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Visual Arts Essays

Friday 10 February 2017

Welcome to PIAF VIsual Arts

Great art transcends time and fortunes, and an openness to art and ideas – to different ways of looking at the world – sustains us as individuals and as communities.

For Wesfarmers Arts and Perth International Arts Festival, each Festival season brings an opportunity to celebrate the commitment we share to enriching our community through culture at its most inspiring and life-affirming. 

Working together with the creative powerhouse of our own dynamic West Australian contemporary art community, this partnership is a united vision to make the art and ideas of some of the most distinguished artists working today accessible to a wide audience.

The commissioned works and acclaimed pieces that come to us in PIAF 2017 connect Australia and the world, and reaffirm the age-old power of art to speak with eloquence, imagination and authority about the human experience.

This year, once again, we will experience works that are beautiful, exhilarating, relevant and conceptually ambitious. We will wonder at the originality of the ideas and the technical skill and invention of the artists, and marvel at the way in which the simple act of spending time with a work of art can take us out of ourselves and lift our spirits.  

We hope you and your family take the opportunity to explore and be enthralled by the array of visual arts that the Festival brings to our city – connecting us with ideas and issues that are both personal and universal and bringing us together with creative imagination at its most moving, joyous and communal.

Helen Carroll Fairhall
Manager, Wesfarmers Arts and Curator, the Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art


In devising the Visual Arts program for PIAF 2017, we listened to our Perth and Fremantle curatorial peers and responded with the decision to foreground Western Australian artists, both resident and expatriate. These projects, each in their own unique way, offer meditations on one of PIAF Artistic Director Wendy Martin’s key themes, WA’s ‘splendid isolation’. Martin’s vision for a Festival that engages with the rest of the world has resulted in new and commissioned projects by Australian and international artists addressing some of the pressing issues of our time, including water and the inaugural women’s season of the Australian Football League (AFL).

In 2017, exhibitions and events extend into non-traditional sites in and around Perth. Before the Siren is a five month-long, community engagement project culminating in a spectacular and diverse display of female team spirit, fandom and camaraderie at Fremantle Oval on Sunday 19 February. The Women’s AFL competition is important to us on a number of levels – sport, gender politics and national identity – and we plan to continue commissioning projects around it in 2018 and 2019.

Each week during the Festival a mobile water research lab will appear in sites around Kwinana, home to Perth’s desalination plant. Visitors are invited to water tastings and workshops exploring the sources and future security of our water. The water theme is continued at John Curtin Gallery with British filmmaker John Akomfrah’s seductive yet unsettling Vertigo Sea, widely acclaimed at the last Venice Biennale. We are thrilled to also bring to Perth the Australian premiere of Akomfrah’s latest work Auto Da Fé (Acts of Faith), which focuses on migration and persecution.

During the final weekend of the Festival, Magic Mirror will take over a room at the Alex Hotel, revealing to visitors an upside down view of Perth using a camera obscura. At Moana, patrons will be treated to a high-visibility immersive reworking of Australia’s colonial past that is both fun and provocative.

Some of Perth’s major arts institutions have curated exhibitions for the Festival that will resonate strongly with local and visiting audiences. The Art Gallery of Western Australia launches its three-year project Everyone has a history with Plain Speak with a group exhibition of works by contemporary Indigenous artists in the Gallery’s collection. PICA and the Lawrence Wilson Gallery are celebrating two WA artists of different generations, Jacobus Capone and Helen Britton, who are linked by their experience of living and working abroad; while Fremantle Arts Centre presents a survey of five WA artists’ practice that explores the dual concepts of division and belonging.

From the scrambled city views of Magic Mirror to the individual passages of the Span artists, to Capone’s nostalgic rituals in Lisbon at dawn, PIAF’s 2017 Visual Arts program exemplifies the maxim that a well told local story is a story of universal relevance. Enjoy!

Felicity Fenner and Anne Loxley
Program Associates: Visual Arts

Read more on:

John Akomfrah: An essay from Chris Malcolm, Director, John Curtin Gallery

Before the Siren

Joan Ross: An essay from Felicity Fenner, PIAF Program Associate: Visual Arts 

SPAN: Shifting Thresholds: Charting and Changing What Divides Us

Interstices: The Work of Helen Britton

Brackish Rising: An essay from Richard Watts

Magic Mirror: An essay from Robyn Stacey

Program Associates: Visual Arts

Written By Felicity Fenner & Anne Loxley

Our dynamic programming duo – Felicity Fenner and Anne Loxley – are always in and out of galleries around the world, collaborating with artists and immersing themselves in a multitude of mediums to bring the world’s most provocative visual art to our shores.

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