Tasmania might not have been the island Shakespeare had in mind when he wrote his shipwreck play The Tempest, but its stormy weather and maritime history would have made it a viable choice of setting. The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) obviously think so too as this winter they’re opening Tempest, an exhibition that takes inspiration from the Elizabethan drama.
The idea for the exhibition was born when curator Juliana Engberg (then Artist Director of the Australian Centre of Contemporary Art) was at TMAG installing a Pat Brassington show. One photo in particular reminded her of Miranda, Prospero’s daughter. “The conversation quickly turned to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Tasmania’s maritime history, and the historic ship paintings and models in TMAG’s collection as well as a fabulous list of contemporary artists whose work tied in beautifully with Tempest themes,” TMAG Senior Curator Jane Stewart tells The Creators Project, explaining that they worked closely to realise the exhibition.
Referencing Shakespeare’s play in both forceful and abstract ways, the free exhibition features work by leading contemporary artists including Fiona Tan, William Kentridge, Victor Alimpiev, and Hernan Bas as well as Australians Ricky Swallow, Rosemary Laing, and of course—the catalyst—Pat Brassington.
“Naturally, Tempest is about shipwrecks, ships, the sea, navigation, storms, calamity and romance,” Stewart tells us. “All works in the show touch on these themes somehow.”
Three works have been especially commissioned for the exhibition, including a monumental blackboard drawing by celebrated artist Tacita Dean, of Young British Artist fame. Engberg writes in the exhibition catalogue that Dean’s interest in oceanic themes made her an obvious fit. “For many years Tacita Dean has been preoccupied with the sea. She has found a way to transform the chalk of the cliffs into the quintessence of the churn and tumult of agitated water with the simplest of means—drawing and smudge on blackboard.”
The other commissioned works are by two Melbourne-based artists. Found art sculptor Paul Wood has collated a collection of maritime kitsch items pilfered from second hand dealers and arranged them together to create a ceramic sculpture. Photomedia artist Valerie Sparks spent three months in Hobart last year shooting the island state’s coastal landscapes as well as some of the taxidermy birds in TMAG’s zoology collection; she has brought this collection of images together for an art wallpaper called Prospero’s Island.
These contemporary pieces will be shown alongside a healthy dose of historic art works and objects, many taken out of storage from TMAG’s art, science and history archives. There will be handcrafted model ships, maritime paintings, seventeenth century Dutch maps, nineteenth century Tasmanian botanical studies, mysterious landscapes by William Charles Piguenit, and a flock of taxidermied parrots from all over the world.
Tempest opens at TMAG as part of the opening of Dark Mofo festival. “Expect sound, lights, music, food and entertainment that take you into the eye of the storm and beyond,” says Stewart. Taking part in the winter solstice celebrations, over the course of Dark Mofo Tempest will also present screenings of Dean’s performance work Event for a Stage. The work was filmed over four nights at Sydney’s Carriageworks during the Biennale in 2014, and stars Stephen Dillane (Game of Thrones) in the lead role. The performances are spliced together, and Dean explores the medium of film as well as the performative roles of actors and directors.
As Engberg explains in the exhibition catalogue, there are many parallels between Dean and the Bard himself. “Shakespeare frequently tells the audience about the artificiality of theatre in the play itself, and Dean’s masterpiece demonstrates that too. All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” reads a statement from the curator.
Inkjet print on PVC-free wallpaper
Commissioned by TMAG for
Tempest opens at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery on Friday June 10 and runs until Sunday November 20. You can find out more about the exhibition here.
This article is presented in partnership with Qantas. Discover your curious side, with more flights to Tasmania available now. You can book your visit at qantas.com
Dark Mofo 2016 Lineup: Mental Asylums, Late Night Art Parties and Noise Rock
Photo Artist Rosemary Laing Stages Cinematic Scenes in Unexpected Environments