The annual Helpmann Academy Graduate show is a significant highlight on Adelaide’s exhibition calendar. Offering audiences an exciting opportunity to engage with dynamic and challenging works produced by twenty-nine artists, this year’s exhibition represented outstanding local talent from the Adelaide College of Arts (TAFE SA/Flinders University) and the University of South Australia’s School of Art, Architecture and Design.
India Kenning’s XX (Why? Why?) provided a trance inducing soundscape to fill the open space of the Drill Hall at the Torrens Parade Ground. The rhythmic sound of the artist walking on the spot reminded me of the machine-like human heart pumping life sustaining blood round and round. Kenning’s work speaks to feminist themes of feminine physicality and experience and underscores the raw corporeality of human existence. For me, it also provided a kind of anchor from which to explore other works.
Kenning’s consistent, steady movement of trudging through the heaviness of daily life evokes a sense of repetitive industry, but also of ritualistic performance. Forming a visual link with Kenning’s XX, Joseph Häxan’s congregations of pale and crimson bodies summoned ideas of pagan practices and secret rituals. Amplifying a slippage between ambiguous representations of gender and sexuality, Häxan’s photographs blur the boundaries between nature and the structures of the metropolis. The heightened luminosity of milky white, twisted limbs within the inky depths of night present faceless forms writhing, dancing and stumbling in rhapsodic gatherings that seem strangely out of time and place.
Häxan’s work is startlingly sophisticated and darkly enticing. I couldn’t help thinking of the compositions of Hieronymous Bosch, replete with emblems of worldly sin and the damned. Also evoking notions of debased ideals, Emilie Plunkett’s Consume presents a post-apocalyptic cornucopia of discarded metal grey trash lumped in with organics bound to rot. Plunkett’s photograph explores the contradiction between the material qualities of organic matter and mass-produced objects that are left to erode but do not break down. As a deeply problematic compost heap, Consume depicts the detritus of human society gorging itself on the earth’s resources, discarding and casting off waste to produce more junk that outlives human bodies.
Sarah Sturm’s stunning series titled What’s Your Damage? likewise confronts the viewer with disquieting images that examine the detrimental impact of human life on the planet. Merging natural landscape, sky and shoreline with almost futuristic scenes of human interactions, an unsettling threat of violence underpins each of the works. Neville Cichon’s striking images of household objects and appliances likewise draw attention to ongoing energy consumption and the way in which we are heating the earth to worrying temperatures.
Re-enacting scenes from horror films and myth, human behaviour is also at the centre of Jess Taylor’s menacing groups of figures who maim and torture in miniature. Taylor’s nod to Goya in her work titled Saturn Devouring his Son is echoed in her Mindless Self Indulgence, where piles of broken body bits impaled and left to hang from tree limbs recall the horrific groupings of the Disasters of War series.
In keeping with concerns for humanity, Rebecca Hasting’s accomplished painting The Eternal Youths (The fetish) considers the future of the coming generations. Inspired by Japanese mythology and concepts of the posthuman, Hasting’s portrait positions a ‘clone(s) of perfection’ within the void of a ‘purgatorial landscape’ stripped of nature, suggesting that the inherited earth will be freed from imperfection – and devoid of interconnectedness.
On the other hand, the complexities of the Australian historical and cultural landscape underpin Sera Waters’ practice, her virtuosity in a range of crafting techniques enabling her to connect with ghosts of the past. Waters’ examination of domestic space and family legacy is also informed by careful consideration of colonial histories with the ‘aim of shifting future trajectories.’ Similarly, Eduard Helmbold’s copper and cast acrylic sculpture provides a space in which the viewer is encouraged to consider constructions of cultural identity and the history and future of Australia simultaneously. Kate Bohunnis’ mixed media installation likewise considers identity as a creative, shifting state of growth and potential.
While the artists represented in the exhibition bring a diverse range of approaches to their individual practices, they each demonstrate a high level of conceptual development and skilled technique. Maintaining an exceptional standard, this year’s Graduate Exhibition once again showcases thought provoking work that tests the limits of the visual medium.
 This year’s prize winners can be found at https://www.helpmannacademy.com.au/news/2018-graduate-exhibition/ accessed 10/3/2018.
 Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828). Goya’s famous image of Saturn devouring one of his children is a painted mural transferred to canvas and titled Saturn by the Museo del Prado. Painted between 1820-1823, it is variously known as Saturn Devouring one of his Sons (or Children). See https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/saturn/18110a75-b0e7-430c-bc73-2a4d55893bd6 accessed 12/3/2018.
 Rebecca Hastings, artist statement, Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition 2018 catalogue, 30.
 Sera Waters, artist statement, Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition 2018 catalogue, 39.
 Eduard Helmbold, artist statement, Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition 2018 catalogue, 15.
 Kate Bohunnis, artist statement, Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition 2018 catalogue, 6.