Future Archeology

Nathan Beard (Australia), Léuli Eshraghi (Australia), Deanna Hitti (Australia), Andy Mullens (Australia), Claudia Nicholson (Australia), Abdullah M.I. Syed (Australia/Pakistan)

Abdullah M.I. Syed, Brut for Men series (2013), installation view, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Image courtesy the artist and Document photography.

19 May — 22 July, 2016
Tuesday — Friday, 9am — 5pm

This exhibition is presented in collaboration with 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art

Future Archaeology presents work by a group of artists currently based in Australia who conceptually engage with notions of tradition through contemporary cultural artefacts. Through an appropriation of the discipline of archaeology, the exhibition presents artworks that excavate cultural artefacts as sites for the interrogation and unpacking of the social and political forces within Asia-Pacific that have led to mass migration, cultural displacement and environmental destruction. The exhibition also draws on a leading theme of multiplicity — of numerous geo-historical trajectories borne of moments of disruption, rather than continuity — as a means to consider both historical moments and contemporary developments that have shaped the cultural landscape.

Claudia Nicholson, On Our Terms (2015), sawdust, dye, glitter, installation view. Image courtesy the artist and Document Photography.

Commissioned especially for Future Archaeology was On Our Terms (2015) a new performance and installation by Colombian born artist, Claudia Nicholson, presented here through time-lapse photography and video documentation. Adopted by an Australian family at a young age, Nicholson often focuses her practice on attempts to establish a psychic connection with her Colombian family and heritage through an exploration of traditional Colombian cultural forms. Originating in Europe, the alfombra de asserín (sawdust carpet) emerged in South and Central America as a result of the widespread introduction of Catholicism. These vibrant and highly decorative forms are traditionally made to celebrate Corpus Christi, or Easter. But rather than simply replicating their European counterparts, the alfombra de asserín incorporated pre-Columbian folkloric symbols and narratives, becoming a bricolage of religious imagery. Nicholson’s own alfombra de asserín, On Our Terms (2015) weaves together a complex narrative that links the colonialism of the Americas and the current destruction of the landscape to the artists own experiences of cultural dislocation.

Also concerned with physical experiences of diaspora is Thai-Australian artist Nathan Beard, who has developed a new video work, Hiraeth (2015) which takes as its starting point a reel of Super 8 footage that the artist found in his mother’s home. Filmed by his paternal (Australian) aunt, the short video captures the rural landscape surrounding his mother home in Thailand, as well as family members and friends. The work takes its title from the Welsh word, Hiraeth, which refers to a melancholic longing for a home which no longer exists. By reframing this family video as a cultural artefact, Beard reflects this intimate portraits of family and place, allowing his mother — as well as the audience — to collapse the temporal and physical distances between his mothers home in Thailand and her current home in Australia, suggesting an alternative location where ones longing for home is both recognised but unfulfilled.

Andy Mullens, Still (2015), silk, fluorescent lights, metallic thread, installation view, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Courtesy the artist and Document Photography.

After travelling with her mother to Saigon to visit her own home, Andy Mullens embarked on a new body of sculptural works which address the multiple narratives of history that emerged as a result of the Vietnam War and the subsequent mass migration. Still (2015) appropriates the Vietnam State flag rendering it in cool fluorescent light and white silk. The desaturation of colour and glaring light reads as almost sterile as if Mullens is resisting a personal engagement with a former era of Vietnam. Instead, through the lens of inherited trauma and with a conflicted sense of cultural ownership, Mullens incorporates formal components of American Minimalism, Vietnamese traditional traditional materials and the flag as a cultural artefact to consider the convergence of social and political forces in Vietnam, both historically and in the contemporary context.

Léuli Eshraghi, installation view from Future Archaeology, (2015), 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Image courtesy the artist and Document Photography.

Born in Yuwi country and based in Warrm, Melbourne, of Persian and Samoan heritage, Léuli Eshraghi has drawn extensively on the visual traditions of his cultural heritage to produce a hauntingly beautiful and timely body of work which speaks to personal experiences of political persecution as well as the impact of the broader destruction of marginalised cultures from the Pacific and the Middle East. Vivid in their colour and geometry, the series Home (2014) nonetheless speak to the murder of the artist’s family members in his homeland of Iran and the subsequent erasure of their graves. These paintings emanate a sense of defiant joy, echoing in their own abstract form architectural flourishes, ornate bridges and garden fountains from Iranian culture. Similarly to Beard’s video, these works reflect upon and produce new sites for the memorialisation of family.

As the child of Lebanese parents who migrated to Australia, Deanna Hitti has developed a strong interest in comprehending the diverse cultural traditions of Australia’s varied populations, and as a printmaker and artist her work often interrogates the nuanced power dynamics that occur between countries from the Middle East, Asia and the West. Her artist book, Assimilated Museum (2015) features reproductions of works by artists such as Inges, Gerome and Delacroix which Hitti has scanned directly from educational art books found in Shenzhen which have then been screen printed on Chinese NiJin gold paper. Each image is accompanied by ‘fake’ titles comprising randomly selected characters from the Arabic alphabet. In doing so, Hitti investigates how historical notions of the East, characterised by exoticism, romanticism and orientalist can act as a kind of lens to reflect upon contemporary representation of the Middle East in Australia.

Deanna Hitti, Assimilation Museum (2015), screen prints on BFK Rives 210gsm, NiJin gold paper, hardcover book, installation view, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Image courtesy the artist and Document Photography.

Abdullah M.I. Syed’s ambitious series Brut for Men (2013) is the result of a two year collaboration with Pakistani truck artists based in Karachi, Pakistan. Brut for Men alludes both to the popular mens fragrance, designed to reflect a modern sense of masculine strength, and its extreme opposite found in the word ‘brute’. Made of hand-beaten and hand-crafted tickets (Chamak Patti) the Brut for Men sculptures combine masculine strength with a sense of fragility and beauty by including a number of non-traditional design components and images such as the lion and the deer in Brut for Men: Target (2013). As a collaborative project, Brut for Men also speaks to the process collective cultural production and the transference of skills between artists and artisans. Through this confluence of religious, spiritual and political beliefs, Syed is able to produce a body of work which reflects the complexity of cultural identity.

Through an interrogation and excavation of these cultural artefacts the artists in Future Archaeology proposed systems of communication and bodies of knowledge transferred through cultural production. The exhibition suggest that rather than static objects, the artworks and indeed cultural can be responsive to its environment, and that there is much to be learnt. By excavating and reinvigorating traditional cultural forms, the artists in Future Archaeology suggest alternative histories of the aesthetic and conceptual development of culture within the contemporary landscape.

Toby Chapman
4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art

Artist Biographies

Nathan Beard is an interdisciplinary artist based in Western Australia whose work engages syncretistically with the myriad of influences from his Thai-Australian background. He critically deconstructs tense binary divisions between the East and West, the highbrow and low culture, and the conceptual centre and periphery relationship and explores these cultural exchanges through his playful artistic practice. Beard had participated in solo and group exhibitions including Ad Matres, Artereal Gallery, Sydney (2015); Light Locker Art Space, Perth CBD, Perth (2013); Interregna, Moana Peroject Space, Perth (2013); and the 2012 Next Wave Festival — the space between us wants to sing, NGV Studio, Melbourne (2012). He has held residencies in Speedy Grandma, Bangkok and the Perth Institude of Contemporary Arts, Perth and is part of The Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere with fellow artists Abdul Abdullah and Casey Ayers.

Léuli Eshraghi is a Melbourne-based artist who uses illustration, painting, photography and installation to discuss indigeneity, language, body sovereignty and queer possibility. His works on paper retrace and reconnect to his Persian and Samoan heritages, taking inspiration from the traditional aesthetics of gabbeh carpet and siapo barkcloth in order to visualise hidden stories, concealed traumas and spirits of the past. Eshraghi is the current Gertrude Contemporary-Next Wave Emerging Curator and editor of the Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival’s Oceania Now publication. He has exhibited at Seventh Gallery, Melbourne (2015); the Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival (2015); and RM Gallery, Auckland (2014). Eshraghi’s curatorial projects include Total Eclipse, Melbourne Fringe Festival, The Ownership Project (2014); and the award winning So Fukin Native with Pauline Vetuna and mentor Taloi Havini, Melbourne Fringe Festival, Blak Dot Gallery (2012).

Deanna Hitti is an artist specialising in printmaking, drawing from her professional experience of over 14 years in the field. Her books and prints, published through her own studio, investigate the complex relationship between Eastern and Western cultures and how this relationship is understood and constructed through the perspective of a Lebanese-Australian. Hitti’s arist books reflect on classicism in both hemispheres of the world, analysing the notions of exoticism, romanticism and the orientalist gaze to comprehend contemporary representations of the Middle East in both art and the media. She has exhibited internationally in solo and group shows including The Centre for Book Arts (New York); IMPACT8 Conference, Scotland; Langford120, Melbourne; and 45 Downstairs, Melbourne. The artist’s books and prints have been bought by The State Library of Victoria and the National Library of Australia, among other major Australian collections.

Andy Mullens is a Canberra-based artist whose practice discusses concepts of singular and group identity, and self-representation through an exploration of cultural identity, family history and national history. Working between both film and digital photography as well as sculpture and traditional craft, she strives to reconcile her Australian and Vietnamese identity, realigning herself with her Vietnamese family, cultural heritage and her history. After completing a Bachelor of Visual Arts (Honours) in 2014, Mullens exhibited her first solo show three at Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Canberra in 2015. She has also participated in group exhibitions including Past Perfect, Leta Gallery + Project Space, Canberra (2015); and Plucked, gallery@bcs, Canberra (2015), part of the ANU School of Art Emerging Artist Support Scheme BSC Springboard Award.

Claudia Nicholson was born in Bogota, Colombia 1987. In 2011 she graduated with a Bachelor Of Fine Arts (Honours) from UNSW Art and Design (Formally COFA). In 2013 She exhibited at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art as part of their emerging artist program. In 2013 she participated in Centro Selva’s artist in residency program in the Peruvian Amazon and had her first solo show, Silly Homeland, at Gaffa gallery. In 2014 Nicholson was an artist in residence at Firstdraft gallery resulting in her second solo exhibition. She recently participated in the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art studio program in Beijing with Shen Shaomin. Nicholson is an associated artist of Gaffa gallery Sydney. As a Colombian born artist, adopted and raised in Australia, Nicholson occupies an ambivalent position between Australian, Amerindian and Latino cultures. Her work is multidisciplinary with a focus on ceramics, video art, sculpture and painting. She works extensively with her family, using performance to comment on social attitudes pertaining to kinship and familial relationships. The tensions of cultural hybridity and dislocation resonate throughout her practice.

Abdullah M.I. Syed is an interdisciplinary artist working between Karachi and Sydney. His works utilize a variety of mediums and techniques to present a complex political commentary that tackles controversial topics such as the War on Terror, immigration and Western attitudes towards Eastern society. He participated in the Britto artists’ workshop and an artist residency at Cicada Press. He has also co-curated exhibitions, notably Michael Esson: A Survey of Drawing; Michael Kempson: A Survey of Prints; Aboriginal Dreams and Let’s Draw the Line in Karachi, Pakistan. As a designer, Syed co-coordinated the Design Department at the University of Karachi and has lectured there and at UCO in the United States. He is recently completed his Ph. D at the College of Fine Arts in Sydney, Australia.