Artists invited to exhibit works in ancient Jurassic rainforest

Sculpture at Scenic World is calling for artists to create artworks that will be showcased in an ancient rainforest in the heart of the Blue Mountains.
Artists invited to exhibit works in ancient Jurassic rainforest

Harrie Fasher's Henrietta exhibited at 2017 Sculpture at Scenic World; Courtesy the artist, photo  Keith Maxwell

Outdoor sculpture festivals have evolved in recent years to become sophisticated branded events that rival big gallery blockbusters with their foot traffic. Offering incredible exposure for artists, they also serve up the rare opportunity to make work of scale – a challenge for any sculptor facing traditional white cube gallery shows.

One such example is Sculpture at Scenic World, which offers artists a unique opportunity to showcase works among an ancient rainforest, set on the doorstep of the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains National Park. Running for four weeks from April 13 – May 13, the 2018 exhibition marks the seventh year that Sculpture at Scenic World has been presented.

2018 Artist Submissions now open

ArtsHub caught up with Sculpture at Scenic World Exhibition Manager Justin Morrissey, who said the odds of selection are strong, at about one in four. 'I think the reason for that is I talk to every artist who applies. Those who just flip a submission that they are using for another show, it is so obvious,' he said.

This year the prize pool has increased to over $30,000, with the major prize sitting at $20,000 and the fee to exhibiting artists increased to $1,000.

'The owners and Board of Scenic World are eager to recognise the work of our artists and strengthen their position within the community. One way we can do that, and encourage high calibre artists to apply, is by ensuring artists are adequately remunerated for their work,' Morrissey said.

The winner of the 2017 Scenic World Major Award was Mark Booth, a Hill End-based artist whose work Jellybean was recognised as a ‘polished work that blended seamlessly into the natural surroundings’.

Mark Booth, Jellybean (2017); Courtesy the artist; photo Keith Maxwell

Booth used the prize money to fund a three month art residency in Berlin at Phasmid Studios (Greenaway Art Gallery) and visit to the important sculpture exhibition Documenta in Kassel, and the Venice Biennale. He has also used it to assist with studio rent in Sydney and materials.

Booth said: 'This award has helped me to explore new cultures and create new work internationally, which has helped me take my work to new heights.'

International submissions to Sculpture at Scenic World have understandably been growing in recent years, with the opportunity to present artworks at such a unique Australian site giving the exhibition – and Australian artists – greater exposure abroad.

Submissions close on Monday, 20 November 2017.

How to apply

First and foremost, Morrissey advises interested artists to discuss their works with him before applying. When it comes to making artworks that maintain the exhibition’s zero per cent ecological impact, Morrissey said it is a conversation with the artist that goes more along the line of mediation than intervention.

'I actively encourage artists to explore and engage with the site and push their artistic boundaries,' he said. 'When artists take that on board, we see amazing things happen.'

'We have a very sensitive site, and we have to work within strict guidelines given we are a World Heritage listed area. We work with an independent assessor and that starts very early on to make sure all the sculptures selected have a low impact.'

He added that the artists enjoy that process, and that reducing their environmental impact often becomes a key part of their research.

New this year will be a $5,000 Environmental Prize, which will be awarded to an artist that demonstrates an innovative solution to working within the exhibition’s unique environmental conditions and constraints.

Morrissey explained: 'It is a beautiful environment, but it is also a foreign environment for most artists, with hanging vines strangling the light and enormous ferns. It is so cool when you think of this landscape not just as pristine wilderness but for its capacity to be a platform for those current contemporary issues. We are the lungs of Sydney, in essence.

'The site artists will be working with is a dis-used coal mine with a long and colourful history, which may prompt artists to explore contemporary issues such as mining, coal resources, fracking, deforestation, land leases, water resources. As Sydney expands and develops, we are encouraging people to look at the world and urbanisation in another way,' he added.

To find out more: read the Guidelines

Morrissey said that while the artists are responsible for the transport of their sculptures to and from the exhibition, once they are on site the team – from arborists and tree climbers to professional museum installation crews – all click into action.

'We essentially support the artists to realise what they want to do,' he said. As the curator of this phenomenal project, his advice to any artist considering applying was not to hold back. 'There are many ways to work with the natural environment in a sensitive way, so if something feels too complicated, flag the concept with us.'

He also advised that looking at the image gallery from past exhibitions offered a good indication of what artists can accomplish.

Mark Surtees, Cut Here (2017); Courtesy the artist, photo Keith Maxwell

Winner of last year’s prize Mark Booth said of his experience: 'I wanted the work at exactly the right height - too high and it’d be completely invisible up in the canopy, too low and it’d be too visible and obvious, defeating the whole exercise. Thanks to the experienced arborists and other members of the install crew, the whole process of raising the sections and securing them to the tree was an effortless and pleasant task from my point of view.'

'Being able to exhibit a large sculpture way up a tree in a Jurassic rainforest surely has to be one of the most unique and rewarding opportunities an artist can experience anywhere in the world,' he added.

And in terms of what works best? Morrissey said that anything that is floating or seemingly hanging works incredibly well. He said that because of the boardwalk that navigates visitors through the park, artists have to think about how viewers will engage with their work; it offers a different perspective than white cube viewing.

The stillness of the site is something that artists have most commented on in the past, Morrissey said. 'They are captured by way the light moves at the valley floor. It is that moment of calm and respite by being present in a forest – it has a lot of history – and you really feel connected to the land when you are standing among it.'

'That idea of pre-history and pre-colonisation – you get that from the fern trees – and this overwhelming sense that this is bigger than me, that it is not just my story,' he said.

Booth advised artists to allow time to walk the trail and pick an appropriate site before applying. 'Be prepared - remember, there’s no power down there so any tools you need must be battery driven. And make sure your work will fit through the cable car doors - there is no other way to get it down there.

'And remember, the work must have zero impact on the sensitive environment. ‘There should be no trace of its existence once it has gone (for this reason, document it once installed. I used time-lapse to record the installation of mine). If you pull it off, your work will look amazing, and it’ll be an experience you’ll never forget,' said Booth.

To apply visit Sculpture at Scenic World.

2018 Sculpture at Scenic World will be held 13 April – 13 May 2018.

Submissions close on Monday November 20.

Successful artists will be notified 30 November 2017.

Prizes include: $20,000 Scenic World Major Award; $5000 Artist Peer Award; $3000 Environmental Award; $2000 Scenic World Staff’s Choice Award, and the $1000 Carrington Hotel People’s Choice Prize.