Critical Queensland exhibition sparks global conversation on fire and climate

Jemima-Wyman-Haze...-2020-(detail)One year on from the devastating 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires, Brisbane’s Institute of Modern Art unveils a new contemporary art exhibition, On Fire: Climate and Crisis, confronting this period of significant ecological change from 30 January 2021.

On Fire: Climate and Crisis features work by 15 Queensland artists and interrogates the state’s image as a subtropical paradise by considering the themes of global warming and climate threat, and spans painting, sculpture, immersive installation and video, including eight new commissions, in a timely examination of the past, present and future of the planet’s precarious situation.

On Fire considers the damaging legacies of colonialism, how artists visualise experiences of environmental connection and disconnection and fire’s capacity for rejuvenation, foregrounding First Nations’ voices and addressing the burgeoning Indigenous cultural fire movement.

Collectively, the works explore the emergence of a new environmental age described by fire historian Stephen Pyne as the Pyrocene: the fire equivalent of an ice age with Australia a major epicentre.

Exhibition curator and art historian Tim Riley Walsh said On Fire was filled with moments of awe and alarm that would shake complacency from visitors and disrupt the narrative around their engagement with the natural world.

“This exhibition reflects a feeling common to many Australians after the devastating Black Summer bushfires; a stark recognition of the fragility of our environment and a building sense of the overlapping threats presented by global warming which seem to grow only more complex,” he said.

“Through the work of these exhibiting artists, I hope visitors will gain insight and perspective into how visual culture helps us to comprehend and even challenge these threats,” said Mr Walsh.

Jemima Wyman’s Haze… is a large-scale digital collage printed on chiffon that collects images of smoke from recent global protests. The powerful tapestry of activist struggle includes plumes from flares released during Black Lives Matter rallies across the US, tear gas clouds released at pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong and ceremonial smoke following the destruction of Western Australia’s Juukan Gorge by Rio Tinto.

Dale Harding’s new two-channel video documents the slow-burning and charring of Moreton Bay Ash trees, creating an abstract reflection on the important, embedded presence of fire within Australian flora and landscapes more broadly.

Michael Candy’s Azimuth is a kinetic sculpture that uses UV-C light, a sanitising technology that fights COVID-19. While it can be harmful to humans, gallery visitors will safely view the work from behind a protective screen.

Artists featured in the exhibition are Gordon Bennett, Naomi Blacklock, Paul Bong, Hannah Brontë, Michael Candy, Kinly Grey, Dale Harding, Tracey Moffatt with Gary Hillberg, Erika Scott, Madonna Staunton, Anne Wallace, Judy Watson, Warraba Weatherall, Tintin Wulia and Jemima Wyman.

On Fire will be accompanied by a new, illustrated publication, designed by Brisbane’s Studio Bland and launching in March 2021, with commissioned texts from Amelia Barikin, Shannon Brett, Chari Larsson, Kevin O’Brien, Rachel O’Reilly and Tim Riley Walsh.

Tim Riley Walsh is a Brisbane-based curator and art historian. Tim is Australia Desk Editor for ArtAsiaPacific, Hong Kong, and a Post-Thesis Fellow within the University of Queensland’s School of Communication and Arts.

He is the Co-Editor of Gordon Bennett: Selected Writings (2020, Power Publications, Sydney, and Griffith University Art Museum, Brisbane) and has written widely for ArtAsiaPacific, Frieze, Art Monthly Australasia, Art + Australia, Eyeline, Apollo, Runway, and Artlink.

Tim has previously worked in gallery management, communications, and programming roles at Milani Gallery, Brisbane; Camden Arts Centre, London; and the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane.

On Fire: Climate and Crisis
Institute of Modern Art – Judith Wright Arts Centre, 420 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley (Brisbane)
Exhibition: 30 January – 30 March 2021
Free entry

For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Jemima Wyman, Haze…, 2020 (detail), 124.5 x 183 cm, handcut digital photo collage – courtesy of the artist, Milani Gallery, Brisbane, and Sullivan + Strumpf, Sydney