Sydney Opera House presents second chapter of Returning

Online exhibition explores the impacts of the pandemic through the lens of Australian and Taiwanese artists and collectives.

Maddy Matheson speaks to curator Micheal Do about the project.

How did the project originate, and can you tell us about the curatorial decisions behind Returning? How do chapters 1 and 2 of Returning speak one another?

Returning is a multi-part online series of contemporary visual artists making digital-only work informed by our current moment. That is the very nature of contemporary art – artists responding to what is contemporaneous (occurring at the same period of time) around them. Each artist was commissioned to create new work, with various approaches and methods employed to create very different final works. This has been the most insightful aspect: how different cultures, communities and contexts have processed and dealt with the past two years. From poignancy, to despair, to hope, to humour, to confusion, to retreat. These are some of the many  thematic threads which thematically connect the projects, but it’s difficult to narrow the exhibition down to a single word or a concise description. And that’s because for this project, we offered artists lots of latitude to shape their projects into something which made sense for them – to make something that is personal, specific and unique to their worldviews.

Australian artists feature in both parts, but each chapter is also a geographical spotlight. Part 1 is a spotlight on Japanese artists and Part 2 is a spotlight on Taiwanese artists.

How do the themes of connection and belonging translate in Returning?

For many of the artists, their works can be read along these lines, they are powerful universal themes that stand the test of time. However, the artists in this exhibition have made works that are intentionally difficult to categorise and intentionally evade definition. The artists complicate these themes, adding and subtracting layers, creating conundrums, posing moral dilemmas, using allusion, metaphor and red herrings. So I would caution viewers to not pigeonhole these works as only this. They are so much more, and can be read in a variety of ways.

Are there more iterations to come?

The project is open ended, and if the right context for art making presents itself, we will definitely seize the opportunity.

Tell us about the artists involved in Returning: Chapter 2. The backdrop of this project is an iconic Australian venue, the Sydney Opera House. What does this mean for Returning and how does this location inform the project?

For Returning Chapter 2, co curators Wu Dar Kuen of Taiwan Contemporary Culture Lab and I commissioned a range of artists working in Australia and Taiwan. We were drawn to artists who work with embodied methodologies, conceiving and framing the body in interesting ways. You’ll notice the artist’s use of sound, the body and striking imagery across all of the works – as a ways to reconcile the turbulence of the current moment. The featured artists and collectives are Amrita Hepi, Su Yu-Hsin and Angela Goh, Riverbed Theatre and Charwei Tsai.

And of course, each project also speaks to the performing arts nature of the Opera House, extending our overarching mission and interests of architecture, performance, experimentation into the digital realm. For contemporary art presented at the Opera House, the spirit and DNA of the building informs everything that we do. We aim to be as bold and as inspiring as the building itself, and we empower artists to do the same. This includes handing over archives, space and resources to contemporary artists to engage with the building and its history to create works that are completely specific to our context.

The building casts a long shadow, it’s a wonder of the world, however, it is also a powerful source of inspiration for artists and particularly in Chapter 2, this is very evident.

Where and how can audiences experience Returning: Chapter 2?

Audiences can view Returning: Chapter 2 online now at this link.

Right: curator Micheal Do. Photo: Daniel Boud. Courtesy: Micheal Do and SOH, Sydney.

This interview was posted 1 March 2022.

Featured image: still from The Anguilla pursuit by Amrita Hepi. Courtesy: the artist and Sydney Opera House, Sydney.

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