For a show that places Australian and international artists in conversation with each other, we might think no theme more appropriate than histories of cultural exchange. In ‘Adelaide//International,’ curator Erica Green places four free standing shows – by two Australian, and two international artists – in open-ended relation with each other. Each deals, in its distinct way, with the pitfalls and potential of the encounter between cultures. Befitting such a meta-exploration of cultural cross-pollination, the four artists bring works with diverse exhibition histories and a sweeping array of perspectives to the Samstag Museum.


Lisa Reihana’s in Pursuit of Venus [infected] destabilises the dominant narratorial voice of the Pacific’s colonial past, rocking the boat of received historical narrative. Like the rest of its companions in the show, the piece takes up historical material not only for its subject matter, but for its form. Manifest here in its original staggering scale, the video work reanimates (and, then, reinterprets) Joseph Dufour’s Les Sauvages De La Mare Pacifique. Dufour’s original wallpaper typifies the Neoclassical imagining of harmony between European explorer-colonisers and people of the Pacific. Here, the geographical landscape is green and gently rolling; the affective landscape is calm, idyllic, cooperative. Reihana’s reincarnation of the wallpaper sings an alternative story of unequal power relations, reflecting on, for instance, the trade of iron and desirable goods for sexual favours. The work brings overshadowed aspects of the colonial narrative to the foreground in a spectacular showcasing of what has been, for a long time, a spectral memory. It was a standout at the 2017 Venice Biennale.

Elsewhere, Brook Andrew’s Room B resituates material from the Musée d’ethnographie de Genève in a multidisciplinary installation. The installation incorporates the video work SMASH IT, created while on fellowship at the Smithsonian Institute. Andrew’s contribution to the show’s conversation seeks to oppose the master voiceover of Primitivism: the logic which, in European Modernism, has historically tended to dictate the way that colonised cultures have been understood. Andrew subverts the arrangement of (European) centre and (Australian, Indigenous) periphery, inviting audiences to reframe – figuratively, yes, but almost literally as well – inherited experiences.

The subversion of received cultural narratives gets refreshingly literal treatment, too, in Singapore artist Ming Wong’s In Love for the Mood. Another work with a history in Venice – this time at the 2009 Biennale – it’s through both title and casting choice that this video scrambles its source material, Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love. The idea of scrambling does feel relevant here; casting a white actress in not one, but two lead roles (a woman and a man, both of whom with spouses who are cheating on them), and having her become increasingly frustrated as she tries to deliver lines in Cantonese, which she does not speak, the video deals in disarray, and in difference. It also might deal in sameness, and in some kind of human experience (of love and loneliness, perhaps) that crosses cultural divides.

The Ambassador, Eugenia Lim’s most recent body of work, arrives at the Samstag as a touring exhibition with the 4A Centre for Contemporary Art and Museums and Galleries of NSW. Here, the show moves the furthest that it will out of the historical, as Lim’s gold-suited Mao-like persona traverses the future-oriented, imaginative realms of the fantastic. The suite takes three parts, encompassing video, sculptural, and photographic works as well as a participatory performance piece. Interrogating international modes of production, histories of immigration, and the posited ‘ugliness’ of mid-century decorative tastes in Australia, Lim rounds out a program of works that carry out, both within themselves and amongst each other, conversations of cultural exchange that trace the fault lines of history, opening up new paths for telling our pasts and futures.

25 February – 5 April, 2019
Samstag Museum, Adelaide


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