Ballarat Foto Biennale 2017 review
Founded in 2005, Ballarat International Foto Biennale has put the historic town of Ballarat on the art map. Encompassing the entire city, the event occupies its prime galleries and venues, extending its program to more than 80 cafes, galleries and wine bars locally. Over the 11 years of its existence, BIFB has become a unique platform for Australian and international photography, attracting prominent figures and introducing hundreds of new and emerging artists. From edition to edition, it has shown improvement in programming, but also in presentation, while Ballarat is establishing itself as the exciting place to be.
Like many Melbournians, I ventured to the opening of the Ballarat International Foto Biennale in August. Invited by artist David Rosendale and his partner Kellie, I brought back a lot of impressions and inspirations. From a designer’s standpoint, I have to comment on the striking improvement of the event’s graphics and presentation. Their current logo and website design show a serious step forward introducing a stylish yellow and black branding and minimalistic, bold fonts.
Following the latest trends in graphic design, Ballarat Biennale presents itself as a part of the group to which Melbourne Writers Festival and Open House Melbourne belong, stepping out of semi-anonymity to get wider recognition. With this fresh and professionally polished branding, the festival is definitely moving in the right direction.
The opening night of August 19th was reserved for the vernissage at one of the Core Program venues. I entered the Mining Exchange venue for the opening of “Tell”, an exhibition of unconventional contemporary Indigenous photography. We enjoyed paella and red wine as we explored the latest expressions in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island art photography. The show is an overview of photographic works made by Indigenous artists working today, presented in a dynamic fashion and keeping the broader cultural discourse alive.
For the end of the evening and a late dinner, we went to The Forge Pizzeria (highly recommended by the way), the venue of Craig Holloway’s exhibition named “Road” boasting images of Australia and its colourful, panoramic vistas. Having created an art show out of a 15-month caravan odyssey, Holloway shows the richness and diversities of Australia, celebrating its beauty almost in the manner of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. A must-see if in Ballarat.
Day Two in Ballarat and the Best of Exhibits
The second day at the BIFB was filled with a lot of art viewings, all of which were inspiring in different ways. I started from the Maziar Moradi exhibit “Ich Werde Deutsch” (“I become German”), that deals with the past and current immigration issues the artist’s native Germany is going through. An interesting outlook on cultural influences and mixtures, in relation to global migration – something Australians can relate to as well.
The next stop was “Reverie Revelry: Fashion Through Photography” exhibit, a part of the Core Program at the Mechanics Institute. A fun ride through aestheticised photography of the 20th century, the show presented an interesting interplay between truth and delusion. I enjoyed the works of Bruno Benini and Honey Long x Pride Stent.
A visit to the inaugural Ballarat International Foto Biennale Martin Kantor Prize presentation followed. The show featured the winner and finalists in the competition and the public had the chance to get to know some of the new names of Australian photography. My favorites were works by Luke Hemer, Helga Leunig, Rod McNicol, and Emma Phillips’ piece “The Game Changer”.
John Tozer’s showcase at the Turret Cafe was a challenge, because the venue was exceptionally busy. However, his portrayals of Italy and its romantic Tuscan and Umbrian countryside bathed in soft sfumato made me wish for a journey overseas.
One of the absolute winners in my eye is the Iranian photographer Gohar Dashti and her outdoor exhibit installed at the Police Lane. Inspired by sociological and anthropological themes, she explores some of the most difficult questions humanity around the world is facing right now. She addresses migrations caused by various disasters, subtly weaving the human condition into a grand landscape, suggesting that the nature could be the only constant at this time and age. A poignant presentation executed in a very elegant way.
Another outdoor exhibit by the same artist tackled another, closely related topic. Gohar Dashti’s “Home” is a pensive reference to that safe place we all strive towards, stripped of people, plagued by weeds. The concept not so foreign to any place, but still different from the majority of presented images is something I found the most inspiring.
Selfies, Glamour and the Magnificent Landscapes. A meditative segment of the day led me to the exhibit dedicated to selfies in art, also a part of the Core Program. While the “Self /Selfie” explores the significance and modes of self-portraiture in contemporary photography, I’ve discovered the highlight in the most interactive part. The show had a Photo Booth set up, where all the visitors could take free pictures – of themselves, of course.
Before the two-day excursion to the Ballarat Foto Biennale ended with a special opening, I found time to visit the headline show by the famed David LaChapelle. Known as the celebrity photographer who often puts his models in magnificent settings, LaChapelle was represented by his most recognisable work. This is the first time ever that he exhibited in Australia, hosted by the Art Gallery of Ballarat. It was a fantastic experience taking in all the symbolism, shine and splendour of his suggestive photographs, questioning the roles the artist assigned to his famous models. Some of the highlights of the show would be the portrayals featuring Naomi Campbell and Michael Jackson, as well as the images from the series “Can You Help Us”.
For those who don’t know, my husband is a somewhat fanatical Michael Jackson fan so this was a real highlight for him.
The exhibition closing the visit to Ballarat for us was the one I was initially invited to – “Roads” by David Rosendale and Neil Prieto. Walking along the presentations of impressive landscapes, the observers are taken on a journey across big skies and structures of the world. High school friends, David and Neil presented a joint exhibition combining their works from 2016, created during their artistic travels. Compatible, but different, their work placed together is a celebration of diversity, enhanced with friendly contrasts between natural and urban sceneries, where Rosendale’s raw and mighty pictures of nature enter a dialog with Prieto’s cultural impressions of South America.
The venue was Craig’s Royal Hotel is Ballarat and whilst it was one of the most premier spaces to exhibit, there was simply too much light to capture anything of the presentation so these two terrible photos below will have to do until you go and see for yourself.
After a while, when all the impressions set in and the experience of the weekend in Ballarat crystallised, I must conclude that the festival offered several pleasant surprises, raising the bar for itself and its next edition in practically every way. The right way to go, if you ask me!