Calling artists to engage with World Heritage fossil site

Gina Fairley

The $10,000 Naracoorte National Art Prize is looking for artists working in two dimensions to make a national impact by bridging art and science.
Calling artists to engage with World Heritage fossil site

Starburst Cave as part of the World Heritage Site, which is inviting artists to be inspired by nature for its inaugural $10,000 prize; photo Steve Bourne

While there are hundreds of art prizes in Australia today, there are few – in fact only one in South Australia – that can claim to have a unique relationship with a World Heritage Listed Site.

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The 2019 Naracoorte National Art Prize coincides with the 50th anniversary of the discovery of Megafauna remains at the World Heritage Naracoorte Fossil Caves in remote South Australia.

This is the first year that the $10,000 acquisitive prize will be held, and Prize Coordinator Colin Kelly says there is no rigid theme to the inaugural event.

‘Take yourself on a flight of imagination,’ Kelly told ArtsHub. ‘Let the magic and mystery of the caves and the excitement of exploration and discovery inspire your creation.’

He added: ‘What we are trying to avoid is the idea that people have to submit exclusively scientific-styled art.’

The prize is calling on artists nationally to awaken their inner Leonardo da Vinci, Mary Anning or David Attenborough, and to create artworks that will be presented in this unique environment.

‘There is a really strong connection that people have to the natural world through art – it is an age-old relationship,’ Kelly said. ‘Art and science have had a partnership for hundreds of years; both embrace a spirit of exploration, research and discovery, and science has learnt from the observational skills of artists. It is a natural fit.’

Entries are now open for the 2019 Naracoorte National Art Prize. For details visit www.naracoorteartgallery.com

Detail of Naracoorte Art Gallery’s Megafauna Mural by Diana Wiseman, a project developed in partnership with University of Adelaide, Australian Landscape Trust, and Country Arts SA

Calling 2-dimensional artists

While Naracoorte might be located 333km (about 3.5 hours) from Adelaide and 445km (about 5.5 hours) from Melbourne, the Prize has caught the interest of internationally celebrated naturalist, Sir David Attenborough.

Dr Julian Hume of the London Museum of Natural History – a palaeontologist and practicing artist who has engaged with the work of Attenborough and has visited Naracoorte Caves – is one of the four judges overseeing this edition of the Naracoorte National Art Prize.

Kelly hopes the Prize will not only inspire artists, but encourage more people to visit the caves. ‘I feel passionate about the way the visual arts can play a huge role in revitalising regional areas,’ he said.

Tourism to the Naracoorte Fossil Caves is worth over $250 million to the region, and that is expected to increase with the national profile of the Prize and Attenborough’s endorsement.  

The Caves preserve the most complete fossil record we have for a period spanning several ice ages, including the arrival of humans in the area and the extinction of Australia’s iconic Megafauna roughly 60,000 years ago.

Kelly said that only one percent of the Caves have been excavated to date, leaving at least 1,000 years of science and treasures to be discovered at the site.

He said that while the Prize is not trying to push an environmental “message”, he takes heart from the way that artists are looking for meaningful connections through their art today.

How to apply

The 2019 Naracoorte National Art Prize is calling for artists to enter this inaugural event. A $10,000 acquisitive first prize and a $2,000 Mayor’s Prize will be awarded.

‘We are looking forward to huge variety of entries. We have already had interest from Japan, in textile art, glass and interest from the Aboriginal art community for its connection to Dreamtime narratives,’ said Kelly.

Any artist working in a two-dimensional format, across any medium, is invited to enter.

Entries close 12 July 2019.

A special opening of the Art Prize exhibition and announcement will be held on 21 September 2019 in Blanche Cave, at the heart of the Naracoorte site. The exhibition will then continue in the Naracoorte Regional Gallery until 27 October 2019.

To be a part of this unique opportunity, visit www.naracoorteartgallery.com

About the author

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years.

She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW, and you can follow her on Twitter @ginafairley and Instagram at fairleygina.