Pairing artists Nadia Hernandez and Jon Campbell in the new Speech Patterns exhibition at the Art Gallery of Western Australia felt like matchmaking for AGWA curator Robert Cook.
“You know, if you go on a date with someone and they’re too much alike, it probably gets very, very boring, but if there’s enough similarities and enough differences, then it gets really exciting,” says Cook.
“I felt that this pairing was somehow connected, but there was also a kind of tension between them.”
In their artistic practice of using language and text in their works, both contemporary artists based on the east coast of Australia focus on their experiences of relocation – Hernandez was born in Venezuela, while Campbell moved from Belfast to Melbourne as a young child – and issues of identity, class, cultural and national value systems.
The result is a fresh and powerful exhibition, full of emotion and poetry, with inspirational paintings, paste-ups, drawings, posters, banners and flags from across her career.
“Jon has been working since around 1984, when there was that moment in the early 1980s, with certain Australian rock and pop bands who sang with an Australian accent and talked about local places,” explains Cook.
“His work fitted with that and it became a really important thing for him to always be able to connect to what’s happening.
“It’s almost as if his work is being held up and taken from the air with something that has been talked about, written down and presented in an abstract format or sometimes with other representational motifs.”
Similarly, Hernandez’s textile hanging installations enliven a space while incorporating poems and recipes from her family.
“It felt strange that they acted with the same energy as Jon’s work, in terms of occupying physical and cultural space in a certain way and as a catchment area for things,” he says.
“Not just making something up and manifesting it, but being open to what’s floating by.”
The artworks are both celebratory and critical, and have a joy that Cook says he also discovered in the artists working with them on Speech Patterns.
“They are actively helping to shape the world for the better and have incredibly positive prospects,” he shares.
“It was really beautiful and I think that reflects in the works.”