A ‘long canal’ to Venice – Fiona Hall’s art

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VISION and hard work were the two characteristics of Fiona Hall’s art, director of the National Gallery of Australia Gerard Vaughan said yesterday as the new exhibition “Wrong Way Time” was unveiled to the intrigued media.

Installation view of Wrong Way Time at the Australian Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 2015.
Installation view of Wrong Way Time at the Australian Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 2015.

Direct from the 2015 Venice Biennale, the Canberra-only exhibition provides Australian audiences with a window into this international art event and Hall was the first artist to represent Australia in the new Australian Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale.

The exhibition, which demands concentrated  viewing, so finely detailed is the work,  presents more than 800 objects in one space, installed in huge cabinets filled with ‘curiosities’. Around the walls are clocks painted with diverse imagery and slogans which tick and chime in a cycle reminding viewers that time is passing and that “endings are the new beg… [innings].

Dr Vaughan was joined by Simon Mordant, Australia’s Commissioner for the 2015 Venice Biennale, who had commissioned the exhibition from Hall. He said 300,000 visitors had queued to get in to see the installation in Venice who said 300,000 visitors had queued to get in to see the installation in Venice.

Fiona Hall in front of Manuhiri (Travellers) in Fiona Hall: Wrong Way Time at the National Gallery of Australia © Fiona Hall
Fiona Hall in front of Manuhiri (Travellers) in Fiona Hall: Wrong Way Time at the National Gallery of Australia © Fiona Hall

The main exhibition room reflecting the Venice show is complemented by a selection of Hall’s works in the NGA collection, curated by Dr Deborah Hart   that includes a wall of her famous sardine-tin sculptures “Paradisus terrestris” 1989 – 90 and her installation “Leaf litter 1999 – 2003”.

Endings are the new beg 2014 from the series Wrong Way Time 2012–15 oil on long-case clock on loan from the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney Photograph: Clayton Glen © Fiona Hall
Endings are the new beg 2014 from the series Wrong Way Time 2012–15 oil on long-case clock on loan from the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney Photograph: Clayton Glen © Fiona Hall

As well as that, Dr Vaughan was quick to point out, visitors would be encouraged to view Hall’s 1998 “Fern Garden”, flourishing within view of the exhibition foyer. The garden has been refurbished and is visible from the exhibition’s foyer. “Wouldn’t it be great to see more garden designs of this calibre?”  he   asked.

Where the wind blows 2015 (detail) Australian Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2015 (installation view) gouache on banknotes; 74 parts on loan from the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney Photograph: Christian Corte © Fiona Hall
Where the wind blows 2015 (detail) Australian Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2015 (installation view) gouache on banknotes; 74 parts on loan from the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney Photograph: Christian Corte © Fiona Hall

Hall took to the podium to describe the installation as a “show with a great deal of complexity logistically,” also praising her curator Linda Michael, so that she could say “Now I know what a curator does. “The result is what the gallery calls “a wunderkammer-like installation appeals to our human impulse to make connections”.

Hall said that the world seem to be going back in time – in global politics, world finances and the environment, hence the title “Wrong Way Time”. It was with “great sadness and chagrin” that she had observed the world becoming “a minefield of madness, badness and sadness”. The world, she said, was “such a magnificent place but I have focused on these troubled times.”

Kuka Irititja (animals from another time), 2105, Fiona Hall and artists from the Tjanpi Desert Weavers
Kuka Irititja (animals from another time), 2105, Fiona Hall and artists from the Tjanpi Desert Weavers

Hall said that it was Aboriginal curator Djon Mundine who had phoned her about working with the Tjanpi [“grass”] Desert Weavers collective from Central Australia and famous for their grass creations of “animals from another time”.

So impressed was she, that she decided to incorporate them into her show, working with about a dozen artists,  of whom two joined her on the podium at the NGA for the  launch.

Creating the installation, Hall said, had been “a bit like spin the bottle…it was a hard road – a long canal…but Venice is the pinnacle, so you want to do some something big.”

“Wrong Way Time”, Fiona Hall, at the NGA, until July 10. FREE ENTRY.

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