Fiona Hall is one of Australia’s leading contemporary artists. The Adelaide-based artist has had an illustrious career spanning over four decades, during which she has created some of the most thought-provoking, intense, and beautiful work to grace the world’s gallery spaces.
One such space is the world-renowned Venice Biennale, which became the permanent home to the new Australian Pavillion in early 2015; a gallery to showcase the work of our finest artists. Opening with a traditional smoking ceremony, Cate Blanchett was among the Aussies to attend the event in Italy.
And the very first exhibition to be held in the Pavillion was Hall’s ‘Wrong Way Time‘.
‘Wrong Way Time’ is an atmospheric and intense exploration of the tensions surrounding global politics, world finances and the environment.
Commissioned by Simon Mordant with support from the Australia Council, and curated by Linda Michael, ‘Wrong Way Time’ is an atmospheric and intense exploration of the tensions surrounding global politics, world finances and the environment.
Oft dark, yet resoundingly positive, the installation is an intricate collection of images and objects carefully manipulated by Hall to create an all-immersive experience; an appeal to recognise the downfalls of mankind.
If that sounds enticing but you couldn’t make it to Italy, fear not – ‘Wrong Way Time’ is now at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in Canberra.
The Australian Pavilion of the 2015 Venice Biennale has arrived in Canberra – along with a second room, curated by NGA Senior Curator of Australian Art, Deborah Hart, showcasing Hall’s work from the NGA collection.
You can expect hundreds of illuminated objects set against dark walls – an artistic collection that is as detailed as it is diverse.
We caught up with Hall ahead of the exhibition to chat about Venice, the origin of her talents, and her view of the world.
What an honour to be chosen as the first artist to represent Australia at the newly built Australian Pavillion at the Venice Biennale. Do you remember your reaction when you found out?
“It was a great honour to be selected as the artist to show in the first opening biennale of the new Australian Pavilion. It’s a wonderful event for Australia at Venice.
“I do remember my reaction when I found out I had been selected. I was surprised, I was amazed, I said, ‘Thank you, I’d like to!’ But at the same time that I received the phone call from the commission, I knew that time would be my worst enemy to realise the work, and indeed it was.
“There’s about an 18-month period between when the artist is told that they have been selected to when the biennale opens – so it’s not much of a time turnaround to come up with an entirely new show.”
‘Wrong Way Time’ is somewhat of a cryptic title. What does it allude to?
It alludes to the idea that, globally, we are not progressing forward in a very positive way.
“Yes, ‘Wrong Way Time’ is quite a cryptic title. There’s several reasons why I selected it. The first was because of what it implies, but it’s also a vernacular title. It’s got a bit of a patois about it; a bit of a non-specific pigeon English take to it. It’s a word structure which is not orthodox English and I quite like that.
Of course, it also alludes to the idea that, globally, we are not progressing forward in a very positive way. As my work looks at social issues to do with the environment, politics, and finances, it seemed apt. The idea of time is brought to life by the numerous clocks in the installation that are repurposed in a variety of ways.”
Your family were pioneers in radiophysics and mathematics. Where did your interest in photography and art emanate from?
“My mother was a radio astronomer; she studied physics. She was one of the very first women to study physics at Sydney University.
My brother, a mathematician, was the person who really got me interested in photography when I was a teenager, because he was always interested in photography. He was a couple of years older than me, and he started to develop his own film. He bought dark room equipment and we turned our family laundry into a dark room, which we could only use at night. He showed me the basics and I took it from there. This was when I was about 15; it was basically my introduction to photography.”
You’ve long been interested in the relationship between nature and culture in both your photography and your art. How does the work for ‘Wrong Way Time’ address that enduring fascination?
“I suppose over the time of my practice, which is now quite extensive (it covers several decades), some of the issues of our time (such as environmental problems, cultural aspects, the history of colonisation, trade and so on) have actually become threads within my work that are picked up from time to time, and take on different permutations; going in different directions.
“These threads and recurrent themes in my work are the reason I received the invitation for the biennale; that’s why the work in ‘Wrong Way Time’ addresses those concerns. For this exhibition, that exploration happens in myriad ways. There are cabinets, especially made for the exhibition, containing many different works…”
Some of the issues of our time such as environmental problems, cultural aspects, the history of colonisation, trade, have actually become threads within my work.
You have a rather bleak view of the state of global politics and world finances. How successfully do you think art can remedy or at least draw attention to this malaise?
“I do have a bleak view of the current state of the world. In the time between when I received the invitation to be the artist for Venice in 2015, to the time when Venice actually happened, the world seemed to disintegrate in new and scary ways. New terrorist groups in the Middle East (who also operate in other parts of the world) emerged.
We’ve been thrown into a very black time I think, and none of us really know where it’s heading.
“We’ve been thrown into a very black time I think, and none of us really know where it’s heading. We don’t know where our planet is heading either. It seems to be an uncertainty that we’re all prone to – whatever part of the globe we live in and whatever social class we sit in. I think that I can successfully draw attention to these issues.
“The other major strand in my Venice work for the environment. We all know how dismal a state the environment is in. Most of us acknowledge that there are the climate change naysayers that don’t seem to get it, but I think the globe is fairly united that this is a real issue.
“I do think that I can draw attention to these issues, however I don’t think that artists change the world per se. For me, artists are more like litmus paper; they’re barometers of the way things are and the directions in which we’re heading. I think that sentiment is true in many parts of the world; not just in Australia or the first world, or the western world – but in Asia, in South America, in Africa and so on. I think that the global village (and umbrella under which we all operate) is something that unites us all in these pursuits.”
‘Wrong Way Time’ is at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra from April 22 until July 10, 2016. Entry is free.