The National – New Australian Art

The National – New Australian Art


The National: New Australian Art is grounded in an ethos of collaboration:
between institutions and curators, with artists and writers. As the many participants
in this landmark new initiative shape and realise the project over six years,
this ethos of collaboration will remain a guiding principle, along with an abiding
commitment to supporting new work and sustaining its relationships to audiences.

Art Gallery of NSW
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

Karla Dickens
Virginia Fraser
Karla Dickens began as a painter, making ‘lots of expressionist work in the nineties
at the National Art School’ and, ‘because I had little money, I’d find things to
collage’. 1 Later she had a baby, lost another, a friend died. Art seemed ‘selfindulgent’.
Then she got an exhibition 2 in Lismore, her hometown, and, using
fabric, produced new work that ‘reignited my love’. These deep, dark cloth and
paint compositions are still part of Dickens’ visual language, along with sculptural
assemblages made in materials including op-shop finds and rurally flavoured hard
rubbish and historical refuse from the Lismore tip.
Four decades after the American artist Miriam Schapiro coined the term ‘femmage’
for collage art using material associated with women’s lives, ‘materiality’ is
the subject of new discussions in art. Dickens’ work exemplifies both kinds of
production, where ‘materials become wilful actors and agents within artistic
processes, entangling their audience in a web of connections’, 3 and matter is
understood as ‘a dynamic and shifting entanglement of relations, rather than a
property of things’. 4 As Dickens puts it:
with the fabric, everyone can relate to it – ‘My aunty had curtains like that!’
It’s kind of familiar, so people get engaged before they realise what’s
happening. And I think when you’re opening people’s memory vents you
get them at a softer, more vulnerable place.
The titles of Dickens’ works Bound (2015) and Fight Club (2016), and her exhibition
Black and Blue, 5 say a lot about her hard subject matter – sexualised and racialised
violence, deceptions, depression, alcohol-soaked Australian culture, brutal habits
and histories. From a distance, Bound’s crowd of empty ink-tinted cloth torsos,
with their decorated fronts and long tapering arms, look pretty and somewhat
self-deprecating. Close up, they’re straitjackets with multiple buckled straps behind
bodices hung with signs of particular bondages – addiction, ideas about femininity,
marriage, children, attachment to home, money – reasons women stay in dangerous
relationships. One is adorned with cows’ teeth and flowers from 1950s upholstery;
homemade greyhound muzzles, clumped hair and sharp fringes of massed combs
dangle from others.
Likewise, the eight grouped black paintings of Fight Club might be decorated
shields, until you’re near enough to read acerbic poetry on metal rubbish-bin lids.
When his shadow become disconnected, / Peter Pan had Wendy sew it back
on / If my shadow went astray, would I search for a needle? / I’m not sure …
/ My shadow has a richness. / It has colour, depth, its own kind of magic, its
special connections. / These paintings are my attempt to give the viewer a
peek into the not always black journey of living with the black dog.


Event Details

  • Location: CarriageWorks
  • Starts: Thursday 30 March