The National 2017: new Australian art (30 March – 16 July 2017) is the first of three biennial surveys of contemporary Australian art. The National is simultaneously presented throughout three of Sydney’s preeminent cultural institutions: the Art Gallery of NSW, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Carriageworks. At the heart of the Art Gallery of NSW’s display are two new acquisitions funded by the Gallery’s Contemporary Collection Benefactors (CCB) and Atelier (Young Patrons) benefaction groups.
Emily Floyd’s specially commissioned Kesh alphabet and Gordon Bennett’s Home décor (after M Preston) #18 (2012) were the focus of both groups’ fundraising efforts last year. The funding of these works was the first major project supported by Atelier, the Gallery’s newest benefaction group of young donors aged in their 20s to 40s, and was equally supported by the Contemporary Collection Benefactors. Both artworks mark important additions to the Gallery’s permanent collection of contemporary Australian art.
Floyd’s vast and brightly coloured aluminium installation of abstracted typographic forms inhabits the Gallery’s central court, inviting visitors to wander through. The artist references the fictional alphabet described by science-fiction author Ursula Le Guin in her novel Always coming home, written in 1985 as an anthropological study of the future matriarchal ‘Kesh’ society. Floyd uses Le Guin’s Kesh alphabet to spell out the noun ‘banhe’, which translates simultaneously to ‘inclusion,’ ‘insight’ and ‘female orgasm.’ Presented at the forefront of the exhibition and at the core of the Gallery, Kesh alphabet carves out a female space of knowledge and experience within an institution historically synonymous with patriarchal dominance. Floyd describes her work as ‘a spell or invocation’ suggesting a different future, while at the same time reminding us that language itself is a system which shapes world views whilst expressing them.
This special commission builds on Floyd’s installation project Labour garden created for the 2015 Venice Biennale and it is a significant addition to the Gallery’s collection of Floyd’s lithograph prints as it represents the major direction of the artist’s practice.