Throughout the summer, Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art has been tackling the elements in its major exhibition, Air. Opening in November 2022, Air is a conceptual companion of Water, which exhibited in 2019.
The exhibition is organised into five themes – Atmosphere, Shared, Burn, Invisible and Change. It includes works that engage with the ideas of breath, industrialisation, social justice and, naturally, the environment. It is presented across the entire ground floor of GOMA and Air takes visitors on a journey of reflection, one that asks you to consider how our shared atmosphere is life-giving, potentially dangerous and rapidly warming.
The first thing visitors will notice is a sequence of 13 large suspended spheres, partly mirrored and partly transparent. Drift: A cosmic web of thermodynamic rhythms (2022) takes over the entire ground floor of GOMA and are the work of Argentine contemporary artist Tomás Saraceno. Some of the spheres make subtle vertical movements, while others remain still.
Another favourite is Ron Mueck’s monumentally scaled, pensive-looking woman lying on the floor of GOMA. In bed (2005). In light of recent events of the past few years, the woman tucked up under the blankets is highly relatable. Even before the world got to talking about airborne viruses and we locked ourselves away in our homes in defence, there has been much thought given to how our air has been polluted and impacted upon by disasters. Is it any wonder she looks exhausted?!
Engaging with real-world issues
When Air opened last November, QAGOMA director Chris Saines described it (and Water) as “exhibitions that engage with real-world issues and ideas—ideas that are esoteric, until they are not.”
Geraldine Kirrihi Barlow is the curator of both Water and Air exhibitions. She told the ABC that when the former was developing Australia’s political landscape was different. Water was about bring us together, but also served as a platform for sparking questions and creating energy and change.
There are certainly some shared themes and interests with Air.
“The pandemic suddenly made real the fact we share this invisible resource; that there are these particles between us, and what are they carrying? When are we safe and when are we not safe,” Ms Barlow told the ABC.
“The exhibition asks us to consider the air we share with all other life, to reflect on what it means to breathe freely and to examine air as a metaphor for change and the realisation of our potential.”
Other installations that deal with environmental destruction include Cloud Chamber by Kokathan and Nukunu artist Yhonnie Scarce. Rachel Mounsey’s powerful imagery captures the Black Summer fires that swept through her home in the remote coastal community of Mallacoota on December 31, 2019. Thu Van Tran’s Rainbow Herbicides is a recollection of the violence and horror of the Vietnam War.
Air calls for us to breathe deeply
If the past has taught us anything, it is that we are living in times of great change, ambiguity and uncertainty.
A swarm of black moth and butterfly silhouettes form Carlos Amorales’s Black Colour (2007/2018). It’s a stark reminder of the fragility of life.
Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones and Dr Uncle Stan Grant Snr AM collaborate on Untitled (giran) (2016). It is presented in Air‘s final exhibition chapter, Change. The installations calls for us to pay attention, breathe deeply and sense the changing winds. It features stunning winged sculptures with an accompanying soundscape.
“Wind brings change, knowledge and new ideas to those prepared to listen,” Jones says.
Ain’t that the truth.