Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art Review: Magic Object

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Nell’s sculptures. Photo Credit: Rachel Wong

Do you remember that naïve wonder you had as a child? That acute curiosity that caused your mind to meander into realms of imagination? What about the magic you found in everyday objects, when all was not as it seemed? If you look back on those raw, youthful feelings with joy, and don’t mind letting go of your rationality for an afternoon, you must visit Magic Object, the 2016 iteration of the Adelaide Biennial. It is an exhibition that will allow you to marvel at the magic of art.

Magic Object is curated by the Art Gallery of South Australia’s Assistant Director, Artistic Programs, Lisa Slade. She suggests that “much of the artwork presented in Magic Object looks like one thing but is really another, begging the question – are artists the last magicians?”. Magic Object likens the contemporary artist to a conjuror whose inspirations range from the ritualistic, shamanistic and talismanic to the materialistic, paradoxical and illusionistic. Lisa Slade, draws inspiration from her obsession with the “Wunderkammer” or “Cabinet of Curoisities”. These became popular during the Renaissance in which collectors would present a selection of natural phenomena and specimens for the purpose of private wonderment. Often, the collections would reflect on the particular curiosities of the curators. 500 years later in this exhibition, each room acts as a section within a cabinet of wonder dedicated to the display of magical objects.

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Loongkoonan’s Bush Tucker In Nyikina Country. Photo Credit: Adelaide Biennial

In one room, or kammer, lose yourself in the whimsical glass world of Tom Moore, where hybrid dinosaurs morph with cars, and golden speckled, one eyed mutant trees seem to look at you from across the room. In another room, feel the unsettling presence of Heather B Swann’s Banksia Men (2015) as they stand tall, dark and brooding. Discover the surprisingly morbid yet intriguing meaning behind the installation, The Wake, by Sydney-based artist Nell. Marvel at the talent of 105-year-old indigenous artist Loongkoonan who only began to paint in her 90’s. Find yourself believing in the hyper-realistic illusionism of Michael Zavros’ still life paintings, and much, much more.

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Michael Zavros’ The Poodle. Photo Credit: Adelaide Biennial

Magic Object may provide us with the ability to view the material world as if from young eyes, but in its entirety, it addresses completely adult conceptions of the world. Is there a darker side to the human obsession with collecting? Our obsession with controlling the natural world is, perhaps, the same as our obsession with magic and trickery and the need to escape. And that is what Magic Object becomes, an escape from the rational world into the realms of the artist, be they magician or recorder, collector or conjurer. In many ways they are all of the above. They do allow us to conceive the unconceivable and believe the unbelievable, using slight of hand, visual trickery and material illusionism. So if you do visit Magic Object, while you may get lost in the wonder of it all, please do take a moment to reflect on the power of the object and the role of the artist. Do you think they are the last magicians?

– Josephine Boult


27 February – 15 May

Free Admission

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