Rewind: Things started to get steamy…

Pipilotti Rist, Ever Is Over All, 1997. Installation view ACCA 2001. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Zürich London

By Juliana Engberg

In 2000, Jonathan Mills, Artistic Director for the Melbourne International Arts Festival invited my collaboration as the Curator of his Visual Arts Programs. In 2001 MIAF launched its most ambitious program of exhibitions ever, with projects at venue partners Gertrude Street, CCP, Anna Schwartz Gallery, ARC upstairs at 45 Flinders Lane, ACCA in the Domain and city projects. This collegial approach to venues and programming continued for seven years, under my curatorial direction with Jonathan, his successor Robyn Archer AO, and then Kristy Edmunds.

When I originally approached ACCA, in 2000, with the idea to include it as a venue there was some hope that the new building at 111 Sturt Street would be complete and occupied.  Regrettably this did not occur until the next year, and so the planned showing of my exhibition, HUMID, full of sensual pleasures, free bodies and feminine spirit, had to squeeze itself into the Lotti Smorgon Gallery, downsizing from its vast, original format, first seen at Spike Island in the UK. 

HUMID gave Melbourne audiences their first experience of the works of Pipilotti Rist, Ann Hamilton, AK Dolven, Tacita Dean, Christine Borland, Nina Saunders, Clara Usiti; it also included Melbourne based artist, Kate Daw and German artist, Mariele Neudecker.  HUMID augmented other solo presentations around Melbourne including a major survey of recent works by Tacita Dean at ARC, Christine Borland at Anna Schwartz Gallery, Narelle Jubelin and Marie-Ange Guillminot at CCP, Jean Jacques Rullier at Gertrude Street, Juan Cruz at sites around the city and Haney & Dade’s Stacked Hotel, in ACCA’s front gallery.

Tacita Dean, Gellert, 1998, 16 mm video, © Tacita Dean, courtesy of the Frith Street Gallery, London

HUMID was conceived as an immersive kind of exhibition looking to the feminine conceptual and the feminine sublime.  The exhibition received much media attention and drew substantial crowds to ACCA.  HUMID travelled on to the Auckland City gallery where it also attracted much media attention and record audiences.

The 2001 Melbourne International Arts Festival opened in the shadow of 9/11 and many visitors found quiet comfort in the project of Christine Borland at Anna Schwartz Gallery. Christine’s bleached leaves, lying in a small puddle in the middle of the softly lit gallery, took on a memorial quality.  Tacita Dean’s survey of works featured 11 film works including her mesmerizing Disappearance at Sea and the hour-long, elegiac film, Banewl: a study of the passage of light and time through the total eclipse of the sun in a pastoral landscape.  Banewl seemed like a welcome renewal for a world plunged into the darkness of terrorism.

Ann Hamilton, Untitled (mouth/stones) © 1993 Ann Hamilton and Sean Kelly Gallery. Photo © MCA, Chicago.

A discussion day was held in which the idea of fragile monuments was discussed in relation to many of the projects.  The usefulness of this and the program in general was noted by Penelope Richardson, who wrote in Artlink: In trying times it can be valuable to look at art as a means of reflection on current circumstances. And in the light of recent world events, this year's Melbourne Festival visual arts program provided ample opportunities for this. Broadly some of the themes covered are belief and community, architectural space and metaphor, the monument and memorial, and the feminine sublime and in many respects the artists' works gave us space for contemplation. Perhaps an indication that artists are in touch sooner than we think with the unspoken transitions that occur in the world.

Jonathan Mills and Robyn Archer’s support for my curatorial direction and strong commitment to Visual Arts in their programming over a number of years ensured that Melbourne audiences continued to see some of the most important international artists.  In many ways the work started by the Melbourne Biennial in bringing an international focus to Melbourne’s visual arts scene was continued in this generous sharing of the festival platform.


11 October – 25 November 2001
Curated by Juliana Engberg
Artists:  Christine Borland, Kate Daw, Tacita Dean, AK Dolven, Ann Hamilton, Mariele Neudecker, Pipilotti Rist, Nina Saunders, Clara Ursitti

Juliana Engberg is the Artistic Director of ACCA.