‘The Churchie’: highlights from the 2015 Churchie National Emerging Art Prize

Image: Sha Sarwari, ‘National Icon’, 2014. Photographic print. Courtesy of the artist.

For over 28 years the Churchie National Emerging Art Prize (‘the churchie’) has been showcasing Australia’s next major creative talents. It comes to no surprise then that this year’s featured artists keep popping up on our radar! After spotting this year’s winner, Michaela Gleave at the Experimenta Recharge exhibition, Kerry and Danielle thought it was time to reflect on the talented artists exhibited in this year’s ‘the churchie’ prize at Griffith University Art Gallery, Southbank.

Danielle: ‘the churchie’ is dedicated to showcasing innovation and excellence across contemporary, traditional and new media art genres. This year’s prize was judged by Rachel Kent, Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Sydney. Kent selected Michaela Gleave as the winner of the $15,000 prize (non-acquisitive) sponsored by Brand+Slater Architects, for her performance piece, Waiting For Time (7 Hour Confetti Work) (2014). Gleave’s performance was streamed live from her New York studio to the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane on Saturday 10 May 2014. The performance involved the artist setting off a hand-held confetti cannon every minute for seven hours.

Kerry: My take on Gleave’s Waiting For Time (7 Hour Confetti Work) is that it is talks to the endurance aspects of time and the fleeting nature of the viewer’s attention. The artist is subjecting herself to 7 hours of sitting and passing time. In contrast, the viewer can dip in and out making our experience of the performance inherently different. Why has Gleave used confetti bombs to pass the time? It’s fun, colourful and associated with anything but endurance and slow passages of time. Confetti is ephemeral. It is often all that is left when the party is over; it indicates the traces or passing of time.

Michaela Gleave, Waiting for Time (7 Hour Confetti Work) 2014, video performance executed via YouTube, 16:9 colour stereo. Courtesy of the artist and Anna Pappas Gallery, Melbourne.

Michaela Gleave, ‘Waiting for Time (7 Hour Confetti Work)’, 2014. Video performance executed via YouTube, 16:9 colour stereo. Courtesy of the artist and Anna Pappas Gallery, Melbourne.

Danielle: This year’s prize certainly offered an intriguing range of works spanning diverse mediums. For me, Sha Sarwari’s National Icon (2012) is one of the most powerful works in this year’s prize. Born in Afghanistan, Sarwari come to Australia as a refugee in 1999 and has since called Brisbane home. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Queensland Collage of Art and has exhibited throughout Australia since 2011. National Icon (2014) is a photograph that depicts a young man laying on the beach with his head buried in his arms so that you can’t see his face. The mysterious youth wears an inflated life jacket suggesting he has been travelling on a boat. With no other clues as to who he is, we are left to question his identity.

Kerry: I agree it was a very striking work, using a clear reference to Max Dupain’s iconic image of 1937, The Sunbaker. By referencing such an iconic Australian image, Sarwari alludes to notions of peace and freedom, which makes a powerful commentary on contemporary social and political issues. This work is particularly relevant with the international refugee crisis unfolding and the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees in Australia an ongoing issue.

SARWARI SHA_National Icon

Sha Sarwari, ‘National Icon’, 2014. Photographic print. 87.5 x 72.5cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Danielle: Another one of my favourite works is the interactive installation Clearance (2015) by Alrey Batol. Batol immigrated to Australia from the Philippines when he was 10, and in this work examines the differing and prevalent capitalist structures that govern everyday life in the two different cultures he grew up in. Clearance is a touchscreen game written in HTML5 coding that concerns the anxieties surrounding material possessions and the need for always wanting more. The game presents a number of consumer products, picked randomly from catalogues. The player’s aim is to pick up the items and throw them to the side. However, every time the player picks up an item to toss it away it is difficult to move and even more items fall from the top of the screen, making it difficult to escape the materialist objects. It’s ironically addictive!

Kerry: I also really responded to this work—the audio track is repetitive and intrusive echoing the cluttering of the physical screen space and our lives with technology and consumerist items. The work is a stark reminder of just how much consumer junk is set adrift in our oceans, landfill and lives.

Alrey Batol, 'Clearance', 2015, Interactive video game, 16:9 colour stereo, 46 x 55cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Alrey Batol, ‘Clearance’, 2015. Interactive video game, 16:9 colour stereo. 46 x 55cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Danielle: Yeah, Batol’s work really resonated with me! Another of my favourites was Dana Lawrie’s large-scale painting, Rainbow (2015). Lawrie is a Brisbane-based artist who holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Honours (First Class) from the Queensland College of Art. Her self-portraiture works explore themes of permanence and impermanence. In Rainbow, Lawire paints fractions of various body parts in positions that are put together to make the shape of a rainbow. Lawrie’s use of delicate hues of pink and grey make for a work of striking raw beauty that really captures your attention and pulls you in.

Dana Lawrie, 'Rainbow', 2015. Oil on unstretched canvas. 210 x 200cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Dana Lawrie, ‘Rainbow’, 2015. Oil on unstretched canvas. 210 x 200cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Kerry: The stand out for me was Tai Snaith’s Portrait of a Sunday Painter (2015), a mixed media work exploring the life and work of a fictional female artist named ‘Giogia de Vivre’. I enjoyed the concepts in this work, which not only explore how female artists have been forgotten by history, but also looks at the role of ‘the document’ in the creation of constructed realities. Snaith cheekily creates a body of work and an history for this fictional artist, but at no point gives away ‘the secret’ that the artist in question may not be real. Snaith’s artist statement says she is ‘a visual artist interested in the point where still life becomes real life’.

Danielle: Overall, ‘the churchie’ 2015 offers a wide array of talented emerging artists that represents the diversity and high quality of Australian contemporary art.  all of whom are likely to see more and more of in time. I look forward to seeing the next group of emerging artists in next year’s prize, which will be held at the QUT Art Museum.

To check out all of the finalised from the 2015 prize click here. To find out how to enter for the 2016 Churchie Emerging Art Prize click here.

Finally, congratulations to all the participating artists and highly commended winners, Tai Snaith and Sha Sarwari.

Danielle & Kerry

Feature image: Sha Sarwari, ‘National Icon’, 2014. Photographic print. 87.5 x 72.5cm. Courtesy of the artist.

%d bloggers like this: