By KIERAN FINNANE
Mother, father and three daughters came together to win the Fantasia category and were chosen for acquisition at the annual Wearable Arts Awards on Saturday. Mother is Colleen Byrnes, a veteran of the awards and multiple prize-winner over the years. Husband Tony joined her as creator and together they fashioned from metal pieces, test tubes, wires and crystals exquisitely detailed bird-like forms to adorn Shae, Bec and Nikki in their Fluoro Swan Trilogy (pictured). The trio’s appearance on stage was greeted with gasps of awe and appreciation from the audience, the only time this happened en masse during this year’s presentation, no doubt helping to assure them of a win.
Colleen continued with avian inspiration to also win the Top Notch award, with an elaborate headpiece called Wings in Flight.
The judges for the adult show were Nicky Schonkala, a textile artist and past entrant; Lucy Stewart, an artist, arts worker and teacher; and Tim Rollason, director of the Araluen Arts Centre and Cultural Precinct.
A trio of designers – Liza Balmer, Julia Burke, Jo Boniface – won the New World Sustainability category (using 80% recycled man-made materials) with a sun-power generating Valentino-inspired gown, modeled by Sophie Wallace.
There was more shadowing of haute couture in the Master Class, in which past category winners were given identical core materials to design from. Carmel Ryan won this, with Philomena Hali highly commended, both of them also veterans of the awards.
Carmel’s creation was one of three entries by her. The cleverly titled Tie the Knot in the New World Sustainability category was a bridal gown, knotted and crocheted from butcher’s twine, industrial cord and wire from washing machines. And she also entered the Top Notch category with a very tall concoction of clown and joker masks. After 10 years of participation in the awards, Carmel has said this year will be her last: she’ll be sorely missed if she maintains her resolve.
Getting right away from haute couture, harking back instead to fertility rites in ancient cultures – Australian Aboriginal and others – Tamara Burlando won the Natural Fibre (no less than 80%) category with her Nomadic Goddess. The goddess’ padded buttocks and multiple pendulous breasts were the antithesis of the conventional sexiness that is favoured in the awards and it was stimulating to see a designer go there.
Winner in the Youth category, Mikaela Bennion, also did something different, creating a mini-drama about drug abuse, titled Down the Rabbit Hole. One performer was in the role of Alice, with obvious reference to our town; the other was the White Rabbit, representing the allure of drugs. Alice was fully costumed, while the Rabbit was only masked, cleverly drawing the distinction between the fullness and complexity of a person and the shallower dimension of an external influence.
Performance was also foregrounded in The Future is Fantastic, created by Alecia McNuff. The concept was simple, the realisation excellent: on the darkened stage tiny white lights flicked on and off, then began to dance, joined by another form created by tiny blue lights. Models Adam Harding and Marcus Harding moved well in a stop-start hip hop style, using elements of surprise, creating an exciting kinetic sculpture. This earned the entry the Nigel award from Araluen’s lighting and stage designer Greg Thomson for being “quirky, left of field, and definitely theatrical”.
Finally, People’s Choice from the Saturday evening performance went to a creation by two designers from Queensland, Marge Coogan and Laurel Clegg. Titled Paradise Lost / Ulysses is Dying, it took its inspiration from the Ulysses butterfly. A hooded cloak in a full circle represented the winged creature, while its habitat, the northern rainforest, was evoked with richly coloured embroidered and appliqued detailing across the cloak. Performer Roman Macairan then stripped the cloak away, to reveal the warlike man beneath who “has left his footprint on paradise”.
Another performance high point of the evening was the beautifully conceived ballet, called Pandora’s Box, by the Duprada Ballet Company. The dance was integrated with the presentation of the Master Class – the Pandora’s Box of the title becoming the box of identical materials that the four entrants in this class were given to work with. The dancers cast a spell of youthful innocence and grace over this part of the presentation.
Numbers of entries in this year’s awards were noticeably down on previous years – 26 compared to last year’s 40 or so – and while there were undoubtedly beautiful and interesting entries, the high-level ‘wow factor’ of some past awards nights was missing. This went too for the projected backdrops, which really took off a few years ago, with individualised treatment of each creation, evoking its sources of inspiration and giving the audience a close-up view of its details and textures. The live close-ups were still there but the imaginative, at times sumptuous interpretive visuals were not. For past shows this had obviously required a great deal of intensive work, but it boosted enormously the quality of the presentation and was missed in Saturday’s presentation. Meanwhile, the text-based projections introducing each section looked rather dull and bureaucratic.
In regard to these points it would seem some work needs to be done by the Alice Desert Festival to maintain the awards’ quality and dynamism. Let’s hope that the creation of the Brian Tucker Gallery of Wearable Art in the west wing of the foyer at Araluen – a great way to honour the spectacular success over the past decade of this homegrown event – does not signal that the best days of the awards are behind us.
Slideshow photos in order of appearance: Fluoro Swan Trilogy by Colleen and Tony Byrnes (two shots); Wings in Flight by Colleen Byrnes; Aurora Solaris by Liza Balmer, Julia Burke and Jo Boniface; Lady (ooh) Lala by Carmel Ryan; From Rags to Glad Rags by Philomena Hali; Tie the Knot by Carmel Ryan; Nomadic Goddess by Tamara Burlando; Down the Rabbit Hole (Alice) by Mikael Bennion; The Future is Fantastic by Alecia Mc Nuff; Paradise Lost / Ulysses is Dying by Marge Coogan and Laurel Clegg; ensemble shot, showing Duprada Ballet Company dancers and Master Class entries. PHOTOS by KIERAN FINNANE.