The 2023 Wynne Award finalists: Politics of Landscape

The Wynne Prize standard this year is just as random as in previous years. The Trustees acted more like curators than prize selectors. Choosing a large number of finalists from a remote region would enhance the visual experience of visitors and complement the showcasing of their permanent collection. But hanging them all together creates an air of tokenism.

A truly captivating work diverts me from these concerns. The Nyapanyapa Yonupingu is displayed in a low-key position just outside the room where the Indigenous finalists were seated. Yunupingu’s works are not only arousing one sense, but rather a synaesthetic experience. They sing and shudder.

The bark is painted in a way that confuses my perception of other animals. As they dance on the dirt, white forms that could be wildflowers, hu, men, or even other vertebrate animals are all three at once. After a few minutes, the gallery begins to disappear and is replaced by the sound of cicadas and spinifex grass in front of the painting.

Wynne Prize 2017 finalist. Nyapanyapa Yunupingu,’Landscape’ natural earth pigments on bark, 78x193cm (c) the artist Photo:Jenni Carter, AGNSW

Juz Kitson’s sculpture, with its poetic title “That which offers safety and growth, you can trust”, is another standout piece.

Testicle or bladder? Labia, intestine, intestine, foetus, etc. Kitson’s fur, porcelain, and seed shapes are arranged in a sexualized, fetishistic way. Imagine a Game of Thrones coat. Imagine a death pyre made of antlers. Haitian Voodoo is a good example. Imagine a giant clitoris. Kitson’s artwork has all these elements.

It is outside of human time, and it has the appearance of something that existed before and after human existence. Kitson’s materials intrigued me, so I contacted her via Facebook. The quick answer was: Jingdezhen and Southern Ice porcelain/terracotta, along with resin, polyester thread, merino, rabbit and fox pelts, Tibetan gazelle teeth, echidna horns, and Bodhi seed.

Wynne Prize 2017 finalist Juz KITSON ‘That which gives safety and the opportunity for growth, that you can trust.’ Jingdezhen and Southern Ice porcelains, terracotta, paraffin wax and resin, silk, merino, rabbit and fox pelts, Tibetan gazelle teeth, echidna horns, and quills. Marine ply, treated pine, and marine ply. 200 x133 x50 cm. (c) The artist Photo: Mim Sterling, AGNSW

Kitson’s art also stands out to me because of its political nature: climate change. Many artists are working to bring these issues into the spotlight through their art during a time of climate change fear and a lack of environmental leadership. Art can be a good way to gauge public opinion, and it is also a powerful tool for spreading important political ideas.

The Wynne Award finalists of this year have largely avoided these ideas. Kitson’s work is the only one that brings to mind extinction via the massed horns and the deathly drive of nature through the overall image. Her work is a representation of the remains of both humans and animals. It’s futuristic, dark, and a looming monument for extinct animals, of which one may be “the Human” in the years to come.

Views of Australia

The finalist list includes some strong scenes of the Australian landscape. John R Walker, Nicholas Harding, Angus Nivison, James Drinkwater, Joshua Yeldham, and Philip Wolfhagen are all highly skilled and technically competent artists who have painted traditional bushland scenes.

These paintings are based on classical compositions, where trees frame the scene or are arranged in a picturesque way around a “hero” tree. They may be composed of a view that penetrates through recalcitrant brushland. This is mostly patriarchal landscape painting conventions, a reminder of the gender bias in previous Wynne Prize exhibitions.

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