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REVIEW // BALLARAT INTERNATIONAL FOTO BIENNALE

 
Dara Kreschmer, from the exhibition Now and On Earth
 
 


Maurice Ortega reviews the Ballarat International Foto Biennale 2011

Festivals of photography emerge from a distinct sense of place, geography and unique set of historical and perhaps serendipitous events. Sometimes they are the born of communities of practitioners and sometimes they emerge from the en feverish vision of a unique individual and as in all cultural ventures the expectations are as different as the large groups that attend them.

For some the curatorial impetus becomes the key for their development, where quality and conceptual nuance drive the concerns of the organisers, Sometimes audience participation takes front stage and in fact the recipe for a successful festival is as oblivious as what makes some art successful.

Louviere and Vanessa

Louviere and Vanessa

The scope of a festival shifts depending on their coverage, location and the characteristics of the venues, some rely on already established cultural infrastructure while some open new public spaces for engagement.

From Foto September that not long ago became a continent wide celebration to the prestige of Arles; festivals provide a unique platform for engagement with large and new audiences. They open new venues that provide spaces for the artists to exhibit their work while the next version of the festival brews.

Ballarat, famous in the 1850 for the Gold rush and for holding one of the most important collections of early Australian Art at its well known Gallery, is one of the many festivals in the Asia-Pacific region that provides for local audiences a unique experience of the medium, it is after all a singular opportunity to see works that would otherwise be difficult to access. It is a chance to mingle with artists, to listen to the concerns of curators and discover what drives such a unique art form.

Maleonn

Maleonn

This year the achievements of the team at Ballarat were celebrated with a strong attendance to the opening night, Ms. Gael Newton curator of photography at the National Gallery of Australia, festival directors across Austral Asia and artists Polixeni Pappetrou were among the many congratulating the effort of the organisers.

The Festival had two sections; the core and the fringe, most notable on the first were the Jan Saudek exhibition that drew some controversy – hardly deserving a mention- and that was notable in the intimacy and wit of the images dealing in an almost diaristic tone with identity and the development of sexuality.

Just up the road the delightful Art Gallery of Ballarat had among its exhibitions some interesting works by a duo from New Orleans; Jeff Louviere and Vanessa Brown their work referenced late 19th and early 20th century photographic processes with a sepia range and wax finish that provided a most appropriate background for their metaphoric language.

An exhibition of Brian Duffy at the same gallery brought a taste of the sixties and its celebrities to an appreciating public and while the works could be contextualised historically the mercantile imperative of the images limited them to the commercial realm.

The photographer Maleonn Ma from China was present at the festival with an exhibition of charming works depicting a clown struggling with the futility of life in a degraded landscape besieged by the legacy of political symbols and gestures.

On the fringe circuit; the works of Kathleen Winder were elegant and ethereal documentations of prize-winning pigeons against a stark white background; an exploration of the birds as much as of the human obsession that transforms this familiar animals into statuesque renditions of our fixations.

Lisa Winder

Kathleen Winder

The works of Dara Kretschmer entitled “Now and On Earth” a typology of mobile homes converted to permanent shelters made in New Zealand provides a background for our musings on the condition of the inhabitants, while the overcast lighting creates a narrative tension to their foreboding loneliness and abandonment. An exhibition that would have benefited from a better venue but nevertheless a gem.

With the diverse range of activities of the festival it is presumptuous to attempt a longer review but I hope you can enjoy a stroll down the streets of Ballarat, a nice glass of wine at the Craig’s Royal Hotel and commit a toast to the valiant efforts of the festival’s organisers.

Maurice Ortega is the Director of the Queensland Centre for Photography

1 Comment

  1. September 10, 2011  12:47 pm by michele chevalley hedge

    I love the artist who did the campervan work.
    I have seen some of her other work... always interesting...
    how do we get in touch with her?

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