More to an image than meets the eye

30 July 2014

As society becomes increasingly desensitised to the daily deluge of images that are generated through digital technologies, a new exhibition at Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) explores how contemporary artists engage with the image in today's world.

The Sceptical Image exhibition presents new works by 11 prominent Australian contemporary artists: Ryszard Dabek, John Di Stefano, Janelle Evans, Cherine Fahd, Merilyn Fairskye, Anne Ferran, Tanya Peterson, Stefan Popescu, Margaret Seymour, Yanai Toister and Justin Trendall.

"In light of the unprecedented production and circulation of images today, artists are faced with finding new ways to ensure that their own images remain relevant," said Dr John Di Stefano, artist and Associate Professor at Sydney College of the Arts.

"The desire to remain sceptical and challenge dominant conventions is at the centre of the works created by the artists in this exhibition," he said.

The exhibition is presented as part of an international conference this weekend entitled The Image In Question, organised by the University of Sydney at its contemporary art school. While the interdisciplinary conference will broadly consider how the image resonates in today's society, the exhibition will showcase new works that explore how the image can function as a catalyst for critical thought today.

Working across varied media, the artists also show how traditional ideas about documentary photography and film continue to be reinvented, often merging with performance, experimental video and conceptual art traditions.

The subject matter inspiring the group of 11 artists is diverse, and includes topical news events from the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the USA's high security intelligence facilities made famous by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, and Sydney's eerie bushfire skies of last October - to historical tales such as the UFO conspiracy sited in Tom Drury's footage at an Australian football match in 1953, and Eliza Fraser, the first white woman reputably held 'captive' by Australian natives following the 1836 shipwreck of the Stirling Castle.

Internationally-renowned Dutch artist and theorist Mieke Bal will visit Australia as keynote speaker for the University's conference. She will also present her latest video project Madame B: Explorations in Emotional Capitalism alongside The Sceptical Image at SCA Galleries. Her immersive, multi-screen video work is inspired by Gustave Flaubert's 1856 novel, Madame Bovary. It tells an archetypal story of a doctor's wife's adulterous affairs to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life. Made in collaboration with video and performance artist Michelle Williams Gamaker, the work explores the way dominant ideologies - in particular, capitalism and its relationship to emotion, and romantic love and its commercial interests - are still relevant 150 years after the novel first appeared.

"Bal's work is historically inspired and poignantly resonant today. It also attests to how cinema as an art form can also remain a relevant platform for social and political commentary. In this way, Madame B functions as a wonderful complement to the inquiries undertaken by the artists in The Sceptical Image exhibition, also on show at the SCA Galleries," said Dr John Di Stefano.

The Sceptical Image and Madame B: Explorations in Emotional Capitalism are showing at Sydney College of the Arts in Callan Park, Lilyfield, from 2 to 30 August. The SCA Galleries are open on Saturday for the duration of the exhibitions. For more on The Image in Question conference visit

Event details

What:The Sceptical Image, and Madame B: Explorations in Emotional Capitalism

When: 2-30 August 2014 (exhibition opening: 1 August, 6.30-8.30pm)

Where: Sydney College of the Arts, Callan Park, Lilyfield

Hours: 11am-5pm (Monday-Friday), 11am-4pm (Saturday)

Cost: Free

Follow University of Sydney Media on Twitter

Media enquiries: Mandy Campbell 0481 012 742 or