Putting theories into practice

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“V from Alphabet for Modernity” by Shags.

Francis Kenna is an artist obsessed with space and now he has a chance to put his theories into practice by curating the fifth annual CAPO Emerging Artists’ Prize Exhibition, writes HELEN MUSA.

Francis Kenna is an artist obsessed with space and now, as the winner of the Capital Arts Patrons’ Organisation Curatorial Internship Award, he has a chance to put his theories into practice by curating the fifth annual CAPO Emerging Artists’ Prize Exhibition.

A visual arts/arts graduate with a background in print media, art theory and philosophy, Kenna is now completing a PhD at the ANU School of Art and Design, 50-50 theory and practical.

His future is probably as a curator, so while finishing the doctorate he’s been putting together a challenging exhibition called “Formfull: Formless”.

Built around six selected artists, Joanne Leong, Kendall Manz, Belle Palmer, Sheida Sabetraftar, Shags and Chayla Ueckert-Smith, the exhibition is seen by Kenna as a testing ground for different forms, exploring concepts of spatial engagement across drawing, video, sound and sculptures.

Artist-cum-curator Francis Kenna… “I’ve had a terrific group of advisers mentoring me.”

All the work on show, he predicts, will “complicate the relationship between objects and their viewer as an active participant”.

The artists exhibiting in “Formfull: Formless”, who work in drawing, print media, installation and video are coincidentally all female. Four have graduated from the ANU School of Art and Design over the last two years, while two are completing honours studies this year.

“I’m interested in the idea of architectural atmospheres. I’m looking into themes of space, perception, body and time,” says Kenna.

He hopes the artwork will transform viewers in the gallery from being passive observers to active participants.

“The show came together in my mind while I was walking through the 2018 graduation show, and saw artists working with form and with the idea of participating in art.”

To Kenna it was important that the selected works didn’t take a static object in a gallery as a “given”, but asked for social engagement.

“I’ve had a terrific group of advisers mentoring me, Neil Doody, Alexander Boynes, Emily Casey and Marilyn Gray… I’m more of a spatial theorist before all else and they’ve allowed me to focus on the spatial concepts at the basis of my show,” he says.

“The artists were not asked to directly respond to any particular theme; however, I spoke with them all at the beginning of the project about ideas of participation.”

The results are often surprising.

Hong Kong-born Joanne Leong, in her work on paper “Recipes for Friends”, looks at different ways of being Australian, through printed family recipes that act as reminders of mother-cultures, recipes modified for new homes, and even “recipes for stumbling home after a big night”.

Ceramicist Kendall Manz links her art to archaeology, mimicking the relationship between geological forces and human design through ceramic sculptures, as porcelain softens to become “drapery”.

The fixed art piece presented by Belle Palmer in the exhibition challenges the viewers to consider their role in the process of viewing art by asking: “Since I have participated in the art-making process, whose art is it?”

Printmaker Shags, using a font she created called “Alphabet for Modernity” where each letter also had an associated guitar note from the chromatic scale, created a series of “glyphs” in part to remind us, “that we are all part of the one ecosystem and to revel in each other’s uniqueness”.

“Formfull: Formless”, The CAPO Emerging Artists’ Prize Exhibition, ANU School of Art and Design Gallery, Project Space, July 3-August 2.

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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