Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition 2021

ACE Open

29 January – 13 February

At the beginning of a new year – and arguably, a new era – the annual Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition presented new work from selected graduates and candidates in the master’s and PhD programs as ‘the future of art.’[1] Without a doubt, the graduate show has long become an institution for introducing audiences to emerging talent progressing on to exciting next steps in their careers. This year, ACE Open was the presenting partner and ‘new home’ to an intriguing exhibition curated by Eleanor Amor and showcasing graduate work produced by 22 artists from Flinders University and the University of South Australia.[2]

Overall, a keen interest in materials and materiality was immediately evident and has been sustained throughout the show. With a nod to Julia Kristeva’s theory of abjection, Ashley Bartsch’s Untitled video work compels the viewer to savour and strangely relish the pop and glistening gush of brown, mustard, and red ooze bursting forth from pliable clay lumps that succumb to the rolling pressure of fingers squeezing and kneading. Prompting thoughts of tomato sauce and lumpy mashed potato, the abjection that Bartsch conjures also directs the mind to flesh and the spontaneous expulsion of excreta.[3] The strangeness of this simultaneous fascination and soft discomfort is subtly echoed in the intricate tucks and folds of Isabel Davies’ wearable constructions that include no one is coming to save you: oblivion. Fabric manipulation and tactile contradictions of intricate detail with layered, raw edged sections appear alongside the stuffed, tubular forms and sheer ruching of no one is coming to save you: human. Evocative of otherworldly or futuristic forms, Davies’ works oscillate between opacity and transparency, volume and texture and offer an alternative space for exploratory slippages of identity construction and performance.[4] Ellis Moseley’s Super Duper Flying Fun Show of slip cast ceramic longneck bottles in milky yellow, white, blue, and pink seduce the viewer with assumptions of saccharine innocence in disturbing contrast to the rough and jagged edges of their multiplied forms. As the catalogue text informs us, there is an unsettling reference to cruelty here that is important though painful to acknowledge.[5]

In the main gallery space, Stephanie Doddridge’s Skin Crawls is again concerned with the abject throughout a series of works exploring the potential of cloth, yarn, fleece, fibrefill, raffia, bamboo, madder root, and thread as materials through which to examine the tensions and exchange between the internal self and the external container of the body. Similarly, Jessica Stephen’s suspended raffia forms inspire associations with the craft of basketry as a traditional practice and as an object linked with concepts of domestic and communal necessity, history, exchange and gathering. In this way, the viewer recalls ideas of collection and storage and yet, these suspended objects are open ended and presented in a manner that renders them unusable in the conventional sense. The openness of the utilitarian basket form is denied, further restricted by squashing and folding them into new shapes.

Familiarity with materials and the daily environment also inspires Meng Zhang’s felt and papier mâché forms of Daily Fare installed in stacked forms across the floor in earthly, meditative formation. Here, a quiet and sophisticated exploration of materials tricks the eye of the viewer duped into believing the objects to be composed of heavier elements. Bin Bai’s High Vis Land Trio paintings produced with reflective adhesive tape are again the outcome of a playful exploration and careful manipulation of unconventional materials employed to create homages to familiar monuments. The surprise is in the momentary flash of the phone camera where the stylised images reflect the glow of the painted surface and highlight lines between sections of tape separating each colour from the next. In a fleeting instant, Bai’s references to contemporary culture lead the eye back to the stained-glass windows of early churches with their inky black outlines and coloured glass glowing with sun.

Overall, each of the artist’s works presented in the exhibition investigate the dynamic potential of materials and processes to explore and interrogate old and new ways of doing things, which is of critical importance to the new world of problems and possibilities that we currently find ourselves in. As a graduate show that has been generously rewarded and supported by industry partners and professionals, this exhibition supports and acknowledges the essential contribution that creative practitioners and thinkers continue to make to human cultures and future outcomes.

Melanie Cooper

[1] (accessed 16/02/2021).

[2] In previous years, the exhibition was held within the hall of the Torrens Parade Ground. An exhibition catalogue can be accessed here  (accessed 16/02/2021).

[3] For more on the abject, see Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, Columbia University Press, 1982 (English edition).

[4] Isobel Davies’ artist statement, Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition 2021 catalogue, 14.

[5] Ellis Mosley’s artist statement, Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition 2021 catalogue, 21.