Portrait Gallery turns the spotlight on love

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Harriet Schwarzrock with “spaces between movement and stillness” 2021, blown glass, ionised gas, electrodes, electrical current.

THE National Portrait Gallery has no intention of letting us forget that its exhibition “Australian Love Stories” is coming up on March 20.

On Friday (February 26), media was treated to an introduction by Sandra Bruce, co-curator of the coming exhibition, to the ideas behind the show – “love, affection and connection in all its myriad forms and permutations”, and to glass artist Harriet Schwarzrock’s installation, “spaces between movement and stillness”, commissioned by the gallery as a centrepiece to the larger exhibition.

Consisting of two walls of glass hearts, the work combines Schwarzrock’s interest in science and experimentation as glass, inert gases and electricity come together to produce a field of colour and movement, all predicated on the idea that, as the artist puts it, “the heart is often regarded as our emotional centre”.

Schwarzrock gets a glass heart to respond.

Modern medical science may not back up that view, but the installation comprises 120 glass hearts reflecting the heart rate, that show how  the heart reacts to physical and emotional change, a departure from conventional portraiture as seen in traditional painting and sculpture. For such a large number of hearts, she said, it had been impossible to build in an interactive element, but by using a controller she was able to elicit some movement from the glass heart.

“It’s something everyone can connect with,” she said.

Bruce explained that the initial idea, before covid struck, was to stage an exhibition based on loans from the National Portrait Gallery in London, but that they had to “delay and reinvent” the show to turn it into “Australian Love Stories”, where they could draw on their own holdings.

Back in August 2020, she said, to get around COVID-19 restrictions, an online version of the show had been put up here as a choose-your-own love adventure where, at the end, viewers are given their own love profile.

“Australian Love Stories”, March 20–August 1, bookings essential here.

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Helen Musa
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