Exhibitions at Footscray Community Arts (FCA) benefit from a large window at the gallery’s rear, looking out at the Maribyrnong River and Melbourne’s skyline. On a sunny day, the view sparkles, and the art beams back under the rays. Now, bring colour into it: Bright, on show until 12 December, turns the space into a full sensory delight.
Curated by ArtLife Residency artist Pamela Debrincat, Bright offers a vivid ensemble of works abandoning rules to appeal to our senses and joy. Two pieces draw you in – first, Darren Aquilina’s A Gathering. Long rectangular sheets hang from the ceiling, almost echoing the skyscrapers seen ahead through the window, as a “silky welcome” to the exhibition. Just beyond, Thomas Miller’s Reflection Portal prompts one to study its shiny, intertwining tube lighting from all angles around the room.
Doing so, you come into proximity with other works. The tent-like structure of Prue Stevenson’s Portable Quiet Room twirls and summons you to hide and soothe inside its embrace (and you really want to). More buoyant, Megan Hunter’s inflatable Hammerhead, a speculation of sea life, hangs nearby with its ogling eyes.
Like Quiet Room, you want to react: bob it, watch it float. Underneath, Emily Floyd’s Penguins for Megan, two block-coloured birds created to pair with Hunter’s shark, caringly gaze at their eggs. On their plinth, a kid’s sticky handprint suggests you might be able to touch the creatures.
The exhibition, with its tactile colours and forms, begs for touch. But when art provokes you to play, you hold back. Manners, right? In the catalogue, statements from Debrincat and FCA’s executives talk, at length, on the show as interactive and accessible, resisting ableist curatorial practices.
But how, exactly? Are we interacting by just looking at the art (as usual)? Or do they want us to touch? Kids’ handprints also appear on a mirror under Miller’s sculpture, suggesting a physical exchange, but kids often go rogue. No other prompts are available.
On a close reading of the (rather comprehensive) catalogue at home, I see an invite to handle one of the artworks. I missed it when I skimmed the text at the exhibition. But that’s not my bad; easily, I could not have opened the catalogue at all until I was home. Or not picked it up at all. With their aims of accessibility – which seem genuine and not used just as a buzzword – FCA could be more literal about how they want you to interact. Otherwise, they lose out on their ideals of engagement.
Overall, the show has a levity and gentle boldness; see its bursts of colour to celebrate the end of the cold season. Be aware, though, that it only takes, at most, ten minutes to view. This isn’t the fault of the curator or artists, but the nature of small and opaque art shows. So, grab the catalogue to slow down your visit with more context, and do better than me – ask a team member what you can touch.
Footscray Community Arts, 45 Moreland Street, Footscray
Exhibition continues to 12 December 2023
For more information, visit: www.footscrayarts.com for details.
Image: Installation view of BRIGHT featuring works by Megan Hunter and Emily Floyd at Footscray Community Arts – photo by Gianna Rizzo
Review: Tahney Fosdike