The New Victorians

18 August 2008

Ben Cauchi's haunting work, including "The Start of It All", is featured in the exhibition.
Ben Cauchi's haunting work, including "The Start of It All", is featured in the exhibition.

A new collection of works by emerging and established Australian and New Zealand artists puts a uniquely contemporary spin on the Victorian age.

New Victorians opened at Sydney's University Art Gallery on Sunday and re-interprets the complexity, excitement and political intricacies of Queen Victoria 's rule (1837-1901) - the longest reign in British history.

New Victorians showcases the work of seven artists who have been inspired by the Victorian era and who have been influenced by Victorian imagery, materials, themes and processes. Artists whose work is featured in the exhibition are New Zealand's Ben Cauchi and Liyen Chong and Australia's Sharon Goodwin, Emma van Leest, Julia deVille, Starlie Geikie and Pete Volich.

According to Louise Tegart, senior curator of the University Art Gallery and curator of this exhibition, the Victorian period was one of the most fascinating periods of cultural influence in history.

"The Victorian era saw incredible changes in technology, inventions and perceptions," says Tegart, referring to Victorian developments, which include photography, the telephone and x-ray. "It was a time of possibility and change."

Sharon Goodwin's "Enlightenment Now", acrylic and gouache on foam board.
Sharon Goodwin's "Enlightenment Now", acrylic and gouache on foam board.

Tegart says the influence of the Victorian age permeates through modern culture and can be seen in the film adaptations of Victorian novels and films, novels, home decoration, fashion, the Gothic subculture, architecture and, of course, art.

A range of materials and styles are showcased in New Victorians, with many of the 40 pieces created specifically for this exhibition.

Photographer Ben Cauchi's haunting images capture the Victorian concept of "spirit photography" and the emergence of the idea of the supernatural. Along with these uniquely Victorian ideas, Cauchi has revived and mastered the highly technical ambrotype process, with stunning results.

Auckland-based Liyen Chong uses the traditional Chinese art of hair embroidery to resonate and question Victorian values while Melbourne-based artist Starlie Geikie employs re-worked covers of contemporary romance novels, inspired by Victorian "sensation" novels, as a commentary on women's evolving role in society.

Many of the artists have also drawn inspiration from the emerging Victorian concept of the supernatural and what Tegart describes as the "balance of a material world with one of mystery…. The works in this exhibition have an underlying sense of the ghost in all its slippery manifestations, metaphors and meanings."

Tegart says that the gallery of the University of Sydney - a neo-gothic Victorian institution itself - is the perfect location for this exhibition.

New Victorians will be officially opened on Tuesday, 19 August, 2008 by John Harwood, the best-selling author of The Séance and The Ghost Writer. This event is free, starts at 6pm and all are welcome. (RSVP on 02 9351 6883.)

Events held in association with New Victorians:

  • At 2pm on Sunday, 14 September, 2008, Jan Brazier, curator of history collections at the Macleay Museum, will discuss the photographic processes developed during the Victorian era. This public talk is free and will be held at the University Art Gallery. Phone: 02 9351 6883.
  • From noon to 4pm on Sunday, 12 October, children will be able to explore the art of the Victorian era in a series of arts-and-crafts activities to be held at the gallery. The activities are free and all area welcome. Phone 02 9351 6883 for further information.

New Victorians closes at the University Art Gallery on 12 October, 2008.

Contact: Katrina O'Brien

Phone: 02 9036 7842

Email: 0d4f1d3b1620233a342735333343162d4d6c0e36