Our second reason for visiting Ballarat on 21-22 September was to see the Ballarat International Foto Biennale. We’d enjoyed the last one in 2017 and this one is also worth a visit. It goes from 23 August to 20 October so you will need to be quick. I love how the event takes over the whole city. Some people don’t like popping into cafes just to look at photos but I do – all part of the show.

I also like photos pasted up in alleys and laneways – despite the almost inevitable rain. Here’s one by the UK photographer Mandy Barker called Penalty. She put a call out on social media for soccer balls to be retrieved from oceans around the globe and got 992 in four months from 41 different countries and 144 different beaches by 89 people. Pretty image but upsetting reality.

I really liked these three images which did not photograph well, but were very impressive on the wall. The photographer is the Australian Justine Varga. Here is Desklamp 2011-12. Astonishingly, she doesn’t use a camera for these images. Instead she records traces of the manipulation of light and matter on photographic film and paper by other means, frequently over long periods of time. Hence the time period specified in some of the titles.

This one is Postimpression It does remind you of an Impressionist painting.

Here is Marking Time 2015-16.

Obviously these photos don’t do anything like justice to the originals. In addition to being made by placing a negative film on a light source, sometimes for a year (hence the titles of the first and third of these) the images are touched, drawn onto, weathered, spat upon and etched into. The note describes all this as mining something of photography’s own capital: the medium’s inalienable value as a register for memory and identity. It would be worth while checking Justine’s work out wherever it can be found. Innovative and very original.

I also liked Jane Burton’s photos of The Sunken Garden. Again these photos of photos are not great, but they give some indication of the quality of the work. These two are part of seven in the series that was commissioned by the Art Gallery of Ballarat. They were taken in the area around Ballarat, in the Central Highlands region of Victoria. She says In this landscape I experienced a state of the sublime, where senses and imagination are awakened to the beauty, terorr and wonder of nature. I experienced feelings of exaltation and euphoria at the very same time as feelings of deep melancholy and longing. They are quite beautiful – stark images and wonderful colours. Check them out when you are next at the Ballarat Art Gallery.

I liked the work of Eugenia Lim from Australia that was displayed next to this. It was called Yellow Peril and included a video and some very remarkable photographs on gold paper ; one of the photographer and one of her parents. It explored the historical and ongoing impact and influence of mining an immigration on Australian identity.

I really enjoyed the work of Liu Bolin which was also on display in the Art Gallery. There was a lot of it in six separate rooms, each with a theme. He is the man who camouflages himself within situations. I thought it would all be a bit precious and stunt like, but it wasn’t. The photos in the first room were his foundational works. Even though I didn’t know much about him I recognised some of them so must have absorbed it from somewhere. They appear frivolous but impart a message. Here is Sunflower No.1.

These flowers are ‘heliotropic’ meaning they always rotate to face the sun. They stand tall and strong but in a group they blend together to look the same. In Chinese culture, sunflowers stand for love, happiness and a sunny heart.

I think this one, simply called Panda, is a famous one. It seemed familiar to me although I don’t recall having seen it. It conjures up China, its famous Panda bears and the commercialisation of those bears.

And this one Green Food conjures up the familiar food displays with which we are all familiar from our supermarkets across the world. The commodification of food.

I like the fact the artist is so well camouflaged – you really have to look for him in these pictures. Joe thought it smacked of the Where’s Wally? books. But I thought it was an interesting exercise in showing familiar things in a different, fun way while at the same time making people think.

The second room was about Transformation & the Compulsion to Consume. The message in these works is pretty explicit. Here is Mobile Phone; pretty self evident what the message is here. And this one is Balloon Young visitors are asked in the note What do we need to think about when it comes to buying things made of plastic?

I found Underground Escalators eerie. For me it conjures up of the anonymity of our familiar cityscapes.

Wall Street Bull was in room 3 which was focussed on the theme Terror . It says in the note; the bull has become regarded as a symbol of corruption and corporate greed …the artwork is a reminder of how symbols of power and wealth and their particular placement can mean different things to each of us. I didn’t take a picture of a very confronting wall of weapons against which Liu Bolin was not camouflaged at all.

Rooms 4 and 5 were devoted to photographs on the subject of Environmental Degradation. Here is Forest It explores the ravaging effects of deforestation and desertification in China. The message behind Municipal Waste is pretty obvious. As is the message behind his photos of Venice, this one is Lagoon City of Venice.

Room 6 was full of works concerned with Destruction of cultural heritage and humanitarian crisis. These images were compelling. Here is the artist in front of the Exhibition Building He is situated at the cross-roads of the gardens (a gathering place for local Aboriginal peoples c1900s to the present) and the building, the act of camouflage invites us to think about the building; its colonial origins and current use to all of us.

This is The Hope which depicts the artist camouflaged against the dilapidated shipwrecked vessel at the port of Catania in Sicily; where 800 Syrians, Eritreans and Somalians, died in search of a new life in Europe.

Here is Memory Day which requires no elaboration.

I was pleased this exhibition ended on a feeling of hope with images relating to the United Nations. This is The Future which was commissioned by the UN. At first it looks like a colourful riot of flags – there are 193 countries represented. If you look closely you will see the artist’s arms held above him gripping the letters of the word Future (I didn’t notice this in the gallery – and even now you have to enlarge the picture a lot to see it!).

And here is another simply titled Future reminding us that however that turns out depends on us.

I would recommend visiting the foto biennale for this exhibition alone and I would recommend checking out Liu Bolan’s work if you ever get the opportunity.

I didn’t take any other pictures of the photos on display around the town although there were many that I liked. As always the entrants in the Martin Kantor Portrait Prize at the Ballarat Town Hall are worth a visit. Lots of interesting photos, Julia Gillard from a different perspective (the back of her hair), Paul Kelly in the sea, Gary Foley delivering a baby (!) and more. I didn’t agree with the judges about which one was best; I would have preferred a beautifully lit portrait of David Gulpilil in the bush.

I wasn’t taken with any of the photos in the new National Centre for Photography – Incremental Loss Part Two by Robby Rowlands (Aust) and A History of Misogyny, Chapter One: On Abortion by Laia Abril (Spain) but the venue is great.

And whilst many of those included in Soldiers by Adi Nes (Israel) in the Post Office Gallery were quite beautiful I wasn’t keen on the subject matter – portraits of Israeli soldiers, described in the programme as deep contemplation and concern for the loss of innocence within masculinity.

I liked the photos in the Feathers of The Dragon exhibition upstairs at Mitchell Harris. They were by Ray Martin and his photographer friend Ewen Bell. There were some beautiful photographs of birds – lots of storks – as well as of Bhutanese people and their rugged environment. As well as photographs there was a video of their trip. Great. I also quite liked Craig Mitchel’s Nordlys: Chasing The Light In Arctic Norway which was downstairs at this venue.

We checked out a couple of exhibitions in the cafes in Sturt Street. I liked Time and Tide by Michael Stringer at Europa and The Beauty of Equus by Tamara Kuiler-Coffield at the Homeground Cafe.

Photos everywhere. Worth a visit to Ballarat!


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