Meeting of art and science, a ‘poem come to life’

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A still from the winning work, “Open Air” by Grayson Cook and Emma Walker.

ONE of the great pleasures of life in the national capital is that every year we can view the finalists in the biennial Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize. 

Canberra is the only Australian city outside Adelaide who can say this. There are still a couple of weeks to pay a visit to the National Archives, where the rare show, commemorating the birth of the South Australian Museum’s first curator, Frederick George Waterhouse, has been coming for many years, delighting members of the general public and gradually converting art lovers initially suspicious of its mission to view scientific investigation through art.

This meeting of art and science is multifaceted.

The winning work, for instance, is “Open Air” by Grayson Cook and Emma Walker, which captures Australia’s varied landscape by combining satellite imagery, videography and painting to produce a picture of the changing planet, set to the Necks’ 2013 album, “Open”.

Rebecca McEwan “4000 Stories”, detail, honey, glass, cork, metal, pollen. Photo: Helen Musa

While there are no thylacines this time – a popular subject over the years – all eyes have been upon an amazing chandelier made of honey, which was named the winner in the emerging artist category.

Rebecca McEwan’s “4000 Stories” comprises thousands of tiny glass phials filled with honey, each vessel containing the lifetime supply of three to four bees, prompting us “to question the existence and importance of bees in our delicately balanced ecosystem”.

Happy to report that the exhibition, which always starts off at the South Australian Museum, has been won many times by Canberrans – glass artist Harriet Schwarzrock and printmaker Erica Seccombe come to mind.

This time round, the exhibition features the highly commended work of Canberra artists, ceramicist Cathy Franzi, Canberra gold and silversmith Lan Nguyen-hoan and textile artist, Rosie Armstrong.

Armstrong, still a student in the textile workshop at the ANU School of Art and Design, told us she hadn’t heard of the prize until a few months ago and had used her entry, “A Requiem For Insects”, to comment on some of the lesser-known or threatened species, like the golden sun moth.

Rosie Armstrong “A Requiem for Insects”, laser cut and etched plywood, watercolour paint.

Armstrong said she had recreated moths from fine shavings of plywood, using the sense of pattern, colour and texture that she had acquired through her textile practice.

Cathy Franzi, whose ceramic works that capture the Canberra landscape and native flora make her a hot property at Beaver and Sabbia galleries, and whose work “Painting the Hills of Canberra” was included in the Canberra Centenary time capsule, Franzi told us how she had carved through the black coating on a porcelain vase to get the image of a coastal banksia for her entry.

Ceramicist Cathy Franzi with ‘Coastal Banksia’

“I made this work at the beginning of 2020 in in the week of the bushfires, where much of the coastal strip of land was impacted,” Franzi said.

Director-general of the Archives, David Fricker, had poetry on his mind, saying, “It’s as if Dorothea Mackellar’s ‘My Country’ poem has come to life. You can see the ‘jewel-sea’ in brilliant turquoise, the ochre-red earth of the sunburnt country and the sheer vastness of this ancient country we call home”.

The Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize, at the National Archives of Australia until June 6. All details here.

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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