Problems in ‘Paradise’ at Australia’s Gold Coast

At HOTA Gallery, 19 artists mine local histories and draw out contradictions in the area’s development

BY Andy Butler in Exhibition Reviews , Reviews Across Asia | 28 JUN 21

The inaugural exhibition of HOTA Gallery, a AUS$60.5 million cultural project supported by the City of Gold Coast, gestures towards an artist community with the capacity to draw out complex narratives associated with place. Featuring 19 artists, ‘Solid Gold: Artists from Paradise’ explores the notion of ‘paradise’ through the global currents the Gold Coast is wrapped up in – tourist development, climate change and extractive capitalism.

aaron chapman the towers project
Aaron Chapman, The Towers Project, 2021, installation view, HOTA Gallery, Gold Coast. Courtesy: the artist and HOTA Gallery, Gold Coast; photograph: Paul Harris

Renowned for its natural beauty, the Gold Coast is also a noted hotspot for conservatism, anti-vaxxers and the casual racism that commonly persists in regional Australia. The tessellating electric colours on the façade of the new six-storey gallery – which is also connected to a theatre, cinema, outdoor stage and collection of 4,500 works from the Gold Coast city council – acts as a beacon to local swimmers and holidaymakers. ‘Come in your boardshorts, dust the sand off your feet,’ noted CEO Criena Gehrke at the media preview for the opening. Nonetheless, this surface appeal doesn’t mask the powerful resonance the works in ‘Solid Gold’ have with the surrounding history of the place.

While many artists from the Gold Coast ultimately relocate to more established art centres, all those in ‘Solid Gold’ have a connection to the region. Jason Haggerty’s Humectant Displacement (all works 2021) algorithmically turns real-time, ocean-wave information collected by the government into a digital portrait of water movement. Ali Bezer’s sculptural installation, I Can Hear Water, folds battered metal sheets into wavelike formations, with the sound of crushing aluminium mimicking the breaking of waves and a materiality reminiscent of the detritus of construction sites. Both works meditate on forms of human intervention on the area’s coastline – its biggest tourist drawcard.

michael candy
Michael Candy, Steal the Sunshine, 2021 and Samuel Leighton-Dore, Cloud-Drive, 2021. Courtesy: the artists and HOTA Gallery, Gold Coast; photograph: Paul Harris 

Michael Candy’s Steal the Sunshine and Claudia de Salvo’s Heat and Time also mediate environment through technological and human intervention, albeit in diverse materials. Candy simulates the daily solar cycle from northern Australia through a grid of 108 high CRI LEDs, bringing the unique hue of the Australian sunlight into an institutional space. Heat and Time takes clay from the local hinterlands and shapes it into unfired vessels, which are then filled with water and allowed slowly to disintegrate over the course of the exhibition.

Artists who mine the local histories of the Gold Coast draw out further contradictions in the area’s development. Aaron Chapman’s photographic series ‘The Tower Project’ follows the ubiquitous lifeguard towers that stand solitary on the sand along the shoreline, from viewpoints nestled within suburbia. The endless development of the region is palpable in these images that rotate around one of the most recognizable symbols of white Australian beach culture.

claudia de salvo heat and time
Claudia De Salvo, Heat and Time, 2021, installation view, HOTA Gallery, Gold Coast. Courtesy: the artists and HOTA Gallery, Gold Coast; photograph: Paul Harris 

Ngugi artist Libby Harward’s video, BLOODLETTING (Water-ways), draws out the settler-colonial constructs and extractive relationships to river systems at the heart of Australian culture. The artist is shown lying on her back in the area’s last remaining mangrove – the rest having been destroyed following 230 years of European colonization – while water is seemingly extracted from her body through hoses and PVC piping.

As an arts ecology, this part of Australia has an uneven history. Aside from The Walls, founded in 2013 by local artist Rebecca Ross, few other galleries remains. The now-defunct itinerant space Tiny Gold, run by internationally acclaimed Quandamooka artist Megan Cope and Filipina-Singaporean curator Mariam Arcilla, propelled the careers of many from the area. This increased investment in the local artist community through HOTA Gallery is not only a sign of cultural enrichment and expansion within the region but a valuable reminder of the critical role that perspectives and practices from areas outside of urban centres bring to timely cultural discourses.

'Solid Gold: Artists from Paradise' is on view at HOTA Gallery, Gold Coast, until 4 July. 

Michael Candy, Steal the Sunshine (detail), 2021, installation view, HOTA Gallery, Gold Coast. Courtesy: the artists and HOTA Gallery, Gold Coast; photograph: Paul Harris 

Andy Butler is an artist and writer. He is exhibitions curator at West Space, Melbourne, Australia.