Curator’s Column: Juan Bolivar on Griffin Gallery’s Earth Wind & Fire

Griffin Gallery is currently showing Earth Wind & Fire, a celebration of contemporary Australian Indigenous art, and Western European contemporary art, presenting 6 esteemed Australian Indigenous artists alongside 7 British artists.

The exhibition is co-curated by Jennifer Guerrini Maraldi, director of JGM gallery, London and Juan Bolivar, artist and curator also based in London. Juan Bolivar talked to After Nyne about his curatorial philosophy and inspiration for the exhibition. 

I have been curating exhibitions for over 10 years and worked on over 40 exhibitions with many artists. As a curator the challenge for me, is how to work with these artists in different ways and revisit ideas.

In Earth Wind & Fire there is no prescriptive answer about the themes being explored. It is not just a matter of similarities in ‘technique’ or choice of ‘subject matter’. This exhibition brings together artists who are literally worlds apart and shows them on the same platform. In that sense alone it could be seen as a political gesture.

The projects is an experiment which aims to raise questions – and yes – in the process point at shared themes such as relationship to materials, pattern and decoration, and the idea of ritual; but it’s more than that.

The full discussion of the project is covered in the exhibition catalogue, in three essays: one by Barry Schwabsky, one by Jennifer Guerrini Maraldi, and one by myself. They each give different insights not just to the themes, but the ‘problematics’ and implications of bringing contemporary Indigenous Australian artists and British artists together in this way. The exhibition does feel very cohesive but there should also be a sense of surprise and challenged assumptions brought into the viewing of these works.

Earth Wind & Fire is an exhibition which repositions artists whose practices belong to very different cultural platforms, and acknowledging these differences is as important as the similarities. My interest is primarily curiosity, whether the project could be done at all, and secondly to raise these questions – what will emerge from this experience  – and how can we do this in 2017 whilst preserving a sense of playful critical inquiry. The exhibition title toys with this by the suggestion of its meaning existing in more than one context and how we negotiate this derision.

Jennifer and I began a conversation about the implications of comparable themes between artists working today in the UK and Indigenous Australia, and what would happen if we brought artists from different contexts in one exhibition together.

Some Indigenous Australian artists’ work echoes the work of artists from the abstract expressionist and New York School, and my curiosity is how therefore we register these works, which have superficial similarities but very different dialogues. Australian Indigenous artists, living in isolated, remote communities across Australia, have never seen or engaged with other art. It is described as the longest unbroken tradition which has been relayed orally and visually for 80,000 years. It comes from a unique cultural place where skills and techniques have evolved and developed over thousands of millennia. Some of these paintings are reminiscent of western styles and genres of abstract painting but developed away from that discussion. As curators Jennifer and I wanted to explore the similarities in themes, but also highlight the way works can be interpreted in different ways or have different purposes. My curatorial work spans a decade looking at London’s evolving contemporary art scene and through this exhibition we wanted to ask what it means to make works by artists from different contexts, histories and dialogues, with a shared visual language, relationship to materials, and their respective approaches and rituals in painting.



Image: Ralph Anderson, The Dog of Flanders

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