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  • Review by Koulla Roussos

The Complexity of Contemporaneity

The complexity of contemporaneity: Franck Gohier at MAGNT

Koulla Roussos, Darwin

Published in Art Monthly, Issue 307, May 2018

‘A Thousand Miles from Everywhere’ is a Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) exhibition featuring multimedia works by Darwin contemporary artist Franck Gohier (b. 1968). The format is based on a mid-career review, surveying key works from a distinct period (2003–17), including synthetic polymer paint and found objects on aluminium and ply boards, screen prints and mixed-media wood sculptures.

Gohier moved with his French family to Darwin in 1975 a year after Cyclone Tracy destroyed the city. His parents operated a salvaging business. Influenced by Belgian-French comics and the prevailing ethos and stylistic motifs of the international pop-art culture, he completed his art school studies at Northern Territory University (now Charles Darwin University).

Much can be celebrated about Gohier’s determination to create and forge a successful art practice in a difficult frontier place. His Red Hand prints are popular editions and can be found in many Darwin households. However,with artworks in international, national and local public and private collections, he is one of the few home-grown contemporary art heroes, and one most respected for critically shaping Darwin’s visual perception of itself.

Darwin is an explicit colonial location at the behest of global historical and ecological forces. Merging regional characteristics with archival and found objects, the self-described ‘urban archaeologist’ materialises the complexity of contemporaneity in a town in a constant state of flux. His work incorporates the Darwin vernacular, slang and other idiosyncrasies and blends these with pop imagery underlined by a fearless and acerbic political wit.

A master printer and craftsman, Gohier is as meticulous about materials as he is about art theory and history as subject matter suited to his form and function. He paints as a printer and prints like a painter. From his youth, with his parent’s business, he has scoured Darwin’s urban geography and archival records for historical remnants, including Second World War metal and bullet shells, incorporating material with visual representations. He arranges such objects and juxtaposes them with an assortment of printed and painterly gestures, combining images and motifs to situate Darwin’s unique ‘regionalism’ within the Zeitgeist of an art-historical international pop art movement.

Gohier’s connection to Darwin and appeal cannot be underestimated. Despite the exhibition launching during the city’s low season, opening-night visitor numbers were staggering, with over 1000 people attending. To alleviate visitor flows out of the main gallery, MAGNT dispersed the bar, locating refreshment stations outside in the museum’s foyer and in the ‘Science Discovery’ room.

Curated by Glen Barkley, the exhibition is beautifully hung in the newly refurbished Ken Waters Gallery. With grey floor tiles and a black ceiling subverting the traditional white cube, the soft lighting creates an intimate space with the artworks theatrically lit. The hallowed atmosphere is punctuated by the artist’s soft voice spilling from the video work,accentuating the intimate communion the exhibition achieves between location, artist, art object and audiences.

‘A Thousand Miles from Everywhere’ sits near the MAGNT permanent Cyclone Tracy display. As such, a feature of the exhibition – the constructed ‘exposed cube’ space in the centre of the gallery – references the ruins of the destroyed Darwin after the cyclone, thus synthesising the thematic context of the artist’s biography and artwork with the broader location of the exhibition. The additional sightlines through and across the exhibition space, and an intertextual correlation between the artworks and the institution’s Cyclone Tracy archival and architectural displays, connect the design features with the museum’s raison d’etre.

Gohier’s survey is the third of an exhibition series developed by MAGNT’s Exhibition Coordinator Wendy Wood, and represents the institution’s response to redress and overcome past perceptions that MAGNT was negligent in acknowledging, supporting and providing a platform for local contemporary artists. The exhibition acknowledges Gohier’s importance to Darwin’s identity and cements him firmly within its and the broader NT’s cultural legacy. ‘Franck Gohier: A Thousand Miles from Everywhere’ is being exhibited at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, until 1 July 2018.

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