For those in their last year of high school, being creative and combining that with theoretical lessons from teachers can be challenging, but in the end fulfilling. ARTEXPRESS 2016 is currently showcasing 45 artworks by the 2015 New South Wales Higher School Certificate Visual Arts student cohort that have seemingly been able to considerably put these together. The works are a glorious insight into the future of artistic creativity in Australia.
Hamid Sekandari chatted to Danielle Gullotta, the curator at The Armory of the exhibition for us the AU Review.
Did you select the works for the Armory, if so why those particular works?
ARTEXPRESS is a selection of student artworks from the 2015 HSC. So those students were part of a large cohort of art works that I could’ve selected from. They were works that reached a certain level of marks for the HSC. I go through them with seven other curators, who are doing other shows, and I felt like those works were really strong and expressed something about being a young person in 2016.
What were the reasons behind the theme ‘Within Reach?’
Each year, I try and go with no preconceived theme and select a group of works and often I select more at first that I’m given; and I just have a look at what a really strong essence of ideas are coming through. I felt like a lot of students were dealing with quite sophisticated process of emotions. With the work — when you come into the exhibition — I thought that it encompasses the idea of ‘Within Reach’, whether it’s dreams, hopes for the future, hard emotional turmoil, or even within reach of looking towards an iconic artist they’ve studied, that they’re just within reach but because of history they are far beyond.
As curator for five consecutive years, how has the creativity of the artworks changed?
The works are a lot more resolved. You can really see that students are really editing their work. It’s a sophisticated idea to create a body of work. Often when we look at history we see artists who work their whole lives and then they create a body of work. So to ask someone who is 17 or 18 to create a body of work, often you will see students want to submit as much as they can, which is fantastic because of the breadth of scope. But sometimes when they edit the work and only submit the stronger pieces, you get a stronger, finalised artwork. You see artworks that there are a lot of thought towards the artworks they submit and specific instructions in how to display the work.
To what extent do teachers affect the student’s creativity, in your own opinion, and can this effect be seen through their art works?
Its complex question because you’re looking at works that have been produced as part of a school syllabus for an examination. The teachers are there to guide them — and really to extend them. It is a two year process, what you see in the gallery is a culmination of high school visual arts; the teachers they have is very important, because from year 7 to 10 they are introducing students to ideas, techniques, style, chronological understanding. As they are getting into years 11 and 12 they should have developed some skills in their fields and then the teacher guides the conceptual understanding.
We are in 2016. Art is more than just a framed painting. Art is an installation, conceptual, time based. The teacher is there to give students the breadth of opportunity but also to understand how art is understood and read in 2016.
Do you think that creativity and art is restricted by schools?
Visual arts classes give students opportunities to be creative. When we talk about creativity we are looking at open-ended learning, and I think there is no more open-ended learning than year 11 and 12 visual arts [classes] because it is up to the students to create something that is original for them as possible. In the scope when you are teaching techniques that is a technical thing, some people argue that’s a craft, you’re learning a skill that you have to perfect, where creativity comes in is the idea or the concept behind what you produce. When you introduce students to artist in our history and are telling them to respond, that is where the aspect of creativity comes from.
The majority of the artworks make the audience feel like it is as their reality as much as it is the artists. Did an artwork stand out for yourself, and why?
They were all strong and stood out for me. Le Donne Della Famigila, by Emma Rose Lewis based her artwork on a theme of meditating on heritage. It was a piece that was firstly very powerful and secondly, striking. It referenced the generations of her family and responded to the heritage of her Italian cultural heritage and gave a lot of that reference to the Italian past and also that reference through history being passed through the grandmother. There was reference to the traditional lace and crocheting and the use of the hands, which I think worked well with the theme within reach. The sort of idea of reaching out. It also looked at the death masks, but when I looked at it, it also referenced the fashion designers Dolce and Gabanna, who do that sort of southern Italian take on contemporary fashion, lots of black and veils and roses. It was a work that crossed traditional art forms and contemporary.
Infinite Enchantment by Amy Millhouse is another artwork that stands out. She’s placed at your level, because she represents all the students that are within the exhibition. If you’re older, she is your younger self. If you’re younger, she is who you would become when you’re older. She is holding a symbol of the world, the globe, that represents the environment, especially an iconic image for Sydney olympic Park being in a wetland that has native birds and frogs. She encompasses both a macrocosm and microcosm in one image, that really is a universal symbol. You’re greeted by this very intense image of heritage, past, culture and religion, and perhaps you meet your alter ego, and you take that character and go through the exhibition and a journey.
Document 1 by Alessia Sakoff is a monumental work that is outstanding. A large scroll that has incredible amount of details and works on so many levels. Themed with technological possibilities but also part of social commentary. We are looking at the revolution of warfare, technology and man. It works as a great piece that you can look at from a distance, and then when you’re up closer there is a lot of details that is quite painstakingly done, but at the same time the artist has thrown ink. It’s this tight work that has evolved out of something that is very experimental.
The exhibition at Sydney Olympic Park has so many elements, educational resources, peoples choice awards, and lots of elements that help students, teachers, and the general public engage with the works so that they don’t feel distant from the artworks.
Works shown in this article are (from top to bottom): Earth and Elements by Zoe Liesel Heytman; Infinite Enchantment by Amy Millhouse; Physiognomy by Bronte Leahy and Document 1 by Alessia Sakoff.
ARTEXPRESS 2016 is being shown at The Armory in Sydney Olympic Park until April 24. Entry is free.
Works as part of the exhibition are also being displayed at the Art Gallery of NSW (until May 15) and Wollongong Art Gallery from Arpil 25 until June 19. For more information about works and the exhibition in general, head to http://artexpress.artsunit.nsw.edu.au/