Living Patterns


Living Patterns Contemporary Australian Abstraction’ at the Queensland Art Gallery until 11 February 2024, features the work of contemporary Australian artists who deploy methods of abstraction — obfuscation, codification, reduction — to create their artworks. Mediums vary — from painting and conceptual techniques to sculpture and digital imagery — as do the artists’ concerns, which include topics such as queer identities, Aboriginal cosmology, international politics and intersections of global art history.

Taree Mackenzie’s Pepper’s ghost, wind turners, blue and yellow 2018 installed for ‘Living Patterns’, with Jemima Wyman’s Aggregate Icon (Kaleidoscopic Catchment) 2014 visible in the background, Queensland Art Gallery 2023 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © The artists


Legacies of European and American hard-edge painting and minimalist sculpture resonate in many practices throughout the exhibition. The monumental scale and circular format of Scott Redford’s Reinhardt Dammn: Things the mind already knows 2010 (illustrated) also pays homage to the shaped canvases of the 1950s and ’60s favoured by American colour field painters Kenneth Noland (1924–2010), Ellsworth Kelly (1923–2015) and Frank Stella (b.1936). Yet, Redford pokes fun at the weight of art history, entangling these art historical references with the television test pattern as a symbol of ‘low culture’.

Scott Redford ‘Reinhardt Dammn: Things the mind already knows’ 2010

Scott Redford, Australia b.1962 / Reinhardt Dammn: Things the mind already knows 2010 / Enamel on aluminium / 22 panels: 420cm (diam., overall) / Gift of Dr Michael and Eva Slancar through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Scott Redford/Copyright Agency

Artists in ‘Living Patterns’ are inspired by broader histories of abstract art. For instance, Vivienne Binns (illustrated) and Hossein Valamanesh pay tribute to the use of geometric patterns in Islamic architecture, which infuses these principles into everyday life. While artists such as Salote Tawale and Simon Wilson Pitjara use items from hardware stores and found materials to continue aesthetic practices that have customary links to their elders and ancestors.

Vivienne Binns ‘Fig and Tiles’ 2019

Vivienne Binns, Australia b.1940 / Fig and Tiles 2019 / Synthetic polymer paint on canvas / 130 x 160 cm / © Vivienne Binns / Courtesy: The artist, Canberra and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

Daniel Boyd looks at the social and cultural ‘blinders’ though which historical images are viewed. Using a technique of copying artworks, cultural objects and historical photographs by hand — including the image of labours on a Queensland cane farm as seen in Untitled (HNDFWMIAFN) 2017 (illustrated), which references the state’s history of indentured Indigenous and Pacific labourer — at large scale, Boyd then leaves the image visible only through small dots while the rest of the canvas is covered in charcoal. For ‘Living Patterns’, the artist has created a site-responsive commission at the entrance to the Queensland Art Gallery, adapting the obscuring technique from historical images to contemporary life. This new window treatment covers the glass wall in a black-dotted surface so that the view outwards is reduced to small circular lenses.

Daniel Boyd ‘Untitled (HNDFWMIAFN)’ 2017

Daniel Boyd, Untitled (HNDFWMIAFN) 2017
Daniel Boyd, Kudjla/Gangalu people , Australia b.1982 / Untitled (HNDFWMIAFN) 2017 / Oil, charcoal and archival glue on polyester / Purchased 2017 with funds from anonymous donors through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Daniel Boyd

Daniel Boyd ‘Untitled (-27.4721524, 153.0181102)’ 2023

Daniel Boyd, Kudjla/Gangalu people , Australia b.1982 / Installation view Untitled (-27.4721524, 153.0181102) (detail) 2023, Queensland Art Gallery 2023 / Vinyl window wrap / 361 x 3367.7cm / © Daniel Boy

The exhibition also highlights artworks in which the human form and bodily relations can be evoked without reverting to figuration, the history of which is loaded with gendered images. Tyza Hart’s series of blank painting boards jump off the wall to lean and flop across the floor of the gallery (illustrated), as if imbued with a light touch of animism. An alternative to simply gazing upon an inanimate painting, viewers are instead positioned to navigate a physical, spatial relationship to these human-scaled sculptures. Abstraction enables discussions of the body that are liberated from the images of old, allowing artists to envision forms of the self through new metaphors. Kate Bohunnis’s sculptures often feature metal from which soft materials hang and stretch: in an active accumulation (tense) (illustrated) 2020/23, a long piece of pink latex extends from the floor to the ceiling of the gallery space, with metal hooks at either end placing this ‘skin’ under tension. Latex has a strong association with the body, from medical gloves to condoms, and thus evokes both pleasure and pain.

Tyza Hart ‘Assuming a Surface’ series 2018

Tyza Hart, Australia b.1990 / Assuming a Surface series (Installation view detail) 2018 / © Tyza Hart

Kate Bohunnis ‘an active accumulation (tense)’ 2020

Kate Bohunnis, Australia b.1990 / an active accumulation (tense) (installation view) 2020 / Latex, stainless steel / 350 x 100 x 1.2cm / © Kate Bohunnis / Image courtesy: The artist & STATION

Evoking relationships and reorienting the gaze is also a strong part of d harding’s practice. The size of objects in Moonda and The Shame Fella 2018 relates back to the artist’s own body. A long piece of glass protrudes beyond the edge of the plinth; one of its sides is covered with the amber-coloured gum of the grass tree (Xanthorrhoea australis), which was applied using the artist’s own breath, further imprinting their body into the sculpture. Lying next to this length of glass is a piece of lead, the shape of which implies that there might be a similar piece of glass wrapped within its folds. Without a visible opening, this remains an assumption. The viewer not only ponders the work’s composition, its materials, textures and colours, but also their own lack of access to it. harding is well-known for covering, overpainting and obscuring elements in their artworks. This approach draws attention to the culturally inflected nature of expectations regarding who has the right to access images and knowledge. It is customary in most Aboriginal societies — such as the Bidjara, Ghungalu and Garingbal peoples from whom harding descends — for knowledge and its associated imagery to kept from uninitiated subjects for reasons of cultural safety.

D Harding ‘Moonda and The Shame Fella’ 2018

D Harding, Bidjara/Ghungalu/Garingbal peoples, Australia b.1982 / Moonda and The Shame Fella (and detail) 2018 / Grass tree (Xanthorrhoea) resin on glass; lead / Three parts; 1: 12 x 210 x 2cm; 2: 2 x 215 x 5cm; 3: 120 x 200 x 20cm / © d harding / Image courtesy: The artist and Milani Gallery

EXPLORE THE LIST OF WORKS: Artworks with abstract characteristics by Australian artists

There are political implications to valuing such an artwork on an aesthetic level while also understanding that it contains information the viewer does not have the right to know. In an environment where transparency is increasingly considered a shared value, its limits — as defined by techniques of concealment used by both the most powerful and powerless in society — remain under-explored. As poet and philosopher Édouard Glissant posits:

There’s a basic injustice in the worldwide spread of the transparency and the projection of Western thought. Why must we evaluate people on the scale of the transparency of ideas proposed by the West? . . . As far as I’m concerned, a person has the right to be opaque. That doesn’t stop me from liking that person, it doesn’t stop me from working with him, hanging out with him, etc. A racist is someone who refuses what he doesn’t understand. I can accept what I don’t understand.1

If the establishment and continuance of colonisation in Australia was furthered through the documentation of the land and its people in order to possess them, perhaps a greater, more nuanced respect for codification can help to reset our mindset.

Ellie Buttrose is Curator, Contemporary Australian Art, QAGOMA

This text is adapted from an essay first published in QAGOMA’s Members’ magazine, Artlines 3-2023. Find out more about the artists of ‘Living Patterns: Contemporary Australian Abstraction’ with a free digital catalogue and more on Collection Online. Get up close and personal with your favourite abstract works and reflect on the exhibition’s painterly experiments, sculptural investigations and illuminating installations.

1 Édouard Glissant, trans. B Wing, Poetics of Relation, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1997, pp.185.

‘Living Patterns: Contemporary Australian Abstraction’ is on display in the Queensland Art Gallery’s Kenneth and Yasuko Myer Gallery (Gallery 3), Gallery 4 & Watermall from 23 Sep 2023 – 11 Feb 2024.

Jemima Wyman, Australia/United States b.1977 / Aggregrate Icon (Kaleidoscopic Catchment) 2014 / Hand-cut digital photographs and archival tape / 205cm (diam.) / Purchased 2014. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation Grant / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Jemima Wyman

Colour Box: Abstract Cinema
Free screenings this week & upcoming

To celebrate the centenary of the 16mm gauge film format and in response to ‘Living Patterns’, the film program ‘Colour Box’ brings together a selection of contemporary and archival 16mm experimental films to highlight the format’s long-standing relationship with abstract cinema.

Production still from #11, Marey Moiré (detail) 1999 / Director: Joost Rekbeld / Image courtesy: LUX Moving Image


The beast in us all


Four works by Rokni Haerizadeh point to the beast in us all, and aim to ‘re-sensitise’ viewers to the violence and political unrest we see increasingly normalised in the media.

Rokni Haerizadeh is an Iranian-born, Dubai-based painter and animator who has garnered international attention for his lyrical social critiques painted in a contemporary Persian miniature style. He began making art from a very early age, and later trained with renowned Iranian artist Ahmad Amin Nazar before completing a Masters degree in painting at the University of Tehran.

These works (each of which is titled Subversive salami in a ragged briefcase) are from Haerizadeh’s most celebrated body of work, ‘Fictionville’ 2009–ongoing, in which he paints over photographs and video stills of demonstrations, violent incidents and political events from the media. The individuals who originally appeared in these images are here transformed into surreal characters, emphasising the inherent elements of the grotesque within these real-life scenes.

Haerizadeh’s appropriation of political events and their reception in the media highlights the complexity of contemporary geopolitics and the way the media contributes to its convolution. The artist initially came to prominence for paintings that critiqued the lavish indulgences of the ruling class and religious clergy in Iran; since moving to Dubai in 2009 his focus has shifted to global politics.

Rokni Haerizadeh, Iran/United Arab Emirates b.1978 / Subversive salami in a ragged briefcase (from ‘Fictionville’ series 2009-ongoing) 2014 / Gesso, watercolour and ink on printed paper / 29.7 x 42cm / Purchased 2016 with funds from the Contemporary Patrons through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Rokni Haerizadeh

One of the works depicts a procession of human–beasts who are holding shrouded small figures dressed as the Egyptian gods Amun and Horos. The original image is of mourners in Gaza carrying two young Palestinian children Muhammad and Suhaib Hijazi who died in an Israeli missile strike.1 The second painting is of a hybrid mosque–sea creature ablaze, which appears to scream in anguish from its mouth–windows. Cow firefighters surround the beast, seemingly helpless against the flames. The work resonates in the Australian context where arson attacks on mosques have occurred around the country.

Rokni Haerizadeh, Iran/United Arab Emirates b.1978 / Subversive salami in a ragged briefcase (from ‘Fictionville’ series 2009-ongoing) 2013-14 / Gesso, watercolour and ink on printed paper / 29.7 x 42cm / Purchased 2016 with funds from the Contemporary Patrons through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Rokni Haerizadeh

The remaining two works refer to the 2013 Paris iteration of an international day of protest, controversially called ‘Topless Jihad’ by the activist group Femen, held in solidarity with the arrested Tunisian Femen activist Amina Sboui (also known as Amina Tyler); in their attempt to ‘save’ Muslim women, Femen was criticised in the media and accused of playing up to colonial attitudes. In one painting, an orca with human arms and ‘freedom for [w]omen’ painted on its chest, stands on a blazing street, while a ghostly white crocodile cowers in the opposite corner. The other work captures a group of animals who surround a screaming figure with ‘FREE AMINA’ written on its chest.

Rokni Haerizadeh, Iran/United Arab Emirates b.1978 / Subversive salami in a ragged briefcase (from ‘Fictionville’ series 2009-ongoing) 2013 / Gesso, watercolour and ink on printed paper / 29.7 x 42cm / Purchased 2016 with funds from the Contemporary Patrons through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Rokni Haerizadeh
Rokni Haerizadeh, Iran/United Arab Emirates b.1978 / Subversive salami in a ragged briefcase (from ‘Fictionville’ series 2009-ongoing) 2013-14 / Gesso, watercolour and ink on printed paper / 29.7 x 42cm / Purchased 2016 with funds from the Contemporary Patrons through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Rokni Haerizadeh

These works contain many art historical references, including Goya’s frank depiction of the brutalities of war in the series of prints entitled ‘Los Desastres de la Guerra’ (‘Disasters of war’) 1810–20; JMW Turner’s The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons 1834; the surreal, beastly figures in Francis Bacon’s triptych of 1944, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion; and the tradition of Persian miniature painting. Haerizadeh is inspired by the rich history of social satire within Persian poetry, miniature painting and theatre, particularly in the golden era of Shiraz from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries.

Arts writer Negar Azimi notes that the ‘Fictionville’ series has a more recent ‘spiritual ancestor’ in the Persian musical play Shahr-e Qesse (or ‘City of stories’, more commonly known as ‘Fictionville’) 1969–70. The play’s composer, Bijan Mofid (1935–85), used animals to critique society and power in order to avoid falling foul of the authorities. Its central character is an elephant with a broken tusk — an allegory for the fate of Iran — that a naive village community tries to help. Despite their good intentions, they disfigure him to an unrecognisable degree, and he is forced to assume a new identity.

Rokni Haerizadeh also transforms people into animals to point to the ‘animal instincts’ at work in large demonstrations and in acts of violence: ‘In my work, I am depicting people as animals not to dehumanise them, but rather to emphasise the dear beast inside all human beings’.2 Recent public discussion has pointed to a growing apathy towards violent imagery in the media; by transforming these images, the artist enables us to see them as if for the first time as well as drawing out the universality of many of their themes.

Ellie Buttrose is Curator, Contemporary Australian Art, and former Associate Curator, International Contemporary Art, QAGOMA.
This is an expanded version of an article originally published in the QAGOMA Members’ magazine, Artlines, no.2, 2017

1 Swedish photographer Paul Hansen won the 2013 World Press Photo of the Year competition with this image; he was accused, and later cleared, of creating a composite image for political reasons. See Stan Horaczek, ‘Experts confirm “integrity” of 2013 World Photo Award Winner’, 15 May 2013,,accessed 10 April 2017.
2 Artist quoted in ‘Rokni Haerizadeh’ by Naomi Lev in Artforum, 25 August 2014,, accessed November 2016.

Featured image detail: Rokni Haerizadeh Subversive salami in a ragged briefcase (from ‘Fictionville’ series 2009-ongoing) 2014

Once humble items now wondrous sculptures


Koji Ryui is known for metamorphosing humble materials into texturally delicate and materially wondrous sculptures and installations. Commissioned for ‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT10), Citadel 2021 converts a 17 metre wide and 7 metre high gallery wall into a vertical landscape of assemblages made from household items and wood-shop detritus. The installation rewards close viewing; bringing into focus formal juxtapositions and changes in texture, light and matter.

Although Ryui incorporates a plethora of found objects in this installation, it is dominated by sand, wood, metal and glass. By covering wood and repurposed articles in sand, the artist generates the appearance of discrete forms emerging from a larger mass, like a sandcastle along the beach. Some of the materials are chosen to draw attention to the transformation of matter: sand grains fused by heat to create glass; a clear surface turned cloudy by sandblasting. Rather than ‘making’ an artwork, Ryui describes his role as teasing out the material possibilities inherent in the objects that he accumulates.

Due to the installation’s restrained palette, its texture takes on a heightened role. The distilled materials in Citadel temper the complexity of its overall configuration while providing a visceral viewing experience.

Watch | Installation time-lapse

Koji Ryui, Japan/Australia b.1976 / Citadel (installation details) 2021 / Mixed media / Commissioned for ‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT10) / Courtesy: The artist and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney. This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body, and Artspace, Sydney / © Koji Ryui / Photographs: N. Harth © QAGOMA

Clusters of objects in Citadel are balanced precariously and littered across the wall’s expanse. While abstract compositions are predominant, recognisable forms arise, including ceramic figurines, wire lampshades, scalloped dessert bowls, disposable coffee cups and champagne flutes. Ryui animates these nostalgic found objects, ensuring that this poetically opaque installation is also familiar and delightful.

Ryui questions the pretensions of rarefied museum objects by creating art from everyday items and incorporating a sense of play. Groupings of objects are shaped in his studio and then interchanged, adapted and transformed during their installation in the gallery.

Citadel sits at the threshold between multiple rooms, with visitors approaching and passing the work from various sides as they move through the gallery. This awareness of liminal space is echoed within the installation: while there are numerous sculptures of various sizes, the voids between them are as much a part of the installation as the objects themselves.

More than just evoking the idea of in-between spaces, Ryui creates a sense of nebulous time. He does this by summoning the moments at dusk and dawn when the illumination of streetlights melds with natural light. This can be seen in Citadel when light emanating from globes in the artwork intermingles with the gallery lighting and daylight streaming in from the adjacent space. The indiscernibility between the artificial and the natural could also be seen as a visual metaphor for the moment when dreams and memories become hard to distinguish from reality. In Citadel, Ryui revels in these points of indeterminacy as moments of potentiality.

Ellie Buttrose is Curator, Contemporary Australian Art, QAGOMA
This is an edited extract from the QAGOMA publication The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art available in-store and online from the QAGOMA Store.

On display in ‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ at the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane from 4 December 2021 to 25 April 2022

Featured image: Koji Ryui in Brisbane installing Citadel 2021 / Photograph: N. Callistemon © QAGOMA

Ceramic installations evoke the landscape from which they are produced


Australian artist Yasmin Smith is known for her research-based ceramic installations that formally and chromatically evoke the landscape from which they are produced. As part of her investigative method, Smith gathers natural materials and, through analysis, determines how she can harness their chemical properties. Key to the artist’s process is burning plant material as a basis for glazes. The minerals, nutrients and toxins absorbed from soil and water remain in the ash, resulting in fascinating colour and textural variations in the glazes that cover Smith’s earthenware and ceramic casts of the original plants.

Watch | Yasmin Smith introduces ‘Flooded Rose Red Basin’

‘Flooded Rose Red Basin’

Flooded Rose Red Basin 2018 draws upon ancient ceramic traditions in China while also referencing the rapid development that is changing that country’s rural landscape. The ceramic sculpture was made while Smith was in residence at the Jinhui Ceramic Sanitary Ware Factory near Wuchangzhen, in Sichuan Province. Ci zhu bamboo was collected from the nearby Shiyan village, in Jiajiang County, known for its tradition of bamboo paper-making. Segments of the stems were cast at the factory in collaboration with the workers who usually produce toilets and sinks. The plant material was burnt, and the remaining ash used to glaze the stoneware objects.

Jiajiang bamboo

Eucalyptus grandis

Yasmin Smith, Australia b.1984 / Flooded Rose Red Basin (and details) 2018 / Yong Chuan slip industrial stoneware with wood (Eucalyptus grandis) ash glaze and Jiajiang bamboo ash glaze / 68 pieces / Purchased 2021 with funds from the Future Collective through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Yasmin Smith

Smith’s initial interest in bamboo was spurred on by recent scientific investigations into the material as a possible source of biosilica for future electric, solar, satellite and phone technologies. During her time in Sichuan, however, the artist noticed established plantings of Eucalyptus grandis — a species endemic to Australia, commonly known as flooded gum or rose gum. Eucalyptus was first introduced in China in 1890 as an ornamental planting, but it was not until the 1950s that large eucalyptus timber plantations were established.

Encountering this Australian tree far from its original habitat, yet deeply embedded in the Chinese landscape, prompted Smith to create a set of stoneware eucalypt branches with a syrupy, gum-ash glaze that are presented alongside the sections of cast bamboo.

The glazes are unrefined and freely stream and pool across the body of the branches and stems. Although it might be assumed that the high amount of silica in the glaze would produce a glassy finish, the bamboo glaze is matt with speckles of sand-like deposits. Meanwhile, the high amount of iron and manganese give the eucalyptus glaze its amber-olive colour. Hairline cracks appear on the surface as a result of the object expanding and compressing at a different rate to the glaze during firing. While the bamboo stems and gum branches are repeated forms made from industrial stoneware, their idiosyncratic glazes make them unique objects.

In Flooded Rose Red Basin, Smith utilises available organic matter to elegantly reveal the ecological, cultural and economic history of the emblematic bamboo and gum, and in turn the distinct connections between Australia and China.

Ellie Buttrose is Curator, Contemporary Australian Art, QAGOMA
This is an edited extract from the QAGOMA publication The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art available in-store and online from the QAGOMA Store.
This essay draws on conversations with the artist in January and April 2020 and May 2021

Watch | Installation time-lapse

The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT10) / Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) Brisbane / 4 December 2021 to 26 April 2022


One moment in time which cannot be repeated


Brisbane-born Lindy Lee’s engagement with Buddhist thought has become increasingly important to the way that she both conceptually and physically approaches the creation of new works. Reflecting upon the inspiration for her bronze sculptures, Lee cites her desire to extend the traditional Chinese meditation technique of flung ink calligraphy, ‘in which you meditate, then take up a flask of ink and you splash it on paper and everything in the universe has conspired until that moment to deliver that action.’1 After learning this technique in 1995 during a residency in Beijing, Lee incorporated the action into her painting practice on return to Australia. It was not until 2009 that she began to test this approach in the sculptural realm, making a series of ‘flung bronze’. Organising herself into a meditative state, she would then pour liquid molten bronze onto the foundry floor without trying to dictate the shape. Once polished, these flat, shinny, fluid forms were mounted onto the wall in circular and rectangular shapes with a clean and crisp geometric outline.

More recently, however, Lee has expanded this technique into standalone sculptures, such as the impressive Unnameable 2017 (illustrated). To create this artwork, Lee hurled molten lead into viscous custard. The resulting shape was then 3D-scanned to create a scaled-up mould, which was used to cast the final bronze piece. The result is a lively form that has the dynamic appearance of liquid suspended in motion. The forces of gravity, space and time appear to have been exceeded, yet harmoniously balanced.

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Lindy Lee, Australia b.1954 / Unnameable 2017 / Bronze / 150 x 80 x 100cm / Purchased 2020 with funds from the QAGOMA Foundation and Cathryn Mittelheuser AM / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Lindy Lee

Unnameable captures one moment in time which cannot be repeated. Moreover, it also contains every moment that preceded it and all that will follow — asserting a sense of continuum. This directly ties into the understanding of Cha’an meditation as a practice that links the body and mind in the present moment to the eternal cosmos. For Lee, the gesture of throwing ink or bronze is a meditative practice — focussed on the action of creation rather than a series of aesthetic decisions — that leaves an object which can also engender a meditative state in the viewer.

Unnameable also connects to ‘gongshi’, the Chinese aesthetic tradition of scholar’s rocks. Like the most revered gongshi, Lee’s sculpture is asymmetrical with a rippled surface and glossy finish. The naturally formed stones are prized for their capacity to convey the idea that transformation is central to understanding nature. In this respect, gongshi function as microcosms of the universe. Lee notes that time and change is at the centre of her artistic practice and has been since the 1980s, even if she might not have understood this earlier in her career. Lee explains:

Time is the most basic component of our humanity, but it takes a long time to realise that. My work is all about time. In Zen Buddhism the essence of being — or the fabric of being — is time. The primary truth is that everything changes from moment to moment – nothing is permanent. That means us too. For me, this is a very beautiful and poetic way of describing and embracing existence.2

Lee embraces change as a constant presence in her work. With more than three decades of practice behind her, Lee continues to deftly express the infinite expanse of life and art.

Ellie Buttrose is Curator, Contemporary Australian Art, QAGOMA

1-2 The artist in conversation with Peter McKay, Curatorial Manager, Australian Art, and Ellie Buttrose, Curator, Contemporary Australian Art, 21 February 2020.


Artists I would isolate with…


All this time recently stuck indoors has had me thinking about artists along the lines of the ‘ultimate dinner party’ game where you dream up a list of people from throughout history that you would invite to a magnificent meal. Which artists, I have been wondering, would be most fun to bunker down with to survive the pandemic?

For my ultimate dinner party I am always trying to rack my brain for people with eccentric anecdotes, a wide breadth of knowledge and witty banter. But lock-down is more drawn out than a dinner party, so I think this crew needs a little more absurd humour and do-it-yourself attitude! For my ultimate iso housemates I have chosen Cindy Sherman, Yvonne Todd, Anne Noble, Takahiko Iimura, Tony Schwensen, and the late, great John Baldessari.

Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman, United States b.1954 / Untitled 2007/2008 / Colour photograph mounted on aluminium / 158.6 x 177.8cm / Purchased 2011 with funds from Tim Fairfax AM through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art /  © Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman is renowned for her witty and biting character studies. She appears twice in Untitled, as a pair of champagne-fuelled fashionistas desperately seeking the social photographer’s attention. Over four decades of practice, Sherman has deployed an impressive array of wigs, costumes, makeup, and prosthetics. The days and weeks of isolation would pass in a flash if I had the chance to dive into Cindy’s treasure trove of props.

Yvonne Todd

Yvonne Todd, New Zealand b.1973 / Fleshtone (from ‘Cabin fever’ series) 1997 / Type C photograph on paper / 25.4 x 20.3cm / Purchased 2007. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Yvonne Todd

The title of Yvonne Todd’s series ‘Cabin fever’ sums up what many of us are feeling as the coronavirus restrictions begin to ease. The artist has a keen eye for the absurd, especially when it comes to beauty and fashion. Lockdown days with Todd could be spent competing to find the most bizarre pictures in the deep depths of Instagram.

Anne Noble

Anne Noble, New Zealand b.1954 / Ruby’s room no. 16 2001 / Digital colour print on Hahnemühle rag paper / 66.5 x 100cm (comp.) / Purchased 2006 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Anne Noble
Anne Noble, New Zealand b.1954 / Ruby’s room no. 17 2001 / Digital colour print on Hahnemühle rag paper / 66.5 x 100cm (comp.) / Purchased 2006 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Anne Noble

Working with her daughter, Anne Noble created the ‘Ruby’s Room’ series over a period of six years. These closely cropped images of young Ruby’s little mouth are simple yet unnerving, and take on heightened meaning during COVID-19. During this pandemic many things in the world that were once familiar have become strange and I think Noble could infuse the current weirdness with intimacy and humour.

Takahiko Iimura

Takahiko Iimura, Japan/United States b.1937 / Performance: AIUEONN Six Features 1994 / Videotape: 8 minutes, colour, stereo /  The James C. Sourris AM Collection. Purchased 1999 with funds from James C. Sourris through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Takahiko Iimura

RELATED: Watch ‘Performance: AIUEONN Six Features’

In Performance: AIUEONN Six the experimental filmmaker and performance artist Takahiko Iimura enunciates and holds the vowel sounds from the Japanese and English languages. As he makes the sounds, his portrait becomes distorted with grotesque and exaggerated results. After the first sequence, Iimura plays with repetition and delay until the sound and image no longer match up — making everything even stranger. Making videos at home with Iimura during quarantine would definitely give you TikTok clout.

Tony Schwensen

Tony Schwensen, Australia/United States b.1970 / Hamburger boygroup (stills) 2000 / VHS-C transferred to DVD: 25 minutes, colour, sound / Gift of the artist through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2009. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Tony Schwensen

RELATED: Watch ‘Hamburger boygroup’

In the video Hamburger boygroup, Tony Schwensen dances to the 1999 song Keep on movin’ by the British boy band Five, which reached number six on the ARIA charts. Reducing their highly choreographed dance moves down to a single repeated step, tubby Schwensen distills overproduced pop culture into an endurance performance piece. Iso dance parties in the lounge room with Schwensen are sure to go until dawn — but the poor neighbours might get annoyed with the same song on repeat!

John Baldessari

John Baldessari, United States 1931-2020 / I am making art 1971 / Digital Betacam (PAL): 18:40 minutes, black and white, sound / Purchased 2005 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Estate of John Baldessari

RELATED: Watch ‘I am making art’

In 1970, John Baldessari burned all the artworks he had made during the late 1950s and early 1960s to create a new work titled Cremation Project 1970 — that’s a lot of great paintings up in flames! The comparatively new technology of video enabled Baldessari to reinvent definitions of art through actions, text and sound.

In the seminal work I am making Art Baldessari uses humour to parody the hermetic aspects of contemporary art. With galleries, studios and art supply stores harder to access due COVID-19 restrictions, I think Baldessari would remind us that we all already have what we need in order to make art.

Featured image detail: Cindy Sherman Untitled 2007/2008