Yewth Mag – Sister Gallery July 2017 Critical Review

Intimate snippets of self-exploration and lived experiences are externalised at Sister Gallery through immersive exhibitions ‘Holding is next to knowing’ and ‘gardens.’ 

Adelaide’s Sister Gallery recently housed two immersive installation exhibitions, boasting the works of six acclaimed Australian and international artists within its walls. Perth curator Melissa McGrath’s curatorial work ‘Holding is next to knowing’ and New York City-based artist Leander Capuozzo’s ‘gardens’ each ran from May 20 until June 10. They positioned viewers to navigate around their respective works by cultivating a thematically interpersonal relationship concerning the individual and their surroundings through cross-media platforms that provoke the auditory, visual and haptic senses to a heightened degree.

It sounds like the potential for sensory overload – but what McGrath and Capuozzo have each achieved is a harmonious balance between art and viewer, all voyeurism taken out of the viewing experience with friendly invitations to interact, play and ponder.

Sitting down on a Sunday afternoon at Sister Gallery with curator of ‘Holding is next to knowing,’ Melissa McGrath, I asked her about how the idea of this exhibition came to fruition. McGrath tells me themes of “distinctions between the personal and political” and the value of the body “as a site of resistance” eventuated and from her affiliation with exhibiting Kansas City-based artist, Patricia Bordallo Dibildox and her lived experiences as a Mexican woman living in the US. Bordallo Dibildox’s sculptural work inhabits the partial forefront of the space at Sister Gallery. Her piece entitled ‘I Know What I Want, I Want What I Know’ – vinyl balloons suspended over negative space – are boldly inscribed with affirmations of identity and belonging relating to its namesake.

The exhibition also included the works of Melbourne-based artist Anna Dunnill, a multi-disciplinary artist engaging with textiles and video in her respective works ‘Altar Piece’ and ‘To puncture’;  Texan artist Liss LaFleur and her tactile installation ‘Tips’; Adelaide-based artist Kate Power’s unnerving video work ‘Found Wanting’; and Indigenous Perth-based artist Katie Power’s meditative audio-visual piece ‘Decolonist.’

The exhibition is an all-female collective. This is by McGrath’s design. Boasting an all-female line up, the space is inherently feminist and deserves to be critiqued on an intellectual level that gives credit to the artists’ thoughtful and deeply personal renditions of political evocations defining only some of the innumerable experiences of womanhood and identity. Works were either existing pieces proposed by McGrath to exhibit or were commissioned specifically for the show to address these modern politics through both traditional and digital artistic platforms.

McGrath tells me the works themselves are “cocooned” within their own segmental loci, something she has aimed to achieve in her previous curatorial projects. This use of separate space positions the artworks as individual centrepieces for each exhibiting artist within the exhibition and positions the viewers to have more “authentic responses to the work” as opposed to feeling the natural psychological impulse to move on quickly from piece to piece.

“A lot of my previous projects have looked at… how you create a space where viewers feel emboldened to actually linger with the work,” said McGrath.

Even if the viewer doesn’t necessarily “get” a piece or even if all meaning is totally lost before it can be processed and comprehended – and there is no use in denying the fact that this often happens – McGrath’s curation lends itself to an intersectional “safe space” in which the viewer can remain at ease.

An introspective insight into five female artists’ works, McGrath’s curation explored the respective ideas of forcibly oppressed self-expression, feminism and femininity, individualism and wider society, and that’s only what resonated with me at a first visit. ‘Holding is next to knowing’ as a collective surely touched an audience who may not have experienced a dialogue outside of their own lived experiences before but it is sure to leave an impact, either sensory or intellectual, or in my case, both.

In the back gallery at Sister, the installation work of NYC multi-disciplinary artist Leander Capuozzo. Capuozzo’s ‘Gardens,’ which lends itself to a deconstruction of the web-era, consists of what appear to be stills of a mid-2000s YouTube video mounted to the gallery walls, a sculpture of the no longer manufactured i-Dog, and a chess game in suspended animation. However, this space is anything but stagnant. Capuozzo’s chosen audio accompaniment echoes the space into a vivid abstraction of virtual reality. If you are familiar with the works of New Zealand artist Jess Johnson and her audio-visual installations, then you are not far off imagining the space he has produced.

Capuozzo was able to email me about the specifics of his work and his intent “on creating an ambient space built of elements” to engage viewers with a narrative about humanity’s present-day relationship with nature on a grand and interpersonal scale.

 “By employing audio I was able to keep the viewer multitasking – experiencing multiple elements simultaneously,” Capuozzo said.

Entering the space with a personal familiarity to these pop-culture references I understood what Capuozzo said to me about wanting his work to “feel like an inside joke for a stranger.” The deeper relationship of a meaningful response between work and viewer comes after the initial face-value of being confronted with either humorously familiar or bewilderingly unfamiliar content.

Full immersion into the installation comes from the musical efforts of Kansas City musician, Karlos Moran, which Capuozzo stresses to me is not an accompanying piece of audio but a stand-alone expression worthy of equal artistic merit.

gardens‘ was sure to be newly explored territory for those used to traditional artistic mediums relating the self to nature and society to convey a dialogue. However, the imagined world of Capuozzo’s “garden” is no less the reality we see outside with its looped melodies, stark visuals and tactile invitation to sit down among the nature and play a game of chess, if you are so inclined.

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