Best of Hadley’s, Australia’s Richest Landscape Award


Like birds, humans seem to be drawn to shiny things, and Catherine Woo produced the show’s most brilliant work, earning herself the local Packers award. Woo’s A moment in the day captures a range of highlights, some brighter, some duller, in dabs of silver paint applied to aluminum foil. It’s a completely abstract image that alludes to shimmering light on water. Other artists, such as Lorraine Biggs and Sue Lovegrove, painted more recognizable lakes and lagoons, but Woo cut things back to basics.

As no trip to Hobart is complete without a visit to the David Walsh Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), I dutifully undertook this pilgrimage. Now in its eleventh year, MONA seems less self-conscious in its provocations, but remains an ongoing cultural experiment.

MONA’s current highlight, Exodust: Crying Country, by Fiona Hall and AJ King.Credit:MONA/Jesse Hunniford

In addition to the permanent collection, devoted to sex and death, science and religion, the museum hosts three major installations: Jeremy Shaw’s multi-channel video, Offset phase index; at Robert Andre Within a Enunciation; and an extraordinary collaboration between Fiona Hall and AJ King, called Exodus: country that cries.

Shaw’s video cycle is about 20 minutes long, but my attention tended to wander from screen to screen, where groups of people were dancing, exercising, or engaging in other ritualistic activities. After a while, it didn’t matter what they did, because the organized obsessions of others quickly became boring to the uninitiated. What unites those within a group may alienate those outside – which may be the purpose of the work.

In a statement by Robert Andrew to MONA.

In a statement by Robert Andrew to MONA.Credit:MONA/Jesse Hunniford

Robert Andrew has become a familiar presence in contemporary exhibitions over the past two years with high-tech installations based on Indigenous languages. In a statement is his most complex piece to date, the largest component consisting of a series of charcoal and ocher wall drawings, each set in and around a crisp white square. The work is controlled by a “mechanical tracing system” in the center of the room which sends signals to the drawing tools. The result is only stains and scratches, but the focus is on branding and communication.


The marks are physical translations of palawa kani, described as the “revived” language of the Tasmanian Aborigines. They are raw and abstract, as the language had to be reconstructed from written documents and community memory; live speakers are long gone. This is the case with most indigenous languages ​​once spoken on this continent, making it crucial that languages ​​such as Pitjantjatjara, spoken by Tuppy Goodwin, be supported and fully documented.

Hall and King’s Exodus is the undisputed highlight of the current MONA display. A work of staggering scope and ambition, it presents an apocalyptic vision of a scorched and devastated nature; the ravages of war; the depredations of colonial history and the ambiguous forces of religion and sexuality.

Inside a huge scorched wooden “cremation hut”, Hall and King set up a coffin that looks like a packing crate and a stained glass window made from plastic bottles. They lined the interior walls with hundreds of blackened but still familiar historic photos, and hung an array of metal reliefs, combining phalluses with trees and broken root systems. Outside the hut, whole tree trunks were charred. On the back wall, bread models of cultural monuments lie in various states of devastation.

The excessive and theatrical nature of the play owes much to Hall’s overactive imagination. The tone was shaped by King’s sense of the crimes committed against Tasmania’s original inhabitants. It is a chronicle of violence against nature and humanity that begins on a small island and expands to encompass the entire world and its history. I couldn’t help but think of Tuppy Goodwin and those close to him patiently recounting the centuries-old story of the Witchetty Grub, utterly oblivious to this avalanche of devastation that has left such scars on our battered and battered civilization.

The Hadley’s Art Prize is at Hadley’s Orient Hotel in Hobart until August 21. MONA’s current exhibitions run through October 17.

John McDonald was a guest at Hadley’s Orient Hotel.

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