Justene Williams

Justene Williams with Sydney Chamber Opera, Reinvention of the 1913 Futurist (anti-)opera 'Victory Over the Sun', 2016, mixed-media installation with performances on Cockatoo Island, 18-20 March 2016 Image courtesy Biennale of Sydney. Photograph: Document Photography
Justene Williams with Sydney Chamber Opera, Reinvention of the 1913 Futurist (anti-)opera Victory Over the Sun, 2016, mixed-media installation with performances on Cockatoo Island, 18-20 March 2016 Image courtesy Biennale of Sydney. Photograph: Document Photography

Born 1970 in Sydney, Australia
Lives and works in Sydney

Justene Williams is known for making multi-channel videos, often combining one-off performances and installations, examining through images how history is both remembered and forgotten. Featuring a heady mix of sound, lighting and post-production techniques, and owing much to Dada’s chaotic energies, her works draw on an array of sources for subject matter: from early twentieth-century avant-garde art and theatre, her personal experience of dance classes, time spent in her father’s wrecking yard, and popular culture, among others.

For the 20th Biennale of Sydney, Williams presents a radical revisiting of the legendary Futurist (anti-) opera Victory Over the Sun on Cockatoo Island, as part of the Embassy of the Real. First performed in St Petersburg in December 1913, the piece is now regarded as central to the Russian avant-garde, with its nonsensical libretto by Aleksei Kruchenykh; its fragmentary, modernistic score by Mikhail Matiushin; and the innovative sets and costumes designed by Kazimir Malevich, facsimiles of which can be viewed at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.

Malevich connected the origins of his geometric paintings with the backdrops he designed for Victory Over the Sun – where he claimed geometric planes first appeared – a precursor to his famous painting Black Square on a White Ground, 1915, and to Suprematism as a movement. For Malevich, darkness offered an entry into multidimensional reality – the fourth dimension beyond the traditional three to which our ordinary senses have access – where past and future, and cause and effect, all become relative. Equally interested in working with a space that exceeds the bounds of accepted meaning, Williams considers how the black square continues to resonate more than a century later: with the ubiquitous screens of smartphones, tablets and computers connecting us to the internet, and as a meme that just won’t die.[1]

In collaboration with Sydney Chamber Opera, Williams presents a number of performances of Victory Over the Sun, complete with a newly renovated score composed by Huw Belling, and libretto by Pierce Wilcox; they riff on the original, while radically departing from it. Stage sets, props and
sculptural forms will live on in the exhibition as an installation, incorporating deconstructed costumes and video documentation, with image fragments further cut up and transformed by the artist. Using multiple edits, her characteristic ‘baroque grunge’ aesthetic and a variety of display mechanisms, Williams underscores the propositional character of the reworked footage, rethinking space and time. She splits it up, fragments it, multiplies it and redoubles it, works it back and forward, and mashes it up so, in the end, and in the space, the viewer is confounded by movement on all sides, by colour, sound and light.

Justene Williams’s works have been the focus of numerous solo exhibitions, including ‘The Curtain Breathed Deeply’, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne (2015) and Artspace, Sydney (2014); ‘No Mind’, Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney (2015); and ‘Handbag Hammer Meditation’, La Centrale Galerie Powerhouse, Montréal (2013). Selected group exhibitions include ‘VIDEO FOREVER 19’, Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, Paris; and ‘FX’ Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne (2013); and ‘Contemporary Australia: Women’, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane (2013).

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[1] Stephanie Bailey, ‘Into the void’, Happy Hypocrite – Fresh Hell, issue 8, 2015

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