Representations of traumatic national histories, psycho-spiritual alienation and intimacy, and an embodied contact with our physical and digital worlds are in this year’s The Freedman Foundation Travelling Scholarship Exhibition for Emerging Artists.

The exhibition opened at UNSW Galleries in Paddington on August 9. It features work by four early-career contemporary artists, including two UNSW alumni, who were awarded this year’s $8000 The Freedman Foundation Travelling scholarships to undertake formal study, residency, mentorship or informal study for a planned research project.

The 2019 scholars are Tiyan Baker (NSW), Kieran Bryant (NSW), Laetitia Olivier-Gargano (Vic) and Callum McGrath (Qld).

The exhibition will also showcase works by the 2017 scholars, Alexandra Spence (NSW), Roberta Rich (Vic), Sara Retallick (Vic) and Spence Messih (NSW), who have since returned from their respective international projects.

This year’s The Freedman Foundation Curatorial Scholarship winner, UNSW Bachelor of Art Theory (Honours) student Isabella Cornell, says the eight artists offer an array of responses and personal reflections to place and site as they prepare for, and return from, their travelling scholarships.

“The resulting dialogue between the eight artists demonstrates a deep consideration of the global landscape and our place within it,” she said. “Viewers are encouraged to move slowly through the space negotiating senses of discomfort and the uncanny. With space for pause and breath, this exhibition explores contradictory effects and a phenomenological approach to the world.”

Video, sound and installation artist Tiyan Baker graduated with an Award of Distinction in Fine Arts/Arts from UNSW (2012). Her work draws on field research and documentary techniques to explore the emotional experience of the self as embedded in greater socio-political contexts. 

The artist will use her scholarship to undertake a research trip to her mother’s birthplace in Sarawak, Borneo.

“I will explore the unique role Indigenous Bidayuh women play in mitigating complex transformations in Bidayuh culture, as well as reflect on my own responsibilities as an Australian-Bidayuh woman and artist,” she says. “This is a trip I have been wanting to undertake for a very long time and I am truly overjoyed to see it come to fruition.”

Digital still from Wetness quartet 2017 single-channel video by Kieran Bryant. Supplied.

Digital still from Wetness quartet 2017 single-channel video by Kieran Bryant. Supplied.

Performance, video and installation artist Kieran Bryant studied a Bachelor of Fine Arts (2014) and Master of Fine Arts (2018) at UNSW. He is interested in exposing the flaws of dominant viewpoints concerning queer fluidity, visibility and the body in contemporary arts and culture while also offering some alternative views.

He will use his scholarship to travel to England and Wales on a research-led project examining water as a queer embodied resistive force within the UK canal network. He will undertake a mentorship with dance artist Leah Marojević, work with gallery Auto Italia, visit a canal restoration camp and peruse a range of British queer archives.

“Thanks to the generosity of The Freedman Foundation and NAVA I can move forward with a project that will allow for significant growth and expanded possibilities in my practice and career, providing opportunities for creative and professional development with artists, institutions, and watery sites in an international context.”

Ms Cornell completed her Bachelor of Arts (Sociology) and Bachelor of Art Theory at UNSW last year and started Honours in Art Theory this year.

“I am looking at the role of critique in the curatorial infrastructures that surround exhibitions,” she said. “I am particularly influenced by the intersection of queer theory and aesthetic theory.”

“I am interested in looking at the infrastructures that surround the production and exhibition of works and the ways in which these practices can embody a praxis of disrupting institutional hierarchies and encouraging radical inclusion. Asking questions around what this can look like in an exhibition context and researching how we can do better.”

Ms Cornell said she is interested in a curatorial practice that can privilege the arts as a sphere for sharing ideas, generating discussion and a place of support and care.

The UNSW student completed a curatorial internship at the Art Gallery of NSW in 2015; co-curated an exhibition at AD Space in 2017 and at Firstdraft in 2018, and undertook a guest curatorial residency at Oxford Art Factory in 2018.

“Each of these experiences, and then working on the Freedman exhibition, has given me insight to different contexts for production and exhibition,” she said. “Being exposed to the different mechanisms operating within each space has been an incredibly valuable learning experience.”

Ms Cornell said her curatorial practice has encouraged a celebration of process and the ongoing development of ideas.

“Some of the questions we asked as we developed these exhibitions were: What does it mean to make work that’s political – or that isn’t – in 2018? What does it mean to be part of a creative community? And what kind of moral responsibilities as makers and as curators do we have to our broader communities?”

Ms Cornell said she is in “incredible company with the artists and curators who have received this award in the past, and the exceptional group of artists receiving the Freedman travelling scholarship this year”.

The Freedman Foundation Travelling Scholarship and Curatorial Scholarship are administered by the National Association of the Visual Arts (NAVA) on behalf of The Freedman Foundation.

NAVA executive director Esther Anatolitis says the scholarships provide many opportunities.

“I deeply admire Isabella’s work in creating new dialogues between the politically, socially and culturally complex approaches taken by the artists,” Ms Anatolitis said.

“The opportunity to undertake research overseas, and then to offer new work to new audiences through this curatorial lens, makes a powerful contribution to the contemporary arts.”

The Freedman Foundation Travelling Scholarship Exhibition for Emerging Artists is on from August 9 to September 7.

Find out more about the UNSW Art & Design Bachelor of Fine Arts.