36th churchie goes to Wiradjuri artist

Joel Sherwood Spring nabs emerging art prize.

Words: Erin Irwin

The 2023 churchie emerging art prize has announced that Sydney-based Wiradjuri artist Joel Sherwood Spring has taken out top spot. Hosted by the Institute of Modern Art, the prize is designed to honour the best of Australia’s newest generation of artists, with the winner taking home $15,000 of a $25,000 prize pool.

This year’s winning work, Diggermode, utilises artificial intelligence to create landscapes in the style of Albert Namatjira, which are pulled apart by mining machinery, shown alongside text-based interactions with the viewer. The work seeks to assess the ethical implications of technology, both in the use of captured and stored information, and the environmental impacts of the digital world.

Diggermode asks how materials are implicated in the ways we imagine the world”, says Spring, “how we might engage with materials differently if we think about their provenance, where they’re extracted from, and what that means going forward. Can you bring an AI into recognition of itself as being made up of lithium extracted from Noongar Boodja?”

Spring’s work was selected by judge Tara McDowell, Associate Professor and Director of Curatorial Studies at Monash University, Melbourne. Of Spring’s work, McDowell said that it was “a visually sophisticated investigation into the materiality of technology, through the lens of a constant concern for Country. Over its almost 23-minute running time, Diggermode traverses the ongoing violences of colonial extractions such as mining and concerns around data”.

Special commendation prizes were also awarded as part of the prize, with the works of Gamillaraay artist Debbie Taylor Worley, Melbourne-based Alrey Batol and Sydney-based Luke Brennan also recognised. Taylor Worley’s works on canvas carried traces of Country, having been soaked in creeks before worked with pigments, while Batol used recycled materials to fashion functional assemblages that work as cookers and heaters, and Brennan’s oil works utilised abstraction to render the cyclical processes of creation and decay. Each were selected from 13 finalists for particular recognition, the finalists having been nominated from amongst almost 400 entrants.

A further prize for the People’s Choice Award is yet to be announced. To see the works and cast your vote, head to IMA to see the exhibition, which is on until Saturday 19 August. For more information, visit the prize’s website here.

This article was posted 22 June 2023.

Image: Joel Sherwood Spring with his work Diggermode (2022) at the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane. Photo: Cian Sanders. Courtesy: the artist and IMA, Brisbane.

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