Sugar Spin: you, me, art and everything’ marks ten years of GOMA, inviting us into a playful space of excess, colour and abundance. Drawing together more than 250 works, the exhibition celebrates GOMA and the creative depth and diversity of the Collection. We continue our focus on ‘Blackwater’, one of ‘Sugar Spin’s exhibition chapters.

Blackwater sets our pulse racing, powered by an intense awareness of the vulnerability of the body, a rising tide of fear and anxiety. Ron Mueck startles us with his massively over-scaled woman. This shy she-giant looks towards Yang Shaobin’s monumental paintings of the blackened lungs of Chinese miners who died as a result of their working conditions – a familiar story in recent Queensland mining history.

swimming over black water
Bright sunlight overhead
endless depths beneath

Ron Mueck, England b.1958 / In bed 2005 / Mixed media / Purchased 2008. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA
Shaobin Yang’s X-Blind Spot No.1 2008 and X-Blind Spot No.4 2008 installed at GOMA / Photograph: Mark Sherwood QAGOMA

Can we care for the environment while still enabling growth? Do we pay attention when the impact of change falls more heavily on some than others? Taloi Havini opens a window into such questions in her image of the vast open-cut Panguna mine in Papua New Guinea, toxic, contested and now closed. Chen Qiulin works with a group of flower sellers to create a moving elegy to the lives disrupted by the Three Gorges Dam project on China’s Yangtze River.

Taloi Havini, Artist, Autonomous Region of Bougainville/Australia b.1981 / Stuart Miller, Photographer, Australia b.1983 / Russel and the Panguna Mine (from ‘Blood Generation’ series) 2009, printed 2014 / Digital print on Canson Infinity Platine Fibre Rag 310gsm paper / Purchased 2014. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

In considering the links between the human body, sustenance, consumption and resources, Blackwater connects unhealthy dependencies and environmental imbalance alongside the dark aftermath of colonisation. Romuald Hazoumè’s ‘neo-tribal’ masks made from plastic oil cans speak to the rebalancing of ancient beliefs with contemporary values and trade dynamics – subjects also addressed in Gordon Bennett’s dislocated and deeply ironic self-portrait. Can an image of another person bring us closer to their experience? Fiona Pardington’s photographs of life-cast plaster heads from the Pacific remind us of the complex histories held within museum collections.

Fiona Pardington’s Portrait of a life cast of Jules Sebastien Cesar Dumont d’Urville (from ‘Ahua: A beautiful hesitation’ series) 2010, Portrait of a life cast of Pitani, Solomon Islands (from ‘Ahua: A beautiful hesitation’ series) 2010 and Portrait of a life cast of Matua Tawai, Aotearoa/New Zealand (from ‘Ahua: A beautiful hesitation’ series) 2010 alongside Shaobin Yang’s X-Blind Spot No.1 2008 and X-Blind Spot No.4 2008 installed at GOMA / Photograph: Natasha Harth QAGOMA

Blackwater is deeply uneasy, and yet to be in deep water is not without its pleasures. This place of vulnerability also links to sensuality and the experience of other realms – we fear the power of the shark as much as we might admire its functional beauty, and the dappled surface of the water is a dynamic meeting place between two worlds.