Insightful artwork: The 2022 Bermuda Biennale continues through December (Photograph courtesy of the National Gallery of Bermuda)
The 1992 opening of the National Gallery of Bermuda and the subsequent inauguration of its biennial exhibition was a major catalyst for the development of the visual arts in Bermuda.
Now, 30 years later, it is useful to look back, to consider the impact that this institution and its biennial had on the cultural life of the Bermuda community.
The initial idea for a biennial was the suggestion of the late Dennis Sherwin and from the outset the National Gallery invited international jurors to select entries for each biennial. The idea was and remains that if the BNG maintained its high standards, artists would strive to rise to the challenge and indeed, they did.
So what kind of impact has the BNG Biennale had on the local art scene? To begin with, the biennale encouraged and liberated artists from Bermuda to explore the world as they see it, as individuals. The result was a greater variety of creative endeavors and expressions. In addition, over the past three decades there has been an overall improvement in artistic skills and techniques, as well as greater professionalism.
With this current Biennale 2022, more than 70 artists have submitted works, but only 32 artists have had their work selected. I am told that the jurors were particularly demanding to maintain a high standard.
The jurors for the Biennale were Alexandria Smith, head of the painting department at the Royal College of Art in London, and Claire Gilman, chief curator at the Drawing Center in New York. This year’s Biennale also introduced a new strand to the show, that of poetry and the poetry juror was Richard Georges who is the first Poet Laureate from the British Virgin Islands. For this review, I will focus on the visual art, but the poetic aspect of the show is beautifully displayed.
This year’s visual arts submissions are wide ranging, including drawings, paintings, photographs, videos, prints, sculptures and installations. Make time to attend the Biennale, it’s stimulating and worthy of your time.
Abi Box’s two abstract gesture paintings are particularly luminous, while really sunny. The one that caught my attention is called, Silver Oyster Sun. Of her paintings, she says she enjoys thinking about the possibilities present in gesture and suggestion.
The two wooden totem cutouts of James Cooper in painted plywood are in low relief and as they are illuminated by multiple light sources, they cast multiple multicolored shadows. These shadows are, in part, what makes the success of the work.
John Gardner’s three small, multi-layered hand-drawn images should be read as a singular work of art. They are reminiscent of complex city maps. In imagination, one can walk through the streets, alleys, etc. It also looks like these designs were done on something already printed. Although small, they require time and close observation.
The work of Charlie Godet Thomas defies categorization; the work being a mixture of drawing, painting and language. In his artist statement, he writes that his painted works combine historical and contemporary methods and references. He compared his approach to that of Blakean in that he combines language and imagery. All in all, the meaning of the work is summed up in its title, which is downpour dream song.
The work is on the decline and the downpour describes the downward trend expressed in the case by substance abuse. The work itself is on newsprint, which I think was a deliberate choice as newsprint is very acidic and will also self-destruct in a short time.
Gherdai Hassell continues his exploration of identity in his work in transparent layers, which I see as a kind of family tree. We usually know enough about the lives of our parents and also our grandparents, but if we go back several generations, our knowledge often becomes more limited, until we may only have names or even gaps ; completely unknown ancestors. In this work from the Biennale, she uses layers of transparent fabric and aluminum rods.
Each layer contains images that become smaller and more mysterious as we move back through the layers. This work suggests that we carry within us aspects of our ancestry. We are who we are because of who they were.
Teresa Kirby Smith’s photographic triptych highlights the development of photography with three photographic techniques. The first is a cyanotype, an early photographic printing process that is usually blue. It was invented in 1841 by Sir John Herschel. The middle photograph is a gelatin silver print; the most commonly used process in black and white photography. The third photograph brings us up to date with a digital print. Each photograph is of a similar image; a double exposure of a rocky cliff with cedar.
The double exposure can be read as a metaphor for passing time. This is interesting because we often think of photography as frozen time. The notion of space-time as indicated in this triptych goes back to the pioneering photographer, Edweard Muybridge, father of chronophotography and his research on human and animal locomotion as well as cinematography.
Cynthia Kirkwood’s three submissions are enigmatic, truly mysterious. All three are made with a variety of unusual materials, such as walnut ink, rose water, and various pigments, such as gold, mica, and garnet. Each of its brands is, by its very nature, beautiful little gems. These small works, it seems, are the product of creative intuition, that is, they are produced without much conscious thought.
Kirkwood says she Triple balance of rotation, came to her in a dream. The concept of rotation is a fundamental aspect of all of nature, from the subatomic level to that of the galaxy. Some even think that the universe itself rotates. Although Kirkwood’s art is small, his concepts are huge.
From what I remember from past exhibitions, Catherine Lapsley’s work is generally grid-based, which tends towards the static, but in her current work the grid runs from the most fixed left to a rapid diagonal on the right, suggesting fast speed. movement. At the same time, the left is darker, more greenish, while the right is dominated by a progressively lighter blue, especially at the top right which reinforces this feeling of movement.
Kevin Morris lives up to its intricate and dense overall imagery of just about anything you can imagine, from architectural elements, Greek Orthodox iconography and paraphernalia to Persian rugs and Viking ships. You name it, you will most likely find it. The overall impact of it all in advance, perched on the picture plane imagery, amplifies a great sense of magnificent flatness. Like several other works in this exhibition, this highly engaging autobiographical painting demands considerable time from the viewer.
It is possible to view Bryan Richie’s lithograph from several different angles, such as a cardboard box that has caught fire from a burning high-rise building. The boxed building is surrounded by four toy-like helicopters. I say toy; for each vehicle is attached to the ground by what appear to be wires (or is it a garden hose?). We can guess that it is a kind of fire-fighting rotorcraft. Flames and smoke are seen emitting from the top of the box/building, which then magically become flowers. It is a wonderfully imaginative work of art.
Michael Walsh’s contribution to the Biennale recalls the pessimism of Ecclesiastes. Here’s a quote from the artists’ statement: “Our desire to prove ourselves worthy drives us apart, and by dint of experimenting with all imaginary value systems, we manufacture division. Recognizing beauty creates ugliness.
The work itself is called, Nothing remains. Well not quite. What remains are bones set in concrete. Let us return to Ecclesiastes; another quote: “Vanity of vanities, everything is vanity. What profit a man has from all his work which he takes under the sun. A generation passes and another generation comes. It is a job that certainly catches your eye.
At Sabriyya Harvey beyond the border, is of course about cricket, but it got me thinking about limits in general. We live with all kinds of boundaries, many of which shift enough to create tension and stress. In its impressive painting, the border is a transparent red plastic, which at least allows us to see the game, even from a distance.
Alex Allardyce’s monotype recalls Protractor series created by Frank Stella in the late 1960s. After looking at this artist’s website, I saw that he had this same image printed in a variety of different colors. The term; “Monoprint” needs explaining though. This may mean that the artist only made one print from a plate that could have been used to make multiple prints. It can also mean making a single print from a plate which by its nature can only produce a single print.
In the case of this Biennial submission, the artist’s use of the monotype is of the first definition. The inspiration for this image was a decorative concrete block that inspired the artist/architect during lockdown.
AB Wilson’s beautiful green photography is an extension of his experiences with nature, trees in particular. Its appropriate title is The language of green things In her statement, she writes, “Imagine if humans had the language to communicate with trees, the leaves would absorb our meaning and we, in turn, would embrace their syllables.”
An act of erasure (Neriah’s Hill), a photograph by Rachel Simons, depicts a ruin on the island of Ireland that draws attention to a unique story. Ruins generally stimulate the imagination, as their stories are an aspect of human history, which often, unfortunately, has become obscured over time.
Ruins often have an aura of mystery around them. Note: this photograph is accompanied by a sound installation with the natural sounds of Bermuda. It is worth spending time with this installation especially if you let your imagination wander, while listening to the sounds of quiquivi and other melodies of nature.
In attempting to review the BNG Biennale more than superficially, but keeping in mind the need for brevity, I have had to weed out many Biennale attendees who deserve recognition. It’s unfortunate and for me, regrettable, really painful. By writing reviews, I intend to inform the general public as best I can, but also to encourage the arts and artists.
The BNG Biennale continues until December 2022, allowing time for multiple visits. The nature of this show is such that revisits help us view each work with increasing insight.