• The Subtle Art of Defiance

    11 May – 8 June 2019

Sydney, Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects

The Subtle Art of Defiance

Artists: Keg De Souza, Philjames, Mojgan Habibi, Julian Talarico & Oliver Wagner

Opening: Saturday 11 May at 2pm

Artist talks: Saturday 1 June at 2pm

Exhibition dates: 11 May – 8 June 2019

Co-curated by Elizabeth Reidy & Todd Fuller
Introduced by Jasmin Stephens

Presented by The Cross Art Projects and Waverley Artist Studios

Image: Philjames, Glass Warfare (Molotov), 2017. Lead Crystal and flame-worked Murano Glass.

The Subtle Art of Defiance examines the intersection of allure and resistance in contemporary artistic practice. Keg De Souza, Philjames, Morgan Habibi, Julian Talarico and Oliver Wagner present works that exude beauty, tradition and craftsmanship whilst simultaneously representing actions of social, political, historical and artistic defiance that question unilateral social hierarchies.

Catalogue Essay

The Subtle Art of Defiance examines the intersection of allure and resistance in contemporary artistic practice. Philjames, Keg De Souza, Mojgan Habibi, Julian Talarico and Oliver Wagner present works that exude beauty, tradition and craftsmanship whilst simultaneously representing actions of social, political, historical and artistic defiance that question unilateral social hierarchies. Embedded in each artists work is a distinct counter discourse subtly undermining dominant narrative ideologies subject to this contemporaneous moment. As cultural theorist Richard Terdiman reflects, “… counter –discourses have the capacity to situate: to relativize the authority and stability of a dominant system of utterances which cannot even countenance their existence. They read that which cannot read them at all”. The power of these works is in the gentle and alluring way they have engaged in the act of defiance. The beguiling beauty of each work provides a false sense of security for its audience quickly giving way to anxiety.

The centre piece for this exhibition, Philjames Glass Warfare (Molotov) 2017, is a re-imagined cut glass decanter. In keeping with his signature stylistic re-contextualisation of iconographic terrains and symbols Philjames strides toward commentary on the long dedicated violence of social class systems recreating an object that was once considered a marker of opulence and social status as an exquisitely beautiful, though thoroughly inciting, Molotov cocktail.

Iranian born artist Mojgan Habibi’s Behind the Words speaks to a nuanced international dialogue regarding censorship and freedom of speech. Suspended terracotta nonsensical letters hang in row upon row of jumbled language emboldened by the presence of floating white letters behind them. The white letters symbolize the presence of what cannot be said, that which is censored, thereby making bolder the terracotta letters. The installation presents a fragile ecology suggesting that which is censored is still present even if it is unable to articulate itself in a way that is visible.

The title of Keg De Souza’s work, 'the earth affords them no food at all', 2017, is taken from the diary of English explorer William Dampier, considered the first Englishman to explore parts of Australia, when surveying Australia in 1697. This quote serves as a point of departure for the work. De Souza’s vacuum bagged food samples are presented as though botanical specimens and speak to the present history of Indigenous displacement and evolving food culture in Australia.

In 'Fontana in risposta', 2019, Julian Talarico examines the relationship of the natural world and the social sphere fostered and reflected through the changing utility of the urban landscape. He extracts aspects of the public fountain which historically served as a source of water and bathing for communities, and presently serves as a monument or decorative structure. In Talarico’s reimagined public monument Fontana in risposta pieces of information that are habitually separated from each other are re-positioned into a relationship with each other. Maps are combined, money is re-viewed, images are overlaid and obscured, meanings are reworked and function and form blur revealing a new concept of urban landscape that subverts categorisation and acts as a site of resistance, revealing uncomfortable social truths.

Oliver Wagner’s 'The Material Flow (Green, Pink, Blue)' 2019, re-formats the parameters of the white cube by embedding itself in the architecture of the space. His work questions the very concept of art in its highest form. From the constraints of the canvas to the walls of the white cube Wagner suggests that art, like ideology and imagery, dissolves with the ebb and flow of time and that which we hold high in one moment is relegated to dust in the next.

The Subtle Art of Defiance is the fifth in a series of exhibitions curated with current and former Waverley Artist Studios artists. This exhibition was created specifically for The Cross Arts Projects and has been generously supported by Waverley Council.

Elizabeth Reidy

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Keg De Souza Artist Statement
The vacuum packed food items in 'the earth affords them no food at all' (2017) represent various Australian food culture narratives from pre-colonisation to a contemporary context.

‘the earth affords them no food at all’ is a quote from English coloniser William Dampier in 1697 when surveying the Australian landscape. This quote is a departure point for the work and highlights an inability to recognise and value existing culture/s.

The vacuum bagged food speaks to the history of displacement and evolving food culture in Australia – from Indigenous foods to introduced crops to introduced weeds, to early colonial settlement foods, to uniquely ‘Australian’ industrialised foods, to various waves of immigration, post-war foods, to contemporary food culture. These items are sealed, pressed and displayed in a manner reminiscent of botanical studies.

Mojgan Habibi Artist Statement
'Behind the Words' explores the concept of peaceful political resistance. The cursive oversized clay letters are suspended in space. Initially the letters appear to be entangled but on closer viewing it is revealed that each is carefully and deliberately tied into place. The most pronounced letters are the fired, brown terracotta clay works, behind them are white terracotta letters that hang like ghosts behind the larger terracotta pieces. All the letters signify resistance, with the white referencing censorship (or that which cannot be seen to be said). Inter-spliced in rows the letters are cursive and, while nonsensical and abstracted, resemble handwriting. Each letter functions as a symbol of communication — even those letters relegated to a state of censorship.

Philjames Artist Statement
Philjames practice explores a reinterpretation of time and place through the re-purposing of familiar cultural landscapes derived from old masters, religious icons, political figures and popular culture. His work uses well-known iconographic figures and idols from across history to ignite a questioning of social structures and political ideals often using bizarre and humorous means to reveal insidious social truths.

Julian Talarico Artist statement
This work departs from an interest in the public fountain as a sculpture and monument. I was interested in the way that public fountains have remained part of the urban landscape despite their changing social function. Previously connected to natural sources of water, the fountain was a public utility providing water for drinking and bathing. In their current iterations fountains are decorative and monumental. The fountain embodies a history leading to its current form - an urbanized aesthetic waterfall that holds a particular relationship between the natural world and the social sphere.

The word ‘cataract’ describes both a large waterfall and a visual condition in which the lens of the eye becomes cloudy, figuratively like looking though waterfall. Cataracts in the eye impair vision by softening what one sees. At night cataracts form glowing halos around lights, simultaneously an anaesthetic effect and a loss of clarity. I understand the public fountain to sit somewhere between the natural phenomenon of the waterfall and the inner experience of a cataract. I wanted to consider the fountain as socialized waterfall and communal cataract, in the form of aesthetic object.

In this artwork I made use of the form and elements of a fountain to make different type of monument. It is a sculpture that looks at how such urban forms and their embodied meanings sit in a logic which keeps knowledge and information separate. Fontana in risposta is a site where pieces of information which are habitually separated from each other are re-placed into relationship with each other in a public form of the fountain. Each part of the fountain is made in this way, maps are combined, money is re-viewed, and images are overlaid and obscured. It considers if it is possible to reconcile these uncoupled aspects of the world we live in within public structures, and if not, asks where sites of possible resistance might be located.

Oliver Wagner Artist Statement
Oliver Wagner’s practice involves process-driven inquiry, which examines conventional and expanded painting methodologies. This has led to an experimental approach whereby house paint is rendered into dust before being applied in abstract compositions to linen surfaces or to ephemeral installations in exhibition spaces. Wagner conceived the idea of using paint dust as a material by chance, after sanding between different colours of a multi-coloured mural and noticing the fallen dust had arranged itself in a seamless gradient on the floor. This methodology led to several bodies of work, which addresses the materiality and objecthood of paint and painting, its expansion into space, its transience, as well as the author and viewer’s bodily experience. In order to produce the dust, walls are repeatedly painted and sanded. This ongoing project — a work in itself, echoes the process and labour of producing paint prior to the invention of the readymade tube of paint. The industrially produced object of wet house paint is transformed into hand-made and dry dust, that like pigment absorbs or reflects light rays in order to establish the illusion of colour that forms an image. Dust itself also alludes to time; it is the consequence of something more whole being broken down over a given duration. Pictures are ephemeral and like every other object in the world subordinated to transience. They are constantly changing their form and are only briefly visible. The first series of work Wagner developed using paint dust were ephemeral compositions on linen, which eventually collapsed; off the picture plane, the dust fell into a new picture on the floor. As a result, the parameters of the gallery space were reformatted, which changed the beholder’s bodily experience in ways of their approach, perception and interaction with the work. The agency of the sliding dust was embraced in later pictures to allow unmediated colour combinations, in which simple preliminary gestures were adopted, to apply or move dust on a surface. Subsequently, he developed a specific process suitable for making the work permanent while preserving the illusion of loose dust. Those interplays of chance and illusion address the matters of making in relation to the nominalisation of visual art through skill, craft and care. It takes away sophistication in order to draw the attention to the subject of painting and visual art as a shared and changing experience of the world.

Julian Talarico Biography
Julian Talarico is a visual artist whose practice explores the potential held within everyday experience, particularly the possibility for the everyday to generate and hold intrinsic moments of signification and wonder. Drawing upon notions of the everyday and the sublime, his work supposes that this type of experience can arise from within the lived, quotidian experience of individuals and seeks to characterise, record and pay homage to it. Julian works increasingly in installation combining sculptural, moving image, textual and kinetic elements. His work is often large scale and site-specific. In his conceptualisation individual objects act as reservoirs or documents of wonder, but his interest is also in how each individual element exists in relation to each other. Through the interaction of objects, his works can be seen as ongoing attempts to create working models of how wonder exists beyond an individual's immediate experience. These ‘object systems’ make suppositions about how experiences of wonder might be recorded and shared beyond the individual, and from here how they might act as sites of resistance to social structures which contextualise everyday life.

Keg De Souza Artist Biography
Keg de Souza is an Australian artist working with mediums such as; inflatable and temporary architecture, food, film, mapping and dialogical projects to explore the politics of space. This investigation of social and spatial environments is influenced by her formal training in architecture and experiences of radical spaces through squatting and organising. She often creates site and situation specific projects with people, with an emphasis on knowledge exchange. Keg is a member of various collaborative groups, such as SquatSpace Artist Collective and is represented by Booklyn Artist Alliance, NY for her artist’s books and zines, which she has been self-publishing for over 15 years.

Recent exhibitions include; Common Knowledge and Learning Curves, Artspace, Sydney; spaced3: North by Southeast, AGWA (2018); The National: New Australian Art, AGNSW (2017); 20th Biennale of Sydney, and Setouchi Triennale, Japan (2016); Temporary Spaces, Edible Places: Vancouver and Preservation; both Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver and Temporary Spaces, Edible Places: New York, AC Institute, New York (2015); Temporality in Architecture, Food and Communities, Delfina Foundation, London; Temporary Spaces, Edible Places, Atlas Arts, Isle of Skye, Scotland and If There’s Something Strange In Your Neighbourhood, Ratmakan Kampung, Yogyakarta, Indonesia (2014); 5th Auckland Triennial, 15th Jakarta Biennale and Vertical Villages at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney, she received a Creative Australia Fellowship from the Australia Council for the Arts (2013).

Mojgan Habibi Biography
Dr. Mogjan Habibi’s artistic practice explores the relationship between ceramics, text and censorship, unearthing hidden meaning. Habibi’s practices references calligraphy, poetry and mythology of her country of birth, Iran, culminating in sculptural forms and installations that participate in nuanced international political discourse. Born in 1978 in Iran, Mojgan Habibi is a contemporary Iranian Australian Artist; she completed her PhD in Fine Art at the University of Newcastle in 2018 and is a casual lecturer at the University of Newcastle. In 2019 Habibi is a resident artist at Waverley Artist Studios, she is the recipient of Redgate Residency, China, and Hillend, NSW.

Oliver Wagner Biography
Oliver Wagner is an interdisciplinary artist from Switzerland who arrived in Australia 2012 and lives and works in Sydney. Wagner experiments with conventional and expanded painting methodologies and poses questions on the perception of skill, craft and care in art. He studied painting at National Art School, graduating 2017 with a Master of Fine Art. Wagner has won the prestigious Jocelyn Maughan Drawing Prize 2012, John Olson Drawing Prize 2015 and John McCaughey Painting Prize 2015 In 2018 he was shortlisted as an emerging artist for the Redlands Konica Minolta Art Prize. Oliver Wagner has exhibited extensively in group shows at galleries including Gallerie Abstract Project, Paris, Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney, Articulate Upstairs, Sydney, COMA Gallery, Sydney and he was recently presented by Sarah Cottier Gallery at the Sydney Contemporary Art Fair. Wagner's works are held in the National Art School Collection as well as in private collections in Australia.

Philjames Biography
Philjames practice explores a reinterpretation of time and place through the repurposing of familiar cultural landscapes derived from old masters, religious icons, political figures and popular culture. His work uses well-known iconographic figures and idols from across history to ignite a questioning of social structures and political ideals often using bizarre and humorous means to reveal insidious social truths.

Philjames has held solo exhibitions since 2010. He has a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Printmaking) from the National Art School, Sydney, 2002. Philjames’ work has been included in group exhibitions in Sydney, Melbourne, Newcastle, Adelaide and internationally in Christchurch NZ, New Orleans USA and Beijing China. A monograph on Philjames was published in 2014. He was awarded the Art Incubator Foundation Grant, 2015, a Creative Industries Fund Development Grant, CAL, 2011, and an Australian Cultural Residency, Beijing, China, 2010. Philjames has been a finalist in the Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize, 2017, Hazelhurst Art on Paper Award, 2017, The Blake Prize, 2014, 2005, The John Fries Memorial Art Prize, 2012, and The Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship, 2006, 2005. He was a finalist in the 2017 & 2018 Sulman Prize. His work is held in the collection of Artbank.