance to the multifaceted needs of installing work by contemporary artists.
ABOUT AUSTRALIA AT LA BIENNALE DI VENEZIA
Australia has been represented at la Biennale di Venezia since 1954. In the 1980s, Australia secured the then-last available location within the Giardini, and in 1988 opened a temporary pavilion designed by Philip Cox. The Australia Council announced its intention to redevelop the Australian Pavilion at the opening of the 54th Biennale di Venezia in 2011. Venice authorities granted permission for the new construction which debuted in 2015. Australia is the first nation to build in the Giardini since 1995 and the first to build a 21st-century pavilion there.
Previous artists exhibiting at the Biennale include Fiona Hall (2015); Simryn Gill (2013); Hany Armanious (2011); Shaun Gladwell, Vernon Ah Kee, Ken Yonetani, Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro (2009); Callum Morton, Susan Norrie, Daniel von Sturmer (2007); Ricky Swallow (2005); Patricia Piccinini (2003); Lyndal Jones (2001); Howard Arkley (1999); Judy Watson, Yvonne Koolmatrie, Emily Kame Kngwarreye (1997); Bill Henson (1995); Jenny Watson (1993); Trevor Nickolls, Rover Thomas (1990); Arthur Boyd (1988); Imants Tillers (1986); Peter Booth, Rosalie Gascoigne (1982); Mike Parr, Tony Coleing, Kevin Mortensen (1980); Ken Unsworth, John Davis, Robert Owen (1978); Arthur Streeton, Arthur Boyd (1958); Albert Tucker (1956); Sidney Nolan, Russell Drysdale, William Dobell (1954).
ABOUT THE AUSTRALIA COUNCIL FOR THE ARTS
The Australia Council for the Arts is the Australian Government’s principal arts funding and advisory body. The Council supports Australian arts through a range of grants programs and strategic initiatives which foster and promote Australia’s distinctive arts and culture nationally and internationally. For the past three decades, Australia’s presentations at la Biennale di Venezia have been supported and managed by the Australia Council for the Arts.
ABOUT LA BIENNALE DI VENEZIA
La Biennale di Venezia dates to 1895, when the first International Art Exhibition was organised. It is one of the most important international biennials and cultural institutions in the world, introducing hundreds of thousands of visitors to the newest developments in contemporary art every two years. The 57th International Art Exhibition—la Biennale di Venezia (May 13 – November 26, 2017) is directed by Christine Macel, chief curator at the Centre Pompidou, Paris.