The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA Australia) has opened its Primavera 2023: Young Australian Artists exhibition featuring the work of Tiyan Baker (NSW), Christopher Bassi (QLD), Moorina Bonini (VIC), Nikki Lam (VIC), Sarah Poulgrain (QLD), and Truc Truong (SA).
Guest curated by Talia Smith, Primavera 2023: Young Australian Artists presents the work of early careers artists from across Australia working across video, painting, sculpture, installation and text. This year’s exhibition considers themes of protest, perseverance, identity and history.
Primavera is the MCA’s annual exhibition showcasing the work of young Australian artists. Now in its 32nd year, Primavera continues to be a significant platform for early-career Australian artists and curators to present exciting new work.
Since its inception, the exhibition series has presented the work of over 250 artists and over 30 curators and helped propel the careers of many of Australia’s most significant artists.
Suzanne Cotter, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia said: “The MCA’s annual Primavera exhibition is recognised as a unique and pivotal launch pad in an artist’s career. Each year is a privileged opportunity to see the energy and the commitment of a new generation of artists who will be defining how we see and understand art now and in the future. This year’s edition of Primavera is no exception.”
Primavera 2023: Young Australian Artists is accompanied by an exhibition catalogue ($35), featuring contributions from Suzanne Cotter, Guest Curator Talia Smith, Sarinah Masukor, June Miskell, Phuong Ngo, Rebecca Ray and Sarah Thomson, as well as a photo essay by Primavera 2023 artist Moorina Bonini.
As part of the Primavera 2023 public program, the MCA will present a free round table discussion on Friday 15 September 2023 at 6pm. During this informal conversation, Guest Curator Talia Smith and exhibiting artists will discuss the exhibition’s themes of protest, perseverance, and reimagining.
Part salvaging, part speculation, Malaysian Bidayǔh-Anglo Australian artist Tiyan Baker’s practice engages in storytelling and world-building to reclaim her vision of her indigenous heritage. Baker’s work for Primavera 2023, Personal computer: ramin ntaangan (2022–23), references a Bidayǔh longhouse to enclose a self-assembled computer displaying images of the artist’s ancestral home. Constructed from forest materials, such longhouses were once the heart of Bidayǔh life and knowledge, but since colonisation most have been demolished and replaced with western-style housing. Based in Mulubinba/Newcastle, the artist remains connected to Bidayǔh culture through digital platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp. In doing so, both her computer and this iterative installation become treasured objects that hold key cultural knowledge.
Meanjin/Brisbane-based artist Christopher Bassi’s luscious paintings exude the warmth and tones of Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait. Combining his training in European painting techniques and his Torres Strait Islander heritage, the Meriam and Yupungathi artist blurs the lines between history and the present to explore ideas of memory, identity, place and the legacies of colonialism. His work for Primavera 2023, Monuments to the South/West Waters of a Great Ocean (2023), takes its name from the Arafura Sea to the west of the Torres Strait and Waiben/Thursday Island, Bassi’s mother’s Country. The ‘monuments’ of the title allude to the Arafur Sea’s rich history of fishing, pearling and shell trade. As the subjects of his work, these everyday props become epic through the detail and care the artist takes in rendering them. Such paintings are a means of storytelling and a method for exploring the artist’s connection to Country.
A Naarm/Melbourne-based artist whose works are informed by her experiences as an Aboriginal and Italian woman, Moorina Bonini’s practice attempts to disrupt and critique Eurocentric ideas of the Indigenous, especially within western institutions. Grounded in Indigenous knowledge systems, Bonini’s practice also seeks to unsettle the narratives imposed on Aboriginal people as a result of colonisation. For Primavera 2023, Bonini presents two works. In dapalama (between) (2023), language and bawu (body) marks, materialised through charcoal, form a counterpoint to the Museum’s white walls. Together, they assert that Indigenous histories and knowledge pre-date such institutions and offer holistic world views often neglected by western discourse. Her second work, Place Marks (2023), is a photo essay featured in the accompanying exhibition catalogue. Documenting the artist’s burnt marks on museum archival boxes, it points to histories of claiming and categorising Indigenous cultural materials in institutional collections.
For Primavera 2023, Hong Kong-born and Naarm/Melbourne-based artist-curator and producer Nikki Lam presents The unshakable destiny_2101 (2023). The first in a trilogy of films, the work asks us to consider the psychological effects of protest and resistance. Symbols of this disquiet appear throughout, while its protagonist’s preoccupation with self-image echoes the shifts in identity that Hong Kong has undergone since the handover. Lam’s film, which screens alongside an animation titled The Unshakeable Destiny: Release (2023), walks the line between the history of cinema and the history of political activism, weaving together memories and experiences to create a speculative space for reflections of body, identity, history and protest
Central to Meanjin/Brisbane-based, artist Sarah Poulgrain’s practice is the potential of collaboration to address issues such as the inequality of access to education, the housing crisis and climate change. Poulgrain’s methodology often takes the form of learning a new skill (usually through interest-specific community groups), then documenting the process and re-teaching it to others. Drawing on their wide network of collaborators, Poulgrain’s l structural sculptures for Primavera 2023, titled Learning how to build a houseboat: walls, fixing and rope (2023), are associated with a larger project to build a houseboat which Poulgrain intends to become a floating artist-run community space, residence and functional sculpture. From the many hands that have torn the pieces of paper that make up the vessel’s pulp walls, to those that have twisted each strand of rope, the sculptural elements of the project are a testament to collective effort, asserting the importance of community resilience and reciprocity in achieving a more equitable future.
Treading a fine line between rage and humour, Tarndanya/Adelaide-based artist Truc Truong’s practice considers the power dynamics woven throughout her family’s history and the pressure to be a ‘model migrant’ in Australia. For Primavera 2023, Truong presents I Pray You Eat Cake (2023). A reference to the artist’s Vietnamese heritage, the work comprises a rotating Lazy Susan table synonymous with yum cha, while cured pig intestines, rendered gold, recall shrine or temple offerings. Allusions to Vietnam, France, Christianity and Buddhism are made through a riotous assemblage of found objects and fabrics, as well as toys and dolls from the artist’s childhood. Truong’s family migrated to Australia from Vietnam in 1982. Her upbringing has been shaped by her parents’ experiences of a Saigon that no longer exists, her own explorations of what it means to be Vietnamese-Australian and the complexities these experiences can pose.
Primavera is supported by Presenting Patrons Gordon and Tasmin Jackson, and MCA Next, the Museum’s program for young philanthropists. The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia would also like to thank exhibition partners AV1 and Pommery.
A free audio guide will also be available on mca.art for visitors to gain more insight into the works on display and hear directly from the artists and curator.
Primavera 2023: Young Australian Artists is a free exhibition on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Level 1 South Gallery, from midday Friday 8 September 2023 until Sunday 4 February 2024.