Heather Shimmen & Prudence Flint in ‘FEM-aFFINITY’ – Arts Project Australia

In Events/Exhibitions June 1, 2019


Arts Project Australia

15 June – 20 July

Opening Saturday 15 June 3 – 5pm is a new exhibition at Arts Project Australia investigating the synergies in the distinctive practices of 14 contemporary female artists.

Curated by contemporary artist and ACU academic Dr Catherine Bell, and supported by NETS Victoria, FEM-affinity brings together female artists from Arts Project and wider Victoria whose work share an affinity of subject matter, technique and process. By situating these female artists alongside each other, the curatorial intention seeks to uncover related variations of female identity and perspectives on historical feminist concepts.

Drawing upon interdisciplinary approaches, such as painting, printmaking, drawing, performance and photography, the exhibition also considers how artworks are a complex and nuanced way of thinking about embodied knowledge and how it aligns with identity politics explored in contemporary art.

The 14 exhibiting artists include Fulli Andrinopoulos, Dorothy Berry, Yvette Coppersmith, Wendy Dawson, Prudence Flint, Helga Groves, Bronwyn Hack, Janelle Low, Eden Menta, Jill Orr, Lisa Reid, Heather Shimmen, Cathy Staughton and Jane Trengove.

Arts Project Australia is a studio and gallery that supports artists with intellectual disabilities, promoting their work and advocating for inclusion within contemporary art practice. In the last few years Arts Project artists have exhibited at galleries including National Gallery of Victoria, Museum of Old and New Art, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Gertrude Contemporary, West Space, Artspace and Darren Knight Gallery.

“I’m a regular visitor to the Arts Project Australia gallery and have a particular interest in the work of the female artists who attend their studio,” says curator Dr Catherine Bell. “I have often considered the uncanny connections their work has with other female contemporary artists. I’m interested in highlighting the affinity. Curating a selection of past works by each artist demonstrates a sustained line of enquiry. The opportunity for the artists to collaborate and develop new work for the show celebrates these ongoing themes and connections”.

The collaborations between artists underpinning FEM-affinity, as Mardi Nowak, Director of NETS says, “It is about fostering ongoing relationships, support and a stronger understanding of each of the artist’s work and this project has done this incredibly well. I’m sure these conversations will continue well past the exhibition.”

FEM-aFFINITY is a touring exhibition that will travel regionally and nationally throughout 2020 and 2021.

Gallery location: 24 High Street, Northcote VIC 3070

Open: Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm, and Sat 10 am – 5pm

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Catalogue Essay : If collaboration is a method activism is the intention

FEM-aFFinity draws from socially-engaged art that encourages shared perspectives and raising awareness of issues that face diverse communities   and cultivating relationships between artists within collaborative frameworks. The relaxed and welcoming atmosphere of APA’s open plan studios where the artists work alongside each other, in a non-hierarchical environment, promotes creativity and community. This model creates a space that values relational processes to art making, and reinforces FEM-aFFINITY’s curatorial premise of “inclusion” by linking artists from non-marginalised contemporary practice with their female contemporaries at APA to meet, share, observe, reflect and make artwork.

This approach shifts the discussion away from disability, and focuses on the artistic interests, aesthetics, process, and social interaction of the APA studio, and how that is grounded in feminist principles.  Witnessing the different ways the artists ‘collaborate’ assumes a level of responsibility that is reciprocal and illuminates concepts of interdependence, trust, friendship, and embodiment.  Thus, highlighting how relational art practices have an affinity with feminism, and provoking the question: Can feminism also be relational?

Incorporating past works by the fourteen artists in the show positions them as contemporaries by acknowledging their longevity of practice and sustained visual enquiry. There is a distinction that must be made here to not conflate all works in the show with feminism but rather, to show uncanny correspondences, and assert difference and diversity within the art making by female artists.  Prue Flint and Cathy Staughton explore female identity in their painted and drawn portraits of women in interior spaces.  They diverge in how they relate to their subjects. Cathy paints others as herself and Prue paints herself as others. On their first meeting Prue gifted Cathy numerous exhibitions catalogues depicting her work and Cathy wasted no time reinterpreting the figures in her wild colour palette. Cathy brings noise to Prue’s quiet pictures, her instantaneous recreations belie the months Prue spends processing emotion as she methodically plans and executes her paintings.  Spurred on by Cathy’s uncensored emotion and immediate approach to art making Prue has created a series of drawings showing couples in erotically charged yet somewhat awkward and unsettling embraces.  These new works expose the deviant “eyes wide shut” scenarios denied her painted female protagonists.

Heather Shimmen and Bronwyn Hack share an interest in famous women of the past and their mysterious, unsolved, or violent departures.  On their first meeting Bronwyn shared with Heather the zines she writes and digitally illustrates.  Her gothic tales of medieval torture and death by guillotine resonated with Heather’s hand-printed artist books and her taste for true crime and vampires. Printmaking provides the delivery of an exquisite corpse for these artists to share their fascination with the macabre and corporeal.  Collaboration and intuitive process is embedded in this medium and the interchangeable, multi-paneled design.  The cascading anatomy of lino prints is adorned with primordial symbols reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts, esoteric languages and mystical spells for conjuring the dead.  The Frankenstein arrangement of human and animal bodies: skulls, bones, native flora and fauna, produces a ghostly incarnation of the monstrous feminine.

Providing an alternative context for artists to create and audiences to view their works, FEM-aFFINITY expands the vision of a given work. Over several months the artists have shared their lives, mutual interests, artworks, discussed their process, and discovered overlapping subject matter, materials, and methods.  Their openness to engage collaboratively, responsively and reflectively exemplifies the generative approach of social praxis and its capacity to broaden social margins and the scope of an artist’s practice.

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Images: Artists Heather Shimmen and Bronwyn Hack collaborating in the studio. Courtesy of Arts Project Australia