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This pseudo-retro work makes you constantly wonder what will happen next

Written by Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran

Welcome to the 32nd guest blog post of Time Out Sydney's 52 Weeks of #SydCulture 2017 challenge! August’s culture selector is Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran: one of Australia’s rising art stars. Every week in August, Ramesh will be telling us what he loved the week before. Think of it as your recommendations for this week, from someone who sees a helluva lot of arts and culture. Over to him.

The ‘emerging artist’ is often fetishised on the premise of youth and freshness – but the term has been subject to much debate and criticism. This has obliged gallerists, institutions and artists to approach the concept with caution. Should there be a curated exhibition, prize, fellowship or other opportunity for artists at the beginning of their careers, most forward-thinking organisations are asking artists to self-determine their status. This approach is a welcome alternative to previous standards, such as  an age limit or a ‘number of years working’ (both of which generally  privilege wealthy white males who live in metropolitan regions).

Terminology aside, three exhibitions at showing at UNSW Galleries this month showcase emerging and early career artists: the Freedman Foundation Travelling Scholarship, the John Fries Award, and the postgraduate projects of Monika Behrens, Paul Ogier and Morgan Veness. The three exhibitions are unique in their own right, but have been programmed simultaneously to underline a common interest.

Being a past recipient of the Freedman Foundation Travelling Art Scholarship (2012), a previous finalist in the John Fries Award (2014) and currently a lecturer at UNSW Art & Design, I have a personal connection to the premise of each exhibition – but I am choosing to focus on the John Fries Award here.

John Fries Award 2017 – works by Angela Tiatia (left) and Amanda Williams
Photograph: Jennifer Leahy

This year’s JFA is curated by artist Consuelo Cavaniglia. The exhibition design is flawless: the walls are jet black, the lighting is dim, and skilful provisions of negative space ensure there are no evocations of claustrophobia or crowding. The sophistication of this design is unsurprising given the sensitivity to space, colour and form in Cavaniglia’s own work.

The winning work for 2017 is Kuba Dorabialski’s video Invocation Trilogy #1: Floor Dance of Lenin’s Resurrection – undeniably a good choice for the Award. At the opening, the work visibly engaged audiences: a small crowd was consistently planted in the room, absorbing image sequences in which the artist contorts himself into various choreographed positions.

John Fries Award 2017 – works by Claudia Nicholson (right) and Anwar Young
Photograph: Jennifer Leahy

Getting audiences to engage with artwork for more than a few seconds is an increasingly difficult thing to achieve – particularly as artists are obliged to compete with smartphones and the generally short attention spans of image- and content-saturated consumers. Perhaps it is the humour of Kuba’s work and its pseudo-retro aesthetic that makes it so engaging. On a very basic level, it is not predictable. You constantly wonder what is going to happen next.

The John Fries Award exhibition runs until September 2 at UNSW Galleries, Paddington.

While you’re here, check our 52 Weeks of #SydCulture challenge, and let us know what you're seeing/loving on Instagram via the hashtag #SydCulture.

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