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Artist Fiona Hall inaugurates new pavilion of Australia with 'Wrong Way Time'
Installation view of Fiona Hall's Wrong Way Time at the Australian Pavilion. Courtesy of Australia Council for the Arts.

VENICE.- Wrong Way Time brings together dozens of multi-part works created by artist Fiona Hall, set in dialogue with each other within a multisensory, immersive display. Hall’s subject is the intersecting field of global conflict, world finances, and the environment, which she perceives as “a minefield of madness, badness, and sadness in equal measure”. Her sustained examination of the intricate interrelationship between nature and culture takes on new urgency as she responds to the realities of climate change, war and increasing inequity. A veritable museum of transformed materials and objects, together with intense and poignant paintings and sculptures, prompt us to consider our impact on the future of nature. Hall is the first artist representative to exhibit in the new Pavilion of Australia, designed by Australian architecture firm Denton Corker Marshall, and managed by the Australia Council for the Arts —the first 21st century and only water-facing pavilion in the historic Giardini della Biennale.

“Wrong Way Time strongly resonates with the 56th Biennale di Venezia curator Okwui Enwezor’s call to ‘offer the world a global sounding board,’ and serves as a timely and powerful survey of the state of our world,” said Simon Mordant AM, Commissioner for the Pavilion of Australia. “Hall has long focused on the increasing urgency of these issues and I am delighted that she has been given such a platform to take stock of our contemporary age.”

“The realities of terrorism, war, climate change, environmental pillage, and economic turmoil have become part of our daily consciousness,” said Hall, the artist representative for the Pavilion of Australia at the 56th International Art Exhibition—La Biennale di Venezia. “Our contemporary mindset has resulted in widespread paranoia over this perilous state. But it’s a world that’s also resilient and wondrous. The body of work I'm presenting is a personal attempt to reconcile a state of gloom and chaos with a curiosity and affection for the place where we all live.”

In Wrong Way Time, visitors enter a dark space where illuminated objects emerge from the shadows. A forest of painted clocks—grandfather, grandmother, mantle, and cuckoo – forms a dark wall of lament along one side. Charred cabinets are filled with collections of banknotes, newspapers and atlases and other archaeological remnants of contemporary life, along with cast bronze forms and intricate hammered tin sculptures, sculpted bread, live spiders that spin webs over landscape dioramas, and bird’s nests made of shredded banknotes. The cabinet surrounds a central group of hanging figures with distorted heads knitted from camouflage fabric, a nihilistic hub of hollow death masks. The intermittent sounds of clocks ticking, chiming and cuckooing, along with field recordings of crows, add a resonant layer that contributes to a sense of madness and doom.

“Hall’s encyclopaedic installation is her response to the condition of living on this planet, a contemporary vision of heaven and hell. It conveys her deep love of the world in all its variety, complexity and wonder, and her alarm at the ignorance and greed that threatens its existence,” said Linda Michael, the exhibition curator. “The title Wrong Way Time is both a verdict and a challenge. While it reflects a pervasive sense of uncertainty about the future, fed by news about war, climate mutations, species extinction and economic inequity, the exhibition itself is life-affirming and transformative.”

Wrong Way Time can be read as a body of work encompassing hundreds of elements, each embedded with layers of meaning that the viewer discovers while navigating through the exhibition. Hall uses repetition, mimicry, layers of reference, and repurposed materials and objects to create a symbolic landscape that reveals her fascination with natural cycles, and the policies and actions that degrade organic systems or diminish life. This is evident in Tender (2003–06), a collection of more than 80 nests painstakingly created from shredded U.S. dollar bills. While these sculptures accurately capture a range of avian structures, underscoring the diversity found in the natural world, their emptiness brings attention to the loss of species and habitats. Tender also prompts questions about the value of currency by rendering it worthless through the act of shredding, and asks us to consider what our society nurtures in its relentless pursuit of profit.

The impact of colonization and capitalism on the environment is also explored in Manuhiri (Travellers) (2014), for which Hall collected driftwood, including pine, poplar, manuka, and kanuka, from the Waiapu River on the east coast of the North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. The Waiapu was once surrounded by heavily forested land before suffering from erosion, chemical runoff, and the accumulation of silt due to development. In a paradoxical and poetic move, the pieces of driftwood selected by Hall evoke the shape of living creatures, appearing as poignant vestiges of the environmental degradation that shaped them.

All the King’s Men (2014–15) is a display of hanging, three-dimensional figures whose heads are knitted from uniforms made of camouflage fabric from various countries, designed to mimic nature to benefit the activities of military forces. Ghostly vestigial bodies hang from the disfigured heads, forming a disturbing group that stands in for countless foot-soldiers, casualties of war regardless of nationality.

Camouflage appears again in Kuka Iritija (Animals from Another Time) (2014), a collaboration with eleven artists from the Tjanpi Desert Weavers, a collective of Aboriginal women artists known for their works of fiber art created from weaving tjanpi, or grass. To realize this work, both Hall and the women wove extinct and endangered animals native to Central Australia out of indigenous desert grasses. The process of creating these forms and their culminating presentation in Venice preserves the memory of creatures that roamed the land before the effects of climate change and feral animals took hold, or covert nuclear bombings carried out by the British in the 1950s in Maralinga rendered some parts of this area uninhabitable. For Kuka Iritija, Hall supplied the women with strips of fabric from contemporary British and Australian military uniforms to weave into their creatures, thereby inserting the narrative of the loss and displacement of Aboriginal people under colonial rule.

Fiona Hall (b. 1953, Oatley, Sydney, Australia) lives and works in Adelaide. Producing mainly photographic works in the 1970s, she extended her creative practice in the 1980s to embrace a diverse range of media including painting, sculpture, installation, garden design, and film. Transforming everyday materials and objects, Hall creates artworks that often address the relationship between nature and culture. Her practice includes major public commissions and projects that have increasingly engaged with themes of ecology, history, and the effects of globalisation.

The recipient of numerous honours and awards, Hall’s most recent solo exhibitions include Fiona Hall: Big Game Hunting at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, (2013); a major survey exhibition, Fiona Hall: Force Field, held by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, (2008), in partnership with City Gallery Wellington, New Zealand; and the retrospective exhibition The Art of Fiona Hall, at Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, which toured to the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (2005).

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