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Eleven contemporary artists explore the emotions of love at the Art Gallery of New South Wales
Angelica Mestiti, Rapture (silent anthem ) (still), 2009. High-definition video, silent. 10:10 min. Image courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery ©the artist.

SYDNEY.- We used to talk about love features major and often confronting work by 11 contemporary Australian artists from around the world who explore the emotions of love, the pleasures of the flesh, and the wistful nostalgia of recollection. 'All the pictures and moving images are marked by an overwhelming sense of intimacy, yet despite the title, there is not a single love heart in this exhibition,’ says curator Natasha Bullock.

If we used to talk about love, what do we talk about now? Can pictures convey the mysterious enigma of love’s emotions? Across an array of media including photography, collage, sculpture and multimedia installation We used to talk about love considers some of these questions. It is an emotional proposition about how pictures convey feelings, embody memories and their sensorial properties. From playfully dressed-up bodies replete with sexual suggestion to a real-time disintegrating sculpture of a stargazing young man and to collages evoking the memories and innocence of childhood, We used to talk about love considers the variegated terrain of love’s language – joy, elation, longing, loss, melancholia and memory.

To suggest the movement of love’s emotions as it swings from one extreme to the next We used to talk about love is structured to highlight the parlance of love from beginning to end. For the first time since the galleries were opened to the public in 1988, the now-named Franco and Amina Belgiorno-Nettis and Family Contemporary Galleries have been architecturally reconsidered – in a collaboration between exhibition curator Natasha Bullock and architect Jan van Schaik of Minifie van Schaik architects in Melbourne – with walls built to promote a more intimate viewing experience and a determined passageway through the exhibition experience. The aim is to take the viewer on an emotional journey by clustering works around four broad ideas that are also spatially articulated.

To begin with the flesh considers the vexed terrain of the body, flesh and desire. Polly Borland’s prints of dressed up bodies playfully explore intimacy in the guise of fetish, Paul Knight’s folded photographs of couples in bed conceal the point of contact and Angelica Mesiti’s sensual video reveals young people in threshold states of rapture and great joy.

Expressive abstractions includes artwork based on complex social relationships including Darren Sylvester’s digital prints that encapsulate the essence of a moment into a single visual statement. Sylvester’s crisp style references photographic genres typically associated with advertising and high-gloss magazines. David Rosetzky’s feature-length video, produced in collaboration with actors, a choreographer and a dramaturg, highlights the complex nature of contemporary communication and how we connect to each other in this world.

An archive of feeling elaborates on the amassing of archival material to reflect on memories and perceptions. David Noonan’s collages of children and people evoke the bleeding nature of memory, Eliza Hutchison’s salon-style hang of more than 40 prints sourced from private moments and public events examines the permutations of memory and remembering, and Justene Williams’ new seven-channel video installation with pillows, bread, stairs and shelves is a poignant celebration of life, treading a line between hope and futility, sustenance and dejection.

The final room, Filthy, crushing ending, examines artworks that echo a sense of loss, absence and disintegration. From Glenn Sloggett’s photographs of decaying roses, street signs and abandoned dogs that find beauty in the ordinary to Grant Steven’s video of floating words and melancholy music that riff off popular culture, conceptual art and sentimentality and finally, to Tim Silvers’ commission comprising a life-size body cast made of watercolour pigment and a suite of photographs that visually document the sculpture’s slow decay, in situ, for the duration of the exhibition.

The exhibition is on view at the Art Gallery of New South Wales through 21 April.

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