Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Louisa Bufardeci: The Sea Between A and I

Louisa Bufardeci's exhibition The Sea Between A and I (as in Australia and Indonesia) opened on Saturday at Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne. The artworks – all needlepoint on a fibreglass screen – make reference to maritime disasters, sunken boats and the plight of desperate people risking their lives to make the perilous journey across the seas. Bufardeci has used Google Earth to pinpoint the precise coordinates of eight of these tragedies and crafted intense and abstract forms in gradations of blue. They invoke the swirl of meteorological matter, weather charts and thermal imaging, though in this instance in place of heat associated with living, breathing organisms  these works speak of the opposite – death itself.

The real events described in Bufardeci's artworks felt very far away on that sunny Saturday afternoon. I felt very graciously welcomed into the gallery where I was not only offered a Campari after climbing the stairs but the monkeys even had a room set aside for art making. I was surrounded by some pretty lovely people, some of whom I knew. The opening speaker, human rights lawyer David Manne gave a considered, moving address. It was long sure, though not overly, and given the subject matter it felt appropriate: my legs were bearing less stress than the asylum seekers. Manne drew on statistics on the number of displaced persons around the world, recounted the lack of detail in reporting of asylum seeker journeys and drew a line between that and the abstracted language of Bufardeci's needlepoints. For someone who admitted he hadn't written about art since year 11, to my eye some twenty five years earlier, it was a perceptive observation.

If you are wondering whether there is a market for these kind of works, the entire show sold to the NGV before the exhibition opened. Not only was the work well crafted, but topical. I felt very pleased for the artist with whom I share a personal connection (we both have girls in the same class at school). It was only afterwards, on the journey home that I felt growing ambivalence. The work and its backstory forces us to consider uncomfortable truths about the country we live in and the world at large. But in the space that opens up afterwards, what resides there other than Guilt and Shame, and possibly Anger. Is there anything wrong with turning tragedy into art and those art objects into dollars? Is it worse to not make that art? Does not making the art only mirror the silence that characterises the government and media on this 'issue'. I just don't know.

Louisa Bufardeci
The Sea Between A and I
17 October - 11 November 2015
Anna Schwartz Gallery
185 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

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