Each year, and this is its 24th, the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts’ Hatched National Graduate Show gets more and more refined, and the work of the graduates it presents looks more and more professional. The process of selection has become increasingly rigorous and competitive – this year four judges selected 35 graduates from a pool of 90 offered by 22 art schools, and the exhibition is now curated, as much as an exhibition selected by a panel can be. The refinement of Hatched can perhaps be connected to the addition of the $35,000 Dr Harold Schenberg Art Prize, first awarded in 2010, a sum that necessitates glamour comparable to its promise. The present-day exhibition provides selected artists an early taste of large-scale logistics and ambition, and a potentially game-changing opportunity.
Hatched works as a barometer of current interests and concerns, but it also serves as an annual a reminder that some of the interests and concerns of artists fresh from art school transcend trend. Reoccurring subjects and key ‘threads’ are accentuated in this year’s Hatched by the grouping of works of comparable theme and methodology: there is the room of historically conscious environmentalism; here are the contemporary formalists; there the domestic accoutrement; there the corridor of post-digital embodied performance.
Works that connect object and image are consistently strong and manage to transcend their subject matter in compelling ways. Paula Hunt’s In the Stadium, a series of banners and a short film cut from found footage, and Broc Webster’s meld of sci-fi and museolgical tropes trouble the construction of pasts and futures respectively. Andrew Stynan sets an incredibly high standard as the clear winner of the Dr Harold Schenberg Art Prize. The Bell Buoy is an immersive two-channel video that begins with human impotence in the face of catastrophic climate change and unfolds into something miraculous. It’s an anxious, beautifully cinematic meditation on hyperreality and doomsday, produced in real time. If there is some central ‘thread’ to Hatched 2015 it perhaps this productive co-existence of material and image cultures; gone is any lingering genre-based Darwinism that casts technology as the feared or exalted successor of material language.
And, if there is something really new about Hatched 2015 it’s that it includes a work that may be legitimately problematic. Patrick Heath from TAFE South Australia presents a suite of six ‘totem-like’ assemblages in which wooden cricket bats, carved into anthropomorphic forms, are set atop bases made from concrete casts of beer cans. The carved forms are an approximation of what Heath refers to in the exhibition text as ‘tribal artefacts’, describing in an artist talk his interest in ‘primitivism’. The exhibition text name-checks post-colonial and ‘cultural’ identity as a reference point, but the artist’s engagement with the ethics of cultural appropriation in that post-colonial context seems so vague it’s surprising the work made it past two selection panels without deeper questioning, unless the intention is to open public dialogue.
Heath’s work is a reminder that Hatched may represent a culmination of these artists’ undergraduate studies – completed in very different art schools with different priorities and strengths – but it is also a survey of practices in their nascent stages. At this point, at the beginning of what will hopefully be a long process of mistake-making, experimentation, revision, understanding and working within a variety of contexts, it may be unreasonable to demand the level of professionalised completeness usually expected at PICA’s standard of operation. Regardless, it’s remarkable how many of the Hatched 2015 artists seem poised to make a seamless transition between one institution and the next.
Hatched 2015 National Graduate Show, Tues to Sun 10am-5pm until 21 June 2015; Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA), 51 James Street, Northbridge WA; (08) 9228 6300, pica.org.au