There are many children’s stories of subterranean life with the Wombles, Fantastic Mr Fox or The Borrowers that have inspired the “Going Underground”. This is an exhibition at the Dirty Dozen, the display cabinets in the Degraves Street underpass.
“Going Underground” is the perfect location, underground in the underpass to Flinders Street Station. It is a perfect school-holiday time for a child-friendly exhibition, even though the height of the display cabinets may not be friendly to the shorter viewers.
It is worth looking at if you have ten or fifteen minutes before catching your train home. Many of the vitrines have been transformed into fantastic underground worlds of imagination with keyhole and cross-section views to magical worlds. These wainscot worlds occupy the unseen parts of our world, like the Borrowers living behind the wainscoting. They have a parallel existence to ours instead of being separate, alternate universes.
Anna Walker imagines charming and humous scenes beneath the garden. Tai Snaith creates a floating home for polar bears inside an iceberg. Twee scenes of a miniature world of Mole Creek created by Cat Rabbit. Other artists have ceramics or textiles with images and designs inspired by these underground dwellers.
Curator Meg Rennie has created something extraordinary, bringing together local artists: Evie Barrow, Pey Chi, Maddison Haywood, Tegan Iversen, Isobel Knowles, Yan Yan Candy Ng, Beci Orpin, Min Pin, Cat Rabbit, Meg Rennie, Tai Snaith and Anna Walker. These designers, ceramists, illustrators, and sculptors embraced the theme. And the quality of the work is outstanding, making good use of the depth of these display cases.
Art in children’s picture books is how most of us first experienced art and the current exhibition at the Counihan Gallery could be some children’s first experience of an art gallery. “Fantastic Worlds” is an exhibition of children’s book illustrations that has been specifically curated for children (aged 2 to 10 years old).
It is not just the subject of the exhibition that is designed for children. Low plinths allows easier viewing for children. Cushions and beanbags offer a place for children to relax. There is also an interactive work, Story-go-round by Cat Rabbit and Isobel Knowles, that was commissioned especially for the exhibition. And there are story-times, workshops and other events that are part of the exhibition.
Even if you are no longer a child there is plenty of appeal in this exhibition; emphasis on the word ‘plenty’, for unlike the minimalism of many contemporary art exhibitions with ten illustrators there is plenty to look at. Shaun Tan’s paintings and sculptures have their own power as art; the rough surface of the paint and the solidity of these imaginary places. Elise Hurst fantastic pen and ink illustration from Imagine a City (2014). Graeme Base’s intensely detailed watercolour and ink illustrations from Animalia (1986), The Sign of the Seahorse (1992) and Uno’s Garden (2006) — and much more.
What I didn’t expect was so much collage. Alison Lester’s figures are cut out and collaged onto a background; they stand out fresh and lively in the original (although it might not be as obvious in the print version). Tai Snaith does more obvious collage mixing cut paper and stoneware clay to create very three dimensional images for Slow Down World (2017). And then there is the digital collage and gothic cyberpunk styling of Lance Balchin’s mechanical insects, from his book Mechanica: a beginner’s field guide (2016).
“Fantastic Worlds” at Counihan Gallery in Brunswick was curated by Edwina Bartlem.