This article reviews the Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition 2017, which runs from the 17th of February until the 12th of March. The Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition 2017 is located at the Drill Hall at Torrens Parade Ground, Victoria Drive, Adelaide.
The annual Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition has provided critical exposure to South Australia’s emerging artists for twenty-two years. The private Vernissage held prior to opening night grants an opportunity to preview the works selected as some of the finest examples from graduates of the University of South Australia and the Adelaide College of Arts. Importantly, an increase in funded prizes attests to the growing prestige associated with the exhibition. Lisa Slade (Assistant Director of Artistic Programs at the Art Gallery of South Australia) observed that a rise in philanthropy and patronage was evident in the ‘four-fold’ increase in awards providing financial support to artists in a most challenging economic climate. It would be remiss, however, to overlook the absence of graduates from Adelaide Central School of Art from the exhibition. The reason for this is open to speculation. In any case, this separation is concerning at a time in which institutions and art spaces continue to reel in the wake of ongoing funding cuts inflicted by governments.
That said, the artists represented in the exhibition exemplify a rich diversity of approaches in artistic practices. While the accompanying catalogue states that the works selected for the exhibition are not reflective of an overarching curatorial theme, it is clear that each of the artists are wholly concerned with the materiality unique to their chosen mediums. Moreover, subjects are often self-reflexive responses to the intimately known and observed.
Throughout the exhibition, multiple references are made to notions of domesticity and personal relationships with the body. Jasmine Symons’ meticulous paintings of dissected human hearts at the centre of crotched lace and floral serving dishes are suggestive of ritualistic offerings. Interior views of the heart associated with love and embedded within objects linked to tradition, service and the labour of housekeeping evoke notions of sacrifice as characteristic of maternal love. The maternal body is likewise summoned in Nerida Bell’s ceramic forms detailed with visual references to fabric remnants and stitching, with titles like Keep Still While I Pin This On You inducing nostalgic memories of childhood.
Evocations of the body and its relationship to materiality and tradition is also evident in Karlien van Rooyen’s impressive hand built vessels for High Tea that are perched and clustered together on steel stands. Each of the elongated forms are shaped by the artist’s physical immediacy of contact with stoneware that facilitates what van Rooyen describes as ‘seeing through feeling.’
Gail Hocking’s fusion of her own hair with copper and electrodeposition also propose an interconnection between the human body and non-human materials. Hocking’s suspended ‘artefacts’ cast their composite shadows against the wall as morphing objectstaking on a range of identities in transient states. Tom Moore’s wondrous Road Plant Ahead also capitalises on the transformative nature of glass as a malleable medium while playfully teasing at the boundaries between species and things. The relationship between human bodies and its influence on the surrounding world is further examined by Mirjana Dobson’s hybrid ceramic forms that ask us to question the impact of scientific intrusion on the natural processes of evolution. Dobson’s Synthetic Organisms are cross-pollinations of materials that have spawned new biological shapes. Collectively, the organisms are arranged in an elegant format somewhat reminiscent of the historical cabinet of curiosities.
The boundaries of painting and printmaking have also been probed by graduates exploring possibilities beyond conventional formats. Movement and gesture as both concept and medium is a critical component of a number of these works. Neon flex flows between, and past the limits of edges, reconnecting broken lines in Kate Bohunnis’ award winning screen prints The Line as a metaphor for the fluctuations of lived experience. Madeleine Collopy’s gestural painting on hinged wood panels occupy sections of floor space away from the wall, inviting viewers to move around them almost in tandem with the moving image of a performer captured by video projection.
Similarly, movement is integral to Nerissa Kyle’s sculptural copper pipe paintings made in response to the artist’s physical gestures. Nate Finch’s Plunged into that days red thunder is also concerned with the vital physical energy of making and the material nature of paint. With clear reference to Jean-Michel Basquiat among others, Jim Jones’ paintings on wood are imbued with an energy that is simultaneously considered and intuitive as works that are ‘both commentary and confession.’
Collectively, each of the 31 artists represented in the Helpmann Graduate show have integrated a broader range of cultural and environmental themes with personal knowledges and highly skilled practices. Regardless of institutional affiliation, the work of these graduates demonstrate that South Australia is indeed an established seed bed of some very promising artistic talent.
 A link to each of the prize winners and details of the associated awards can be accessed via http://helpmannacademy.com.au/news/2017-graduate-exhibition-award-winners.
 Lisa Slade’s comments on opening night, 16 February 2017.
 See Marc Marcon’s lamentation on funding cuts in his 2002 review of Hatched: Heathway National Graduate Show. www.artlink.com.au/articles/2657/hatched-02-heathway-national-graduate-show, accessed 17/02/2017.
 Karlien van Rooyen, School of Art, Architecture and Design (UniSA), artist’s statement in Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition 2017 catalogue, 29.
 Gail Hocking, School of Art, Architecture and Design (UniSA), artists’ statement in Helpmann Academy catalogue, 14.
 Jim Jones, Adelaide College of the Arts (TAFE SA/Flinders University), artist’s statement in Helpmann Academy catalogue, 15.