Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art takes to the streets with this year’s Primavera


Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art is currently closed for a massive $53 million renovation and extension. This turns out to be a wonderful thing for Primavera, the annual show of work by Australian artists under 35, founded by a benefaction in memory of Belinda Jackson. This year, a selection of curious, vibrant - many are performance-based, most are colourful - artworks by five individuals and three artist groups are dotted throughout the streets and public spaces of the historic and touristy neighbourhood, The Rocks. The artists were selected with the offsite setting in mind and invited to respond accordingly by curator Anna Davis. This makes for an exciting, surprising exhibition that connects deliciously with the location. Following the art trail is fun!

Artist Eric Bridgeman is in character as “Boi Boi the Labourer”, with a clown face and mad hair, pasting up posters of Bridgeman’s edgy, confronting new work Joey/Baby (don’t get crazy) 2011 across the MCA construction hoardings. Brown Council (Kelly Doley, Frances Barrett, Diana Smith, Kate Blackmore) is making a bit of cash on the side with their performance piece Photo With the Artist, a play on art history (they are dressed a la Annie Leibovitz's famous portrait of Cindy Sherman) and the tradition of busking in The Rocks. For $5 you can have your photo taken with them and take home a souvenir artwork. Rebecca Bauman explodes glittering, colourful confetti into the air, and invites you to participate by gathering up the confetti and heaping it onto a conveyor belt. She’s inspired by the Indian Festival of Colours and also works with multicoloured smoke in Improvised Smoke Device. As these artworks are performance based, they happen at set times and on set days – check for times and locations.


There are also more “stable” works such as Tom O’Hern’s compelling ink drawings of surreal hairy men (a comment on the schism in Tasmanian society, the conservative intolerance of so called ferals - greenies, environmentalists) and local feral wildlife (ibis, rats) that appear both inside Cleland Bond and outside on marine ply set into historic brick walls. Jess Olivieri and Hayley Forward with the Parachutes for Ladies have made an oddly mesmerizing video out of hands of the MCA staff descending the railings of the vintage MCA staircase. Tessa Zettel and Karl Khoe create mini environments designed to attract native species to public phone booths (surely themselves a species destined for extinction) and Keg de Souza’s Utopian Drift is an inflatable sculpture created entirely from discarded umbrellas, a thought-provoking temporary dwelling that brings to mind squats, shantytowns and the 1970’s geodesic dome.

Wandering around the exhibits and watching performances, I became fascinated with Hiromi Tango. Her work Hiromi Hotel – Mixed Blood is a blend of soft sculpture, idiosyncratic visual memoir and performance. It’s very intimate - Hiromi is 8 months pregnant and is connected to a crafty pod-like environment by strands of wool, her belly exposed, sometimes sleeping, sometimes climbing into the pod and chanting - yet at the same time a broader celebration of the process of creativity. I loved the strange, quirky, womb-like/crib-like environment that seems to have grown organically. For the last 4 months, with the help of collaborators that she acknowledges in a small leaflet, she’s been crafting it (or growing it) out of wool and ribbons and felt and thread and silk flowers and fake pearls and teddy bears and dolls and love notes and buttons …. To me, it references the random playful nature of creativity, the bowerbird inner child, madness and outsider art, Japanese dolly girl and cosplay culture, as well as pregnancy and motherhood. There’s also the drama of the impending birth. (Apparently her partner artist Craig Walsh has the hospital bag packed and a car on standby). I’ll certainly be checking in with Hiromi Hotel for a performance post birth in November.


On visiting The Rocks anytime from now till Sunday November 13, you can pick up a map from the MCA George Street entrance or simply download it from on your smart phone, along with a whole lot of info on the artists, artworks, performances and so on. There is a varied program of talks and events and it’s worth checking the website for diary dates. All in all, the show seems so right, so in keeping with the current international spotlight on collaboration, interaction and street art - maybe Primavera should be held offsite every year?

- Susie Burge, all rights reserved. Photo images courtesy of the artists and Primavera 2011.