Words: Camilla Wagstaff
Australia’s largest photography biennale returns for a third run this March. And it’s back bigger and better than ever. The 4-week festival features about 100 free exhibitions and outdoor installations across seven Melbourne / Naarm and five regional Victorian precincts. PHOTO 2024 has partnered with more than 50 museums, galleries and commercial spaces to make it happen.
The 2024 event addresses the theme The Future Is Shaped by Those Who Can See It. The themes invites us to contemplate the possible futures that lie ahead – think AI-generation, surveillance evasion, climate futures and animal espionage. “Collectors ca approach the festival as an expanded art fair, with commercial galleries across Melbourne premiering new work by Australian artists,” says PHOTO 2024’s founder and artistic director, Elias Redstone.
Home grown highlights include new work by Rosemary Laing at Tolarno Galleries. This powerful installation responds to the environmental crisis affecting the landscape Laing has pictured in her work over the decades. Laing re-animates remains of the natural world – the broken and worn fragments from the shells and rocks of coastal New South Wales – into performers who re-act to their changing situation.
Anne Zahalka’s Future Past Present Tense, presented by Arc One Gallery, is a new series that pushes the preeminent Australian photographer’s compositions into exciting and ambitious forms. Zahalka digitally adapts historical Australian dioramas, reimagining these idealised historical truths and forecasting other possible pasts and futures.
Darren Sylvester’s new major solo show staged at Neon Parc also expands on an established photographic practice. Expect projections of stars on stages, snow angels in ripped denim and heralding pirates manifest in blown glass, cast bronze and stainless steel.
Other commercial exhibitions by Australian artists not to missed at the festival include those by Tony Albert at Sullivan+Strumpf Melbourne, Yhonnie Scarce at This Is No Fantasy, Debra Phillips at Void_Melbourne, Grace Wood at LON Gallery and Anna Carey at Sophie Gannon Gallery.
Savvy collectors should head to Daine Singer for the New Photographers exhibition – a showcase of Melbourne’s most exciting forthcoming talents. Curated by Catlin Langford, the exhibition brings together six photographers exploring concepts of construct, contrast, community, and the self. The works are united by a unique approach to the subject matter, ranging from the humorous to the surreal, as well as technique, which includes staging, assemblage and collage.
Many artists selected for New Photographers at previous festivals have gone on to other major projects. This includes J Davies, who was commissioned for Melbourne Now at the National Gallery of Victoria. J recently picked up representation at James Makin Gallery, which presents their first solo at PHOTO 2024.
Another program highlight is FUTURE RIVER: When the past flows, an exhibition examining Indigenous understandings of cities as obfuscations of what is. Curated by Kimba Thompson and presented in partnership with Blak Dot Gallery and Counihan Gallery, the exhibition features work by Maree Clarke, Julie Gough, Peta Clancy, and Jody Haines, among others. “Underneath each building or stretch of asphalt are deep layers of meaning and history,” notes Thompson. “Beneath the concrete there are countless stories not memorialised. Under the cities, the rivers and creeks still flow, and with them the Indigenous narratives of the past that will naturally become future rivers.”
“PHOTO 2024 is also a time for collectors to view work by some of the most important international artists working today,” notes Redstone. Shows of note include those by Senegalese artist Omar Victor Diop at the Centre for Contemporary Photography and South African star Candice Breitz at Anna Schwartz Gallery. American Nan Goldin’s landmark series The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is staged at the Art Gallery of Ballarat.
MARS Gallery presents new photographic and video work, installation stills, and never-before-seen ink paintings by Chinese artist Xiao Lu. The exhibition incorporates artist documentation of the forced eviction of the “low-end population” in Beijing at the end of 2017. It also includes her photography and videos from the 2019 Hong Kong “anti-extradition” movement. Through these works, we witness Lu’s stance and artistic expression as an individual amidst significant moments in modern history.
FUTURES stages a project with American photographer Carmen Winant, exhibiting part of her series My last safe abortion. The presentation continues Winant’s interest in the changing state of abortion laws in the USA. The artist has spent the past few years gathering imagery from abortion clinics as well as 50 years of abortion archives. As she works towards making a book for the series, she has developed this exhibition especially for PHOTO 2024. “Reproductive rights are core values of feminism, and without them, there is no freedom,’ says Pippa Milne, Associate Curator at PHOTO 2024. “We are at a turning point in relation to these rights, and the future is far from certain.”
PHOTO 2024 also sees 29 large-scale outdoor displays take over iconic locations across Melbourne. Audiences can look forward to new commissions by Australian artists Jemima Wyman (palawa), Angela Tiatia, Amos Gebhardt, Zoe Croggon, Elisa Carmichael (Quandamooka), Sammaneh Pourshafighi, Jo Duck and Kenton/Davey.
“Photography is one of the fastest growing collectable artforms globally,” Redstone concludes. “PHOTO 2024 is the perfect time to expand your collection in Australia.”
PHOTO 2024 International Festival of Photography is staged from 1 to 24 March 2024 across Melbourne and regional Victoria. PHOTO 2024’s full events listings will be published early February 2024 at photo.org.au
Image: Xiao Lu. Courtesy: the artist and MARS Gallery, Melbourne.
This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 107, January-March 2024.