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Art show takes on a climate theme

More than 100 works are on display until December

Some of the more than 100 works on display at the Merri-bek Summer Show.

Mark Phillips

THE theme of this year’s Merri-bek Summer Show at the Counihan Gallery, ‘A Climate for Change’, invites artists to champion environmental justice.

More than 100 works by local artists are now on display at the Brunswick gallery until December 9.

Nicola Bryant, who has been acting Counihan Gallery curator since the departure of Victor Griss in the middle of the year, said it was the biggest summer show ever at the gallery since it opened in 1999, a testament to the health of Merri-bek’s visual artist community.

Dozens of works champion environmental and social justice in the tradition of the gallery’s namesake, Noel Counihan, a communist whose work as an illustrator and painter was dedicated to progressive politics and social change.

The works on exhibit showcase the diversity of talent in Merri-bek, from realistic and abstract paintings to tapestries, sculptures and video art. The main criteria to participate in the show is that the artist must live or work in Merri-bek.

“I am so proud of our creative community and its commitment to political activism, for which Merri-bek City Council and the Counihan Gallery are known,” Bryant said.

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The show opened to a packed house on Saturday, November 4, where the annual Noel Counihan Commemorative Art Award, now in its seventh year, was presented by the artist’s son, Mick.

The award, which is worth $3000, celebrates an artist whose work explores the exhibition theme and engages with social, political or environmental ideas.

This year’s winner was Emma Armstrong-Porter for her single channel video work BIN.

The three minute work comprises of a series of photographs Armstrong-Porter took of a melted plastic bin she came across on a road outside the Coburg Leisure Centre earlier this year.

In her written description to accompany the work, Armstrong-Porter said the series started as a photographic study of light and change but quickly brought up the discussion of the effects of human behaviour on the environment in which we live.

“In the sun, in the rain, day and night. A victim of the bystander effect, this object personifies suburban society’s attitude of ‘out of sighg, out of mind’,” Armstrong-Porter wrote.

“Slowly eroding into microplastics as people walk around it on the footpath.”

Damien Laing won the $250 Highly Commended Award for his photo Tarneit Kabaddi Cup.

A selection of the works on display until December 9.

This year a new $250 Climate for Change Award has also been introduced for an artist who champions environmental justice and activates for a greener future.

The winner was Coburg-based Janine McGinness for a mixed media work called Dominant Species, which consisted of etching, relief print, collage, photography, graphite, stitching and a tree resin, including resin taken from Ironbark trees along the Merri Creek.

“I do a lot of art activism, and a lot of my work has an environmental and social justice theme,” McGinness said.

In the written description accompanying her work, McGinness notes that 6811 animal species are currently listed as critically endangered, which influenced her artwork:

“Discussions on climate change are often human-centric; animals, plants, land forming the backdrop of our existence. Humans have become the dominant species.”

Janine McGinness with her award-winning work Dominant Species.

This year is the third time McGinness has entered the Merri-bek Summer Show, including the online show during the COVID pandemic in 2020, and she said she was overwhelmed by her win having only decided at the last minute to attend the announcement in person.

“I was very surprised because there’s so much great work here,” she said.

Dominant Species is available for purchase for $550, including a $100 donation to the Bob Brown Foundation.

The Merri-bek Summer Show is the last in the Counihan Gallery for 2023.

The gallery, inside the Brunswick Town Hall, is open Wednesday to Sunday 11am to 5pm. Entry is free.

Two children’s storytime events will be held within the exhibition space at 11am on November 16 and 23.

Visitors can also vote for the $1000 People’s Choice Award until the exhibition closes.

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