When it comes to making art, there’s no one way of doing it. Testament to the fact are the many talented contemporary artists working in Sydney right now, who are pushing their practices to new heights in everything that they do. Three of the most compelling women artists doing just that are Rainbow Chan, Rochelle Haley and Fiona Lowry, who are currently taking up residence as One-Year Studio Artists at Artspace. As Australia’s leading interdisciplinary space for the production and presentation of contemporary art, Artspace does what it says on the tin.
Their one-year studio program not only lets artists make new work, but engages them with crucial professional development opportunities. The studios have seen the likes of Cybele Cox, David Griggs and Nell come through its doors over the past five years, setting the standard for being one of the best and most supportive places in the country to stretch one’s experimental limbs. Ahead of Artspace’s studio tour this Saturday 13th March as a part of Art Month, we took a closer look at the distinctive practices of Chan, Haley and Lowry.
Chun Yin Rainbow Chan is a producer, vocalist and interdisciplinary artist of Hong Kong-Chinese descent, based in Sydney. Beginning her career in the pop music world, Chan’s practice slowly began to encompass everything from music, painting, sculpture and performance. Through her multi-art installations, she explores identity and cultural heritage, driven by personal stories and narratives that are either autobiographical or inspired by family and friends.
In 2019, Chan spent time in Hong Kong on an artist residency where she learnt 哭嫁 “bridal laments” of the 圍頭 [Weitou] people, performed as a ritual to signify a kind of death of the woman before her wedding day. As Chan has Weitou ancestry through her mother, relearning this ritual with the help of Weitou women elders has brought an almost disappearing part of her heritage back into the contemporary world, woven into her current bodies of work through both song and silk paintings.
Space, movement and colour are how one might describe the work of Australian artist Rochelle Hayley in three words. Engaged with painting, drawing and motion, the Sydney-based artist explores the relationships between bodies and physical environments. Working with dancers, Hayley’s works merge installation and performance to investigate space structured around the sensation of the moving body.
Her recent painting and installation work Ever Sun (2020-2021) features a series of suspended large-scale shimmering archways, and aims to tune the eye and mind to the constancy and change we experience with the rising and setting of the sun. First exhibited in the enormous foyer of Carriageworks in 2020, the artwork then took to the streets, exhibited in the public laneway of Wilmot Street in the CBD where several dancers responded to it through a choreographed routine. Through her sensory and rhythmic approach, Hayley reimagines how bodies can be expressed and felt by audiences.
The Australian bush is home to many myths and legends that have been a source of inspiration for a long line of artists. Fiona Lowry is one of them, whose dreamy life-sized paintings of figures gathering and moving through the bush are evocative of the haunting and enchanting atmosphere that emanates from ‘the middle of nowhere’.
Although the Australian artist is based in urban Sydney, you wouldn’t think it from her work that so effortlessly depicts the seductive nature of the wild. Drawing from poetry, song and her own imagination, Lowry crafts existential titles including should I tear my eyes out now, before I see too much and sometimes you’re a stranger to me, enhancing the ethereal quality of each painting. Looking to specific sites and histories such as the flight of bushrangers and ghostly ‘dog trees’, the artist lures the viewer into landscapes marked by the human condition.