Close Encounters of the Unworldly Kind

Unworldly Encounters at the Australian Experimental Art Foundation (AEAF) brings together Chinese artists Shi Jinsong and Cang Xin and Australian artists Sam Leach and Tony Lloyd. Inspired by the artists’ travels in 2011 across northern Australia from Arnhem Land to Broome and then to Beijing and Tibet, the artworks reflect a cross-cultural perspective of the landscape.

The initial project (called First Life: A residency project in Landscape) was developed by Steve Eland (then director at 24 Hour Art in Darwin and now the director of AEAF). He saw this group of artists travel to Arnhem Land and the Kimberley, along with artists Ben Armstrong and Wu Daxin and writer Ashley Crawford.

After they travelled through the top end of Australia, the group then travelled from Beijing to Tibet and held an exhibition in Beijing and Darwin.

Part of the group has come together again in Unworldly Encounters and will also travel to the Flinders Ranges to continue their explorations.

close-encounters-unworldly-kind-adelaide-review-2 Unworldly Encounters artists during residency on Adnyamathanha country, Flinders Ranges, September 2016.

“The idea was put together by Steve Eland and it was really about getting artists from different cultures together to experience the landscape and to experience different cultures,” Lloyd says.

“And for those cultures and landscapes to be seen through the eyes of an artist.” The artists travelled into some challenging environments, experiences that had a profound impact on their work.

“The concept was to think about what happens if you make artists have a physical experience in a completely different environment,” Leach says.

close-encounters-unworldly-kind-adelaide-review-3Tony Lloyd The Ocean Floor (in-progress detail) 2016. Image courtesy the artist, Hill Smith Gallery, Adelaide and Gallery 9, Sydney.

A lot of Lloyd’s work focuses on mountains and for Unworldly Encounters he has created an installation work called The Ocean Floor. The work is inspired by the theory that mountains formed from seashells falling to the bottom of the ocean.

Eventually they became sedimentary rock and through plate tectonics formed mountains. The Ocean Floor is made from hundreds of seashell fragments Lloyd collected from the Victorian coastline.

“They are going to be suspended from the gallery ceiling so they form the shape of a mountain,” he says.

“It will be like they are floating in a gentle watery movement but they will have the shape of the mountain range. You should be able to see through them and go underneath them.”

close-encounters-unworldly-kind-adelaide-review-5 Shi Jinsong during Unworldly Encounters residency 2016

Leach’s work in the exhibition directly references experiences the group had on their travels. Sky Burial looks at the Tibetan tradition of feeding the deceased to vultures. Leach has created a granite block similar to the kind used to break the bones of the corpse in this ritual.

“I am installing it on a little patch of a synthetic replica of the Tibetan hillside with a few pieces of small bone fragments from a medical specimen,” explains Leach.

Another work by Leach, titled, Momentum Transfer, is a replica of the small twist in the design of a spear thrower which he observed when he was in Arnhem Land. The twist is used to maximise the power from the arm of the spear.

close-encounters-unworldly-kind-adelaide-review-6Shi Jinsong The Other Shore (installation detail) 2011, charcoal, animal bones

“I’m focusing on the particular design element and the idea of transferring this energy and momentum from the human into the tool and then launching the tool into space,” Leach says.

“In some ways both works relate to this way of projecting the human into the sky.” The project has had a huge impact on the practice of all the artists involved and by including artists from Australia and China the audience will see different perspectives of a shared experience.

“Audiences will also find some commonalities and some shared language,” Leach says. “In contemporary visual art there is a global dialogue in which we are all participating.” Unworldly Encounters Australian Experimental Art Foundation Thursday, September 8 to Saturday, October 15 aeaf.org.au ozasiafestival.com.au

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