Art prize honours legacy of innovation in South West Sydney

Innovation is broadly defined as new ideas, methods or products. This is true in the arts, where it refers to new ways of seeing society or methods of engaging with ideas and knowledge. Talking about innovation in the arts is by no means new, however a new art prize seeks to acknowledge the legacy of innovation from artists based in south west Sydney, and encourages their contemporaries to keep experimenting.

On Saturday 18 February the second Paramor Prize: Art + Innovation was officially opened at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. The prize was launched in 2015 in memory of Wendy Paramor, who lived in the Liverpool region from 1966 and is one of Australia’s most celebrated female artists. In 2017 the prize presents a range of works including: new media, installation and photography. Respectfully, there was 5 artists from Western Sydney more broadly included in the prize, with more that had some connection to the region.


The top prize of $20,000 was awarded to Susannah Williams and Warren Armstrong for their work ‘Listening Device VII: Felt Histories.’ This work was originally commissioned by Blacktown Arts Centre and maps the stories of residents predominately from migrant and Aboriginal backgrounds residing in the local government area. The work is a multi-sensory experience, asking viewers to don a pair of headphones and walk across the thermo-sensory plates. The audio responds to the slightest suggestion of movement, weaving and overlaying stories. Visitors are also invited to interact with the tactile tapestries that hang on the wall and an I-Pad. In what seems to be too rare occurrence in curatorial practice, the wall text respectfully included the names of every individual who contributed stories to the work.

A stand out theme running through some of the finalists’ work is that of the everyday – be that movement, habits or objects.

James Nguyen’s installation ‘Rest Ice Compression’ refers to knowledge of First Aid in order to take care of oneself and the community. A large component of the work is a video projection onto vertical drapes commonly found in the household. Intersecting the gallery space, visitors need to walk behind the work to locate a smart phone looping all too common racial slurs. Filmed in Villawood, the work asks us to think about what we value as a society and humanity more broadly.

A highlight to this year’s prize was Matthew James’s ‘Sydney to Gulmarrad’ which explores documentation methods for time and movement across regions. A part of an ongoing project, the artist strapped a frame to his windscreen whilst driving north from Sydney, catching the bugs that landed in it. Filled with resin before being fitted to a light box, the work combines early scientific explorations of bugs with new presentation methods. In a time where we are increasingly dependent on private transport and highways, James’ work is subtle reminder of the diverse ecologies that co-exist today.

A quiet achiever is Lee Bethel’s ‘Operculum’ which combines watercolor, flowers and seeds collected from sites reaching from Mount Annan to the Cumberland Plains. Her work draws attention to conservation methods, as well as the accumulation and sorting of organic matter for the purposes of management and development of the landscape. Such activities are crucial to the Australian Botanic Garden Research Center (Mount Annan) and to the threatened natural landscape of the Cumberland Plains.

In a nod to the legacy of Wendy Paramor, a selection of her geometrically abstract sculptures that were bequeathed to CPAC are spread throughout the exhibition.

Paramor Prize: Art + Innovation demonstrates how artists are actively exploring new media and new methods of display and representation to communicate the concerns and ideas of contemporary society. Whilst innovation may be a tired buzz word for future city strategies, in this context it gives artists permission to extend themselves in search of new ways of working.

Exhibition is open until 23 April and will alternate with The Blake Prize in CPAC’s creative program.
For more information, please visit their website.


Image credits (L-R)

James Nguyen, Rest Ice Compression, 2016. Photograph courtesy of Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. Photo by Ben Williams Photography.
Lee Bethel, Operculum, 2016. Photograph courtesy of Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. Photo by Ben Williams Photography.
Wendy Paramor, Luke, 2000. (re-fabrication based on original circa 1968). Photograph courtesy of Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. Photo by Ben Williams Photography.