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March 3, 2022

Behind the art of Neoteric

For insight into Adelaide Festival exhibition Neoteric, CityMag spoke with four of the 40 visual artists and writers taking part in the artist-led project, currently on show at the Adelaide Railway Station.

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  • Image 1: Johnny von Einem
  • Image 2—3: Supplied

Set up on the concourse of the Adelaide Railway Station, Neoteric is a coalescing of 20 mid-career artists and 20 writers, all of whom have been brought together by artist and project lead Ray Harris.


1 March—10 April
Adelaide Railway Station Concourse
FREE — more info

When speaking with InReview in January, Ray, who brought Neoteric into being with Sarita Burnett, Thom Buchanan, Julianne Pierce and Fiona Borthwick, described the exhibition as a way of addressing a “gap in opportunity” for mid-career artists, and a “declaration of the importance of artists”.

Neoteric is free to view from now until 10 April, and opens 10am ’til 5pm Monday to Saturday and 12pm ’til 4pm on Sunday.

We wanted to hear some of the thought behind the work in the exhibition, so CityMag has spoken to three artists and one writer about the themes they explored and the importance of a project like Neoteric.


Tamara Baillie

Tamara works across sculpture, installation and moving image. As part of Neoteric, writer Jemima Kemp created a written response to Tamara’s work.

A big inside-out world globe (left, partially obscured by red)

Tell us about the work you’ve created for Neoteric.
It’s basically a big inside-out world globe. It grew out of thinking about Matthew Flinders’ journey and how he named so many things after the places he’d been, etc. I was thinking about how we all process new experiences, such as travel. We can only ever see things in relation to what we already know, and this is often a fixed perspective, unless we actively seek to see more.

At the same time, we all have whole worlds inside ourselves that we can only really share a tiny part of with others – it’s always a limited perspective. It was important to me that the work be large enough that you can imagine yourself inside of it.

How do you hope audiences will respond to your work?
I don’t necessarily have any expectations about this – experiencing art can be such a personal thing, so it will likely be quite different for different people. In making any artwork I hope to create a small moment of wonder, of suspending the day to day for a tiny moment.

Tamara Baillie. This image: Sia Duff

What has been your experience of working with artists for Neoteric?
This is such a great bunch of humans, but we’ve all been making in our own little worlds without much idea about what each other is making. Sometimes it’s nice to have a creative tension with curators and institutions or other kinds of constraints, but this exhibition has felt that the artist is very much the focus.

Have you engaged with Jemima Kemp’s written response to your work?
Jemima did such a great job – she really paid attention to every aspect of the work and all of our conversations about it. It was a tough job, as I wasn’t able to fully assemble the work until we got into the space, so she was writing about something that only existed in my imagination. I’m looking forward to reading it again in a few weeks’ time and reflecting on her words more.

How is this experience different from an institutional/organisational project?
The Neoteric team have been great! The process has been fairly fluid and flexible and working in a non-traditional space feels quite freeing also. Exhibiting at established organisations often has inherent power dynamics. Even when everyone is working together fluidly, the artist is essentially negotiating to use the other’s space. The ownership and provision of resources creates an inherent power dynamic. It’s not always a negative experience, just a different feeling.


Will Nolan

Will is a mixed-media artist. As part of Neoteric, Michael Newall created a written response to Will’s work.

Will’s TICK scuba tank (left) and a work from CJ Taylor (right)

Tell us about the work you’ve created for Neoteric.
For the Neoteric exhibition, I have included photographic portraits, two light installations and a sculpture made from a scuba tank. My interest stretches from photography’s beginnings to how we interact with the medium today. Not only has photography played a significant role in my practice, but it has also allowed me to look outside the medium and consider other possibilities for creating. The work presented here not only illustrates my deep affection for photography, but my fascination with the sea and, more recently, liminality. What I tried to do with this work is to use common things, such as navigational lights, a scuba tank and passport portraits. With that, I twist and play with these signs and symbols to provoke themes of change, desire, and leisure.

How has your practice been impacted, changed or evolved over the past two years?
I have only had a small number of shows since 2020, with a solo exhibition in Sydney and a group show here in Adelaide. The Sydney show at Galerie Pompom was a big shift in my practice – the pandemic had happened and there were several uncertainties, both personally and publicly. I found solace in my family, my family history and my love for the arts. I began to create works that reflected this interest and found a nice rhythm to pursue. In the last year, I can say that the doors have opened to new possibilities in the work itself and the timing could not have been better for Neoteric to come along.


Neoteric writer-artist pairings:
Steph Cibich & Deborah Prior
Tanner Muller & Sasha Grbich
Dominic Guerrera & Honor Freeman
Celia Dottore & Sue Kneebone
Adele Sluizas & Cynthia Schwertsik
Alexis West & Bridget Currie
Sera Waters & Henry Jock Walker
Jemima Kemp & Tamara Baillie
Polly Dance & Anna Horne
Lizzy Emery & Ray Harris
Andrew Purvis & Heidi Kenyon
Yusuf Hayat & Thom Buchanan
Chris Reid & Darren Siwes
Bernadette Klavins & Gus Clutterbuck
Susan Charlton & Deidre But-Hussaim
Lauren Mustillo & Laura Wills
Zoe Freney & Lara Tilbrook
Michael Newall & Will Nolan
Roy Ananda & C J Taylor
Serena Wong & Brad Darkson

How do you hope audiences will respond to your work?
I hope the audience is willing to participate and to be open to the artwork on offer. I feel that the more we participate with art, the more we are going to benefit from that experience and enrich our lives.

What has been your experience of working with artists for Neoteric?
There is definitely a sense of excitement for this show with all the artists that I have encountered through the installation process. The space in the Railway Station has charmed the artists and allowed their visions for the show to happen.

It is an exciting time, and I hope that further opportunities and support will come to these committed South Australian artists.

Have you engaged with Michael Newall’s written response to your work?
What I like about what Michael did with the writing is he noticed my interest and played with it. He drew on the history of mine and his taste and began to write in a way that was playful and to the point.

How is this experience different from an institutional/organisational project?
I cannot see too many differences between the two. I think we are all striving for the arts to be seen and appreciated.


Sasha Grbich

Sasha is a mixed-media artist. As part of Neoteric, Tanner Muller created a written response to Sasha’s work.

Sasha Grbich’s ‘Bat Alphabet’. This image: Sam Roberts

Tell us about the work you’ve created for Neoteric.
The story of this artwork starts in the very hot summer at the beginning of 2020. I had just moved back to Adelaide from Portugal, just in time for the country to close down in response to COVID-19. I took to riding my bike around Adelaide. I noticed that a colony of grey-headed flying foxes had moved from NSW to a stand of trees in Botanic Park, near the [Karrawirra Parri River] Torrens. I loved their loud, rude sounds and started heading out in the early mornings to make sound recordings of them.

To avoid the heat, I was heading out before the sun and I noticed a difference in intensity of calls during heatwaves. I also saw dead bats, many that had died during the night and fallen to the ground as if still clinging to branches. I found out that these flying foxes are now moving around the country due to habitat destruction and are not well adapted to extreme heat, with days above 38/40 degrees very dangerous for them. After speaking with a researcher who was also spending time in the colony, I learnt that the increased sound I was hearing was mothers calling for young who were no longer responding.

The summer I was recording the bats was a bad one for the colony. The two cool summers that have followed have seen them thriving. I have paid attention to the bats, because they indicate the way ecologies have shifted in response to climate changes and since colonial inhabitation. I watch them to see what I can learn from the new ecologies that I find myself entangled in.

While observing them that hot summer, I began drawing the shapes of the dead bats. These drawings are shadowy shapes. On the page they began to look like an alphabet or script that I did not understand. I then made them in black clay, hand-sized – they are unfussy, made with a few movements, like a sign language or gesture. I make these regularly (daily where possible) and I have hundreds now.

I used my sculptural skills to articulate the ‘Bat Alphabet 40degrees’, then I asked others to use their skills to help me read it, with their translations collected as a sonic translation and video set amongst the ceramic objects in the final installation. A sonic translation developed and recorded by Zoë Barry. Zoë is a wonderful cello player and composer, based in Victoria, who treated the ceramic objects like a score, and recorded her response in cello. While she was working on it, her young daughter Goldie Palmer also gave a reading of the objects, and her text can be heard in the mix. Also providing a translation are deaf interpreter Marijana Turcinov and hearing interpreter Joanna Clough, who attempt to read the bat alphabet using their knowledge of sign language on the video.


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How has your practice been impacted, changed or evolved over the past two years?
The work for Neoteric developed through the past two years, with the impetus for it coming from my spending time to get to know Adelaide afresh in the summer of 2020, after living overseas. I did not expect to spend the following two years in Adelaide, but events unfolded that way, and so I settled in and made work in conversation with the ecologies I observe here. Because of the lockdowns and restricted movements, I spent a lot of time on my bike (between shifts working from home), which brought me in touch with the locked down quiet city and its ecologies in new ways. Neoteric provided the perfect opportunity to resolve and present this locally important work.

How do you hope audiences will respond to your work?
My work enters the possibility of living in shifted ecologies. While the work is thoughtful, I find it optimistic as it contains the impetus to encounter things as they are now in a way that looks to learn from the non-human world. The work also contains many points of translation, where there are encounters with difference and translation is thought of as a way of being with another in a way that is both respectful and curious. Lastly, I like that that work calls on many different kinds of knowledge – from musicians, the deaf community, artists and children.

What has been your experience of working with artists for Neoteric?
This has been a wonderful exhibition to work on. It is ambitious, artist-led and generous. It welcomes experimentation. The team has been magnificent to work with The space is wonderful. We need more ambitious artist-led projects like this one.

Have you engaged with Tanner Muller’s written response to your work?
Tanner and I had some great conversations as I made the work. I enjoyed meeting Tanner, reading an early draft and look forward to seeing the final piece.


Dominic Guerrera

Dominic is a Ngarrindjeri, Kaurna and Italian writer. As part of Neoteric, Dominic created a written response to Honor Freeman’s work.

This image: Josh Geelen

What has been your experience of working with artists for Neoteric?
Working directly with Honor (despite it being limited thanks to COVID), I was able to gain an insight into her work practice – something I would not have been able to do if I was working through a third party (e.g. gallery, curator). Working with artists allowed for direct contact and allowed this to feel a bit more personal for me as a writer.

Can you speak to the sense of community and camaraderie about this particular exhibition, and the support between artists?
As an Aboriginal person, my people have a complicated relationship with institutions, particularly when it comes to art and culture and how those are accessed. Often, we end up relying on each other because of avoiding those spaces. So connecting with other peers fits nicely into the Aboriginal constructs I live and work within.

It’s great to see artists pulling together and supporting each other to create opportunities like Neoteric. It’s special, and unique to me, but it’s also not new. I feel like Neoteric is adding to a tradition of artists taking back some autonomy of how their work is exhibited and shared with the community.

How did you approach writing about Honor Freeman’s work?
I wasn’t familiar with Honor’s work before this project, so I had to do a deep dive into her past work and was lucky that Honor sent me a detailed description.

It was important to go beyond the aesthetic and to understand Honor’s work and what was driving it. The presence of water and emotions really struck me, it inspired the reflection parts of the writing.

It was also the first time I had written for a non-Aboriginal artist, so it was a challenge when I didn’t have the familiar to instantly connect with.

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