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The Canberra National Sculpture Forum

In April, Canberra hosted the triennial National Sculpture Forum. An event which successfully raised the profile of the artform without the controversy of 1995's 'Down By the Lake With Liz and Phil' - a performance which involved the smashing of large ceramic figures of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.

The core of this year's forum was provided by 23 projects selected from open submission and located mainly in the lakeside grounds and public institutions of the Parliamentary Triangle.

Nature and landscape continues to be the dominant theme in contemporary Australian art. This was reflected in many sculptures, from Sieglinde Karl's intimate 'Mandala' constructed from seeds and insect casings, to Perdita Phillip's mobile termite mounds, and 'Mining the Surface' (Nien Schwarz) a geological map based work installed in the Chart Room of the National Library.

Star of the show was Bert Flugelman with 'Six Tetrahedrons Revisited', which comprised of large geometric balloon structures floating on the lake. The 'Revisited' in the title refers to an installation for a festival in 1975, when he completely buried six aluminium tetrahedrons in a nearby hill (where they remain).

Another highlight was 'Display of the Bird King', a beautiful performance by Kevin Mortensen, followed by a retrospective show featuring the sculptural artefacts of this legendary birdman's productions.

By the nature of their locations, the 23 selected projects were decidedly 'public' in style and hardly represented the breadth of Australian sculpture. However, balance was restored by 50 additional sculptors, appearing in what would normally be called 'The Fringe'. A programme of exhibitions and events in alternative spaces, art centres and commercial galleries.

"We deliberately try to get away from the idea of a 'legitimate' festival and a fringe." said David Watt, Forum Chair and Head of Sculpture at the Australian National University. "The Forum is an umbrella for any sculpture that is happening in Canberra during the period."

The result of this inclusive attitude was impressive in scope and scale, especially considering the modest AS$100,000 (£40,000) official budget. Notably most of this money actually went to the artists, rather than being spent on overheads.

This is a refreshing approach, and clearly successful. For the best part of four weeks, sculpture was everywhere: in newspapers, on television, at the High Court, down the street, in the shopping malls, even on radio.

 
 
   
 

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