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the gift that keeps on giving

alison kubler: the josephine ulrick & win schubert photography award

Alison Kubler is Associate Curator, University of Queensland Art Museum.

Eugenia Raskopoulos, Vestiges #3 (2010), Eugenia Raskopoulos, Vestiges #3 (2010),
courtesy the artist and William Wright Artists Projects Sydney
ART PRIZES THE SCALE OF THE JOSEPHINE ULRICK AND WIN SCHUBERT PHOTOGRAPHY AWARD CAN TEND TOWARD THE SMASH AND GRAB VARIETY, HOWEVER THIS IS NOT THE CASE WITH THIS AWARD. NOW IN ITS 11TH YEAR, IT IS CERTAINLY ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT MEDIA SPECIFIC AWARDS IN THE COUNTRY WITH A GENEROUS PRIZE PURSE, BUT ALSO STANDS ALONE AS AN EXHIBITION OF HIGH QUALITY CONTEMPORARY PHOTOGRAPHY.

Selected and judged in 2012 by Kon Gouriotis, Director of the Australian Centre for Photography (a different judge is chosen every year), the prize is thus a curated selection, which lends it a critical strength and relevance as an exhibition of contemporary photography. This year’s prize presented a veritable smorgasbord of Australia’s leading photographic artists and as with all smorgasbords, the temptation is to indulge—indeed, it’s almost impossible not to when faced with 75 works, selected from over 360 entries.

The result was a salon hang of names, from well established and mid-career artists such as Petrina Hicks, Anne McDonald, Tamara Dean, Merilyn Fairskye and Darren Sylvester (who also gave a talk as part of the opening events), through to more emerging artists. Works ranged too in physical scale from huge to small lending the exhibition some more intimate moments. The thoughtfully chosen final field offered a snapshot, albeit subjective, of contemporary practice, a litmus test of the sector as it were.

The most important aspect to note is that the prize belongs to Gold Coast City Art Gallery (GCCAG), one of the biggest regional art galleries in Australia with an impressive collection begun in the 1970s. GCCAG is in the process of campaigning for bigger digs, motivated by the collection’s growing size and calibre; the continued success of this prize should add more weight to the argument. A word too about the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Foundation: it’s nothing short of a national treasure, given the dearth of private philanthropy in this country. Its reach extends across literature, poetry, photography and ceramics and a variety of universities, museums and galleries. The photographic award’s first prize of $20,000 is supplemented by an additional $10,000 to the Gold Coast City Collection for acquisitions, which in 2012 included, at the judge’s discretion, works by Chris Budgeon, Ella Dreyfus, Merilyn Fairskye, Sam Scoufos and Chris Herzfeld in collaboration with Thom Buchanan: all handsome and welcome collection additions.

Chris Herzfeld in collaboration with Thom Buchanan, Superhero 3 Chris Herzfeld in collaboration with Thom Buchanan, Superhero 3
courtesy the artists


Thus The Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award truly is nothing short of a gift to the gallery, and to the nation too. Fitting then that the winning work was Eugenia Raskopoulos’ Vestiges #3. On the surface an abstract study, the work is also a study in simplicity. A photograph of the remnants of a birthday gift—the discarded wrapping paper—it constitutes a happy accident of sorts, in the spirit of Irwin Wurm’s three-minute sculptures. Raskopolous’ larger project concerns itself with language, the complexity of making oneself understood as an immigrant in a strange land. In his award notes Gouriotis explained, “What started off as birthday wrapping paper, ended up as another shape which is then photographed offering a new interpretation to the object. The new meaning this shift creates, recognises the incomplete over the complete. It supports the possibility of other changes rather than no transformations.” It is an eloquent work that speaks with gravity to the immutable power of visual language in the absence of a voice. As the winning work too, its humility takes on greater significance: it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Other notable inclusions were Petrina Hick’s work Untitled #1 (The Perfomance, 2011) best described as a witty conflation of religious painting and Benetton advertising. In this ‘performance’ however, young women play the roles of Jesus and doubting Thomas investigating Christ’s wound. Hicks’ bright-eyed teenagers might be metaphors for a contemporary culture that is spiritually bankrupt, or emblematic of youth itself: beautiful and bereft. Superhero 3, 2012 created collaboratively by Chris Herzfeld and performative visual artist Thom Buchanan (and acquired as part of the fund) follows in the Marvel Comic tradition. Here a group of caped crusaders unite to smack down a dishdash-wearing Muslim foe. It’s a fun but ultimately serious work. Linsey Gosper’s Alone in my room (little death), 2011 with its pathetic, exposed protagonist is wonderfully dark. Murray Frederick’s magnificently malevolent clouds in Hector #12, 2011 evoke the cloud paintings of Matthys Gerber. It’s a particularly painterly work, eerily similar to Simone Douglas’s two cloud studies Ever III and Ever VII, 2011. Then there was Cherine Fahd’s whimsical and humorous 365 attempts to meditate, 2011, composed of 50 small images of a person blowing up a balloon. All in all the 2012 was a rich selection with something for everyone, like the perfect ‘all you can eat.’

The award coincided too with the biannual Queensland Festival of Photography, a series of events and exhibitions held across the state, and was complemented at Gold Coast City Art Gallery by Lorikeet Island, an exhibition of collaborative work by Alana Hampton and Marian Drew. An ambitious installation, Lorikeet Island consisted of photographs and immersive new media works produced over an extended period of time onsite at a mangrove cay in one of the labyrinthine Gold Coast waterways. The artists aimed to highlight the incredible natural beauty that lies just at the edge of Surfers Paradise’ ‘glitter strip,’ the aquatic playground that brings in the tourists. Lorikeet Island captured the largely unseen beauty of one small island that disappears with the vagaries of the tidal changes, exposing the mangroves and complex ecosystem. Hampton and Drew have worked together before but this exhibition crystallised their individual practices with its clarity of vision and execution. After the very fulfilling experience of the award, walking into the exhibition was not unlike diving beneath the water: cool and sating.


The Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award, Gallery 1, The Arts Centre, Gold Coast, March 31-May 13

Alison Kubler is Associate Curator, University of Queensland Art Museum.

RealTime issue #109 June-July 2012 pg. 46

© Alison Kubler; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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