MCA presents 'Telling Tales: Excursions in Narrative Form'

Art Press Release from Australia. Published by M.C.A. on Thursday 02 June 2016.

Covering Letter image The Letter Writing Project image Garnkiny image It's because I talk too much that I do nothing image The Colour of Saying (still, detail) image

The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) presents 'Telling Tales: Excursions in Narrative Form' (2 June – 9 October 2016), a major exhibition exploring the varied, inventive approaches taken by 14 leading Australian and international artists and groups to narrative form.

Curated by MCA Chief Curator Rachel Kent, Telling Tales encompasses painting, sculpture, photography and film. The works unpick conventional storytelling approaches to reconsider ideas around structure, duration, repetition and fragmentation. Individual works break away from a traditional linear format, instead presenting cyclical and open-ended stories; narration through non-verbal communication or silence; and mysterious, incomplete narratives constructed through fragments and clues.

The exhibition opens on 2 June 2016 with a four-day opening weekend program (Thursday 2 – Sunday 5 June), rich with artist talks, discussion panels and performances creating a poetic and reflective environment. Artists, curators and guest speakers will examine individual works, overarching ideas and emergent themes in the exhibition.

Hailing from Northern Africa, Asia, Europe, the US and Australia – from Melbourne and Sydney, through to the East Kimberley in Western Australia, the artists include Safdar Ahmed & the Refugee Art Project, Kate Daw, Emily Floyd, Mabel Juli, Jumaadi, Jitish Kallat, Bouchra Khalili, Lee Mingwei, Angelica Mesiti, Peggy Patrick, Shirley Purdie, Phyllis Thomas and Kerry Tribe.

MCA Director, Elizabeth Ann Macgregor OBE said: ‘Central to Telling Tales is the positioning of Australian contemporary artists within a wider global dialogue. Over our 25-year history, the MCA has actively sought to place Australian practice at the heart of our program, showcasing a wide range of practices by Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists alongside the work of artists from other parts of the world.’

The exhibition provides a platform for stories that are not often told, including stories of extraordinary personal agency and risk. Among them are eight narratives by immigrants travelling outwards from Northern Africa and the Middle East in Moroccan artist Bouchra Khalili’s video installation The Mapping Journey Project; and multiple stories told through drawings and watercolours by participants in the Sydney-based initiative, Refugee Art Project.

Looping, repetition, or providing fragments and clues, are some of the techniques used by the artists. Californian artist Kerry Tribe’s film work re-imagines a famous Hollywood murder mystery in three versions. Each is compelling but none conclusive.

Kate Daw and Emily Floyd take a different approach, breaking literary texts down into fragments, or representing grand narratives visually, through signs and symbols – the former though visualization of a female voice in 20th century literature, art and design; and the latter exploring themes of crime, punishment, and the gulag or labour camp in relation to current world politics.

Jitish Kallat’s installation presents a different take on world history and war. A significant letter is projected onto a veil of mist from the great Indian leader and pacifist Mahatma Gandhi, to Adolf Hitler.

Ceremonial stories, conveyed through song and dance, are the focus of paintings by Aboriginal artists Peggy Patrick and Phyllis Thomas, two senior Gija women from the East Kimberley region of Western Australia. Their austere ochre panels represent markings on the body in preparation for ceremony or joonba; they are not about one specific story but the act of storytelling itself. Gija elder Shirley Purdie instead documents edible and medicinal plants of the East Kimberley, while Mabel Juli’s black ochre paintings depict an epic narrative of forbidden love, embodied by the moon and star.

Silence as a means of communication, and gestures of the hand and body, are explored through Angelica Mesiti’s video work that features a noiseless choir, percussion ensemble, and ballet performed with movements of the hand. In contrast, Lee Mingwei presents a ‘living sculpture’ in the galleries with opera performances for one. Four afternoons a week throughout the exhibition, a classically-trained opera singer will offer visitors the ‘gift’ of a song and perform a Schubert Lieder of their choosing. Extending themes of performance and duration, Jumaadi reinvents the East Javanese tradition of wayang kulit or shadow puppetry in his gallery display of drawings, concertina books and buffalo-hide puppets. His work is expanded through periodic live performances over the course of the exhibition.
MCA Chief Curator, Rachel Kent said: ‘_Telling Tales_ stems from my long interest in ideas around storytelling – who tells a story and why? Who is silent or silenced? I am fascinated by the ways in which stories are told, what gets left unsaid and how the viewer can assemble their own imagined story.’
‘Stories and their telling enrich our creative inner life and daily experience of the world around us,’ Kent added.