Not simply ‘community art’ – Glimpse the world through the eyes of artists with disabilities & experience of mental illness

I was lucky enough to see the 2015 Connected Art Exhibition in Melbourne last week. It’s finished now but I’ve prepared a short post so more people get to appreciate its creativity and the artists’ insightful comments about their images. (They were on display in the Atrium at Federation Square on 12-23 October.)

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The impressive venue tried hard to steal the show – but failed. The multi-media works and words spoke out loud and clear.

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Clare O’Shannessy produced a deceptively simple painting of a rabbit with long upright ears. I had no idea that rabbits have ‘Selective Hearing’ and can screen out noise by turning their ears away from the source. As O’Shannessy suggests, many people only pretend to listen – but I would love to be able to screen out unwanted noise and distractions.

I particularly liked it when the artists described what art means to them and how it helps to overcome challenges they face.

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Larissa Macfarlane’s ‘The places are marked for past and future great handstands (Map 190)’, for example, showed a woman doing a handstand overlaid on pages from the local Melways street directory.

Macfarlane explained that this was a personal ritual she has performed every day for the last 11 years. She does it to ground herself, relieve her pain and have fun.

At first I thought she might have been doing a ‘handstand crawl’ around Melbourne – but her words dispelled this theory. The text was quite revealing and contrasted with the image in terms of its modesty and reserve. I still haven’t worked out how her skirt didn’t flop down.

It rightly won the Office of the Public Advocate Prize.

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David Rogers used rolled-up pieces of old magazines (?) in ‘Where’s the Balance?‘ to produce a 3-dimensional set of scales. When he’s off balance, he says it helps to be creative and to remember famous people who experienced their own struggles.

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Not all artists were so forthcoming. I have no idea who or what Geoff Peasnell wanted to ‘Buzz Off‘. Was he making a political or social statement or are they just really big flies? (Note: Corks were often hung from hats in rural areas of Australia to ward off insects.)

Many of the artworks were very colourful and communicated themes of hope and determination, such as Diana Shmerling’s ‘Nothing is too hard for me‘. Will the precariously-perched frog dare to climb higher and wreck the beautifully composed picture?

I was very tempted by Bobby Kyriakopoulos’ ‘The Alley House‘. There are lots of late Victorian workers’ cottages just like this throughout inner Melbourne.

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Rosa Bartone took out first prize with ‘Dare‘ – a work that expressed her desire to walk again “freely, as if on air” (or umbrellas).

In ‘Life Ripples’, Gwenda Brehaut used overlapping concentric circles to depict the far-reaching effect that each person has on others in the “pond of life”. Mirroring this ripple effect, this exhibition gave a voice to a handful of creative souls – but its impact has no doubt touched and inspired a far greater number of people.

Brehaut and other artists also wrote about the importance of art in providing opportunities for social connection and expressing ideas.

Chris Mason’s ‘Untitled‘ sculpture of two seated women holding drinks reminded me that lots of people turn to food and alcohol to help them deal with life’s challenges and to create opportunities for social interaction. Maybe someone should give these ladies a paint brush?

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Neville Hiatt provided a photo of a radio announcer in her studio as a literal way to get across the idea of giving people a voice. Its caption was ‘Everyone has a Story to Tell‘. Following a tragic accident at the age of 30, the artist beseeches us to “Please drive attentively, you could change someone’s life”.

Even if we have a tendency to overlook people with disabilities and try to ignore mental illness, the exhibition makes you aware that these artists are observing us and what we do.

Michael Minniti made sculptures of tools that his parents use in ‘Tools II‘. I wished I could pick up the mallet and rolling pin and feel them. The objects were smooth and misshapen, as if they had seen lots of use. They looked heavy, suggesting that the users were strong and powerful – and perhaps not to be messed with?

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The 88 artists were selected from a much larger competitive pool. The exhibition is in its sixth year and was sponsored by State Trustees. It was curated by Andrew Chew and hosted by No Vacancy Gallery.

(For a short video about the Connected Art Exhibition – click here or check out the Connected Art Exhibition Facebook site – here. This page lists all of the artworks and details – here. You can still vote for the People’s Choice Award if you hurry.)

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While at Federation Square, I also got to listen to a rehearsal of the Choir of Hard Knocks (formerly the Choir of Hope and Inspiration). Visitors are invited to sit in on the choir’s rehearsals most Mondays at Fed Square from 10.30am until 2:30pm. (For more about the choir and to hear them performing one of their songs – click here.)

Photos: Pip Marks 2015. Reproduced with permission from State Trustees via No Vacancy Gallery.

Categories: Art

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6 replies

  1. Very inspiring work and messages. I would have totally missed out on these if you hadn’t brought them to our attention. I especially like the message about creativity giving a person back some balance. That is just SO true and I’d never heard it expressed so simply, but I have felt it many times! Thanks so much Pip.

  2. ‘Dare’ is simply brilliant, I think. Thanks for showing it to us.


  1. the creative life | ardysez

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