Cover image of the review
Katherine Botten, Exit 2 (Deco Bows), acrylic and oil on canvas, 110 x 80 cm, 2022. Photo: Kenneth Suico.

Katherine Botten, The Freedom Show and Ella Sutherland, Speaker of the House

5 Nov 2022
Katherine Botten, The Freedom Show, Hyacinth 21 Oct - 10 Nov 2022 Ella Sutherland, Speaker of the House, Futures 6 Oct - 11 Nov 2022

Sometimes it feels like Melbourne and Sydney exist in parallel universes. Melbourne is cool; Sydney is hot. Melbourne is emo, paranoiac, cerebral, the international home of rubbish art, committed to the bit and, at times, painfully ironic. Sydney is sensual, subtropical, embodied, colourful, committed to abstract political theorising and, at times, painfully earnest. This comparative game can swiftly descend into meaningless vagueries. However, it is undeniable that place shapes artists—or, more accurately, the important things that make up a place: the people (teachers, peers, friends, lovers, enemies), the institutions (art schools, public galleries, commercial galleries, shed galleries), the rent, the jobs, the queer scene, the parties, the migration history, the weather…

Two exhibitions on now in Melbourne represent opposite ends of current tendencies in art made in Australia. Melbourne-based Katherine Botten’s The Freedom Show at Hyacinth is a mixed media purge of exit signs, bloodied palm trees, swastikas, treble-clefs, feathery eyelashes and men’s neckties. Sydney-based Ella Sutherland’s Speaker of the House at Futures is a metered set of hard-edged abstractions that transmute the visual language of democracy into chartreuse, periwinkle and burgundy paint. Distinct as they may be on a formal level, both artists are concerned with the possibilities of painting today, with representing alternate modes of feminine subjectivity and with the power of signs and symbols. To me, both of their practices seek answers to a key question of our time: What does it mean to be free?

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