John Wolseley – The National 2021: New Australian Art at MCA

In News April 29, 2021

John Wolseley is included in the current exhibition, The National 2021, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. The National 2021: New Australian Art is a celebration of contemporary Australian art. The third in a series of biennial survey exhibitions, it showcases work being made across the country by artists of different generations and cultural backgrounds.

Through ambitious new and commissioned projects, the 39 artists, collectives and collaboratives featured across three venues respond to the times in which they live, presenting observations that are provocative, political and poetic. The National is a partnership between the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Carriageworks and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA). This year, it has been curated by Matt Cox and Erin Vink (AGNSW), Abigail Moncrieff (Carriageworks), and Rachel Kent (MCA). Working in close dialogue, they have developed three distinct presentations of new Australian art that together highlight many of the ideas and concerns motivating artists in Australia today.

The exhibition including work by John Wolseley is on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art and is current until 22 August 2021.

Image above: John Wolseley  Termitaria: Indwelling I-IV  2020-21  woodcut, linocut, etching, graphite frottage and watercolour on cotton, Mino washi and Gampi paper. Click here to read more about this piece and to watch a video of John Wolseley preparing his work for The National 2021.

A statement by John Wolseley

I have spent a lot of time in the last 10 years in the company of the great Yolngu artist Ms Wirrpanda painting the floodplains and flora of the Blue Mud Bay region of North East Arnhem Land.  In 2017, the results of this collaboration were exhibited at the National Museum of Australia as Midawarr Harvest: The Art of Mulkun Wirrpanda and John Wolseley and formed the basis of a handsome book of the same name.

In late March 2021 I am exhibiting the 5th show in which I have collaborated with my sister, Ms Wirrpanda at the MCA. In February 2021 she passed away. This has been a huge shock to us all and a time of great sadness. Making this show has been, for me, a way of grieving and also a way of honoring this great artist who taught me so much and who I loved dearly.

This project began, for me, in 2019, when looking for plants near Gan Gan with her I found a huge termite mound which had collapsed; revealing what looked like a ruined city with all its halls, galleries and linking passageways exposed.  I could see the nursery galleries, the fungus gardens, and even what could have been the Royal cell where the queen had lived with her diminutive King.  I found remains of compost in the fungus ‘combs’. And I could see why scientists had described these mounds as bodies with stomachs holding the composting gardens where the termites farmed their fungae.

Lying there on the sand were the collapsed ventilation shafts and chimneys of the amazing termite ventilation systems, whose principles of fluid mechanics long ago were elucidated by Archimedes and since then have been incorporated into buildings by some of the world’s great contemporary architects.

As I looked down on this collapsed termitaria, I was surprised to find evidence of what Yapa had told me; how these mounds have various insect birds and other creatures living in them in a mutualist and even symbiotic way.  I could see quivering in the wind, feathers of djutuduman, the striated pardalote who choose these mounds as a favoured nesting site.

Later I was to discover that there was a symbiotic relationship between a moth, trisyntopa sp, the golden-shouldered parrot and termites.

John Wolseley  Magnetic, arboreal and subterranean termite nests on the savannah plains of East Arnhem Land  2020-21  woodcut, linocut, etching, graphite frottage and watercolour on cotton, Mino washi and Gampi paper

Click here to read more about this work.